Ploce: It Is What It Is!

One of the catch-all phrases of the 21st century is “It is what it is.” On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer, but when you think about it, it’s a statement that can indicate acceptance, resignation, or simple acknowledgement of a thing or situation. It can communicate “that’s all you’re going to get” or “that’s the best I could do” or “that will have to do. Despite its apparent simplicity, it’s a versatile statement to keep up one’s sleeve.

The repetition in this phrase is known as ploce, pronounced plo-chay .

Photo by Cristian Rojas on

Ploce is a very old word which came into English from Latin from the Greek work plokē meaning complication or twisting, which came from the ancient Greek word plekein which means to plait or weave.

That in itself is fascinating, as it gives a clear impression of the words twisting or weaving around themselves as they are repeated. It’s quite a visual image of what the language is doing.

Ploce is a literary and rhetorical device by which a word is repeated for emphasis.

  • It can be simple repetition, like Popeye saying “I am what I am, and that’s all I am”.
  • It can involve a change in the meaning of the word: 
    “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
    “I don’t want to hear you talk the talk, I want to see you walk the walk.”

    Note: This is also called antanaclasis, but you’ll probably never need to know that unless you’re studying Rhetoric, Classics or Shakespeare.
  • It can involve a change in the form of the word.
    “She cried until there was no crying left in her.”

    This is also called polyptoton. You’ll probably never need to know that either, unless you’re studying… you get the idea.

Shakespeare made regular use of ploce in his plays, but my favourite examples are to be found in speeches by Queen Margaret in Richard III:

Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.
Screenshot made using Shakespeare Pro v.

Margaret often makes use of elegant imagery and rhetoric in her speeches, and her use of ploce is certainly eloquent.

Silva Rhetorica

Ploce: It Is What It Is
#words #vocabulary #Shakespeare

Shakespeare Nerd: Valentine’s Day Edition

This Valentine’s Day edition of Shakespeare Nerd is brought to you by the brilliant Mya Gosling, creator of Good Tickle Brain.

Image reproduced here with permission.
Image reproduced here with permission.

Shakespeare Nerd Valentine’s Day Edition via @goodticklebrain
#ShakespeareSunday #ValentinesDay

Shakespeare’s Baubles.

Because it’s December and Christmas decorations are everywhere, I wrote last night about the meanings and etymology of the word ‘bauble’ on WordyNerdBird. I wondered then if it were a word used by Shakespeare. To my delight, it was indeed!

Interestingly, Shakespeare references one of the continued senses and the obsolete sense of the word, and creates double entendre with it for extra credit.

In ‘Cymbeline’, the queen refers to Caesar’s ships bobbing around on the sea as ‘ignorant baubles’, describing them further as being like egg shells, being thrown and broken against the rocks.

A similar reference to boats as ‘baubles’ is made in ‘Troilus and Cressida.

In ‘Othello’, Cassio shows his disregard for Bianca by describing her as a bauble that follows him around and tries to make him fall in love with her.  That his companions laugh with him demonstrates that this use of the word to describe a pretty but not-so-valuable woman was easily understood at the time.

In ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, ‘bauble’ is used to refer to Kate’s hat – a decorative item of clothing, which is of little value in the play other than its use as a prop in her surprising demonstration of obedience to her husband, Petruchio.

‘Timon of Athens’ references a bauble as the staff of a jester or idiot, although in this instance, Aaron the Moor is suggesting that a king holding his sceptre and claiming to be faithful to God is the equivalent of his fool holding a bauble and pretending to be the king.

This sense of ‘bauble’ is extended in All’s Well That Ends Well, where the Clown refers to cheating on a man with his wife and giving her his bauble “to do her service”.  Clearly, this is a pun on the jester’s staff, used to reference an altogether different kind of rod with a special ending on it.

This is Shakespeare’s trademark wit in action, taking common language and creating word play loaded with double entendre that would delight the masses and the ‘gentlemen’ alike.

“Thou art too malapert…”

Peacock malapert know-it-all overconfident showy
Image from PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

Malapert refers to a person who acts like they know everything and is confident that they are always right. 

While there are a number of characters in Shakespeare’s works whom we might consider to be malapert, Shakespeare uses the word only three times in his plays.

In Henry 6, Queen Margaret and her son, the young Lancaster Prince Edward, engage in a contest of insults with their captors: Clarence and Gloucester. As sons of Richard, Duke of York these two are the Lancastrian King Henry’s enemies, as the two houses are rivals for the English throne. Clarence calls the young prince malapert, highlighting his youthful confidence by calling him an “untutor’d lad”. 

Almost as proof of Clarence’s assessment, the prince responds by insulting them again. Despite the clevernesand bravery of his words, this proved to be a bad move, as “perjur’d George” and “misshapen Dick” respond by stabbing him to death. End of argument. 

In Richard III, the same Queen Margaret tells the Marquess of Dorset that he is malapert and warns him that his newly found nobility won’t protect him from being destroyed by the Yorks, particularly Richard (Gloucester) whom  she describes as a “bottled spider” and a “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”. Richard turns the insult back on Margaret, and Dorset promptly turns it right back on him. 

In the comedy Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian are engaged in an argument when Sir Toby insists that he “must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood” from his rival. 

#words #Shakespeare #ShakespeareSunday

Desdemona’s Lament

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Often when I see a willow tree, I think of the  desperately sad song sung by Ophelia as she prepares for bed in Act 4, scene 3 of ‘Othello’.

‘Willow’ is a folk song that tells of lost love and resulting tragedy, although Ophelia doesn’t quite get that far in the song before she stops to talk with her maid, Emilia. The song was not written by Shakespeare, and it seems to have been widely enough known for the audience to have understood the gravity and foreboding of it being sung by Ophelia. 

Shakespeare did, however, make one significant change. The original song was about a man dying as the result of the cruelty of a woman, but when Ophelia sings it, the song is about a woman suffering at the hands of the man she loves. 

The poignancy of the song is heightened by Ophelia’s revelation to Emilia that her mother’s maid, from whom she learned the song, died tragically while singing it. 

The song takes another tragic twist when Emilia herself sings the song as she, too, dies from injuries inflicted by her own husband. 

Shakespeare uses this song to evoke pathos,  tragedy and foreboding in abundance. 

It seems to me that he willow tree, graceful and mournful at the same time, is a most fitting image for achieving that effect.

Desdemona’s Lament.
#Shakespeare #Othello #willow #tragedy #ShakesepeareNerd #blogpost

Horror Scenes in Shakespeare: “Out, damned spot!” The Blood on Lady Macbeth’s Hands

While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be. 
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween. 

The horror of Act 5, Scene 1 of Macbeth is subtle, but very real. While there is no real blood on the stage, there is definitely blood on Lady Macbeth’s hands. 

After belittling Macbeth more than once for being haunted by visions and ghosts, the same thing happens to Lady Macbeth – or Lady Macdeath, as I like to call her. She is spared such public humiliation, though – her suffering is is revealed in the privacy of her own rooms, witnessed only by her servant and a doctor. This enables the audience to witness the intensely personal and intimate nature of the psychological horror experienced by Lady Macbeth.

In the chaos of her behaviour, the audience sees the extent of Lady Macbeth’s mental torment: she is plagued by guilt and losing her grip on reality. She walks and talks in her sleep, carrying a candle because she cannot bear to be in darkness, and speaking of fragments of bloody images and events. She repeatedly acts as though she is washing her hands, sometimes for fifteen minutes, yet she can never seem to get them clean. She keeps on finding blood on her hands: “Yet here’s a spot.”

Despair and frustration underscore pronouncements such as “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” and “What! will these hands ne’er be clean?

In her mind, she can still clearly smell and see the blood on her own hands after the murder of Duncan, observing “Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!”. 

The doctor and gentlewoman who look on within the scene are disturbed by what they see before them, positioning the audience to share in their disquiet. Her macabre imagery and references to blood and ghosts cause the doctor to conclude that  “Unnatural deeds 
Do breed unnatural troubles; infected minds
To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets;
More needs she the divine than the physician.” 

The doctor speaks what the audience already knows: it is Lady Macbeth’s conscience rather than her hands that cannot be cleansed. When he instructs the gentlewoman to watch her carefully and remove anything that she might use to harm herself, he is alluding to things that Shakespeare’s generally superstitious audiences would have interpreted as horrific in itself – spiritual torment as a result of one’s own sins, and the thought of committing suicide in such a state, were appalling and dreadful to those who had been taught of the eternal damnation of one who took their own life or died otherwise completely unreconciled with God. The good folk of early modern England feared many things, but burial in unconsecrated ground and spending eternity in hell were right at the top of most people’s list of things they wanted to avoid. Had it been otherwise, the early modern church would have been far less powerful and prominent in the lives of the English people. 

Throughout this scene, the power of a guilty conscience over one’s psyche is vividly expressed using the depiction and the imagery of horror. 

Shakespeare also uses the Macbeths’ experiences as a distinct reminder of the fact that regicide is never a good idea because the consequences are enormous for the nation as a whole, but it also has significant and permanent spiritual consequences for the perpetrators. Given the number of plots against James I, a Scottish king long before he became an English one, this was a politically expedient message for Shakespeare to deliver to his audiences while at the same time telling a deliciously dark and macabre story. 

You can read the whole scene, or the entire play, here

Horror Scenes in Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus Cooks Dinner

While Shakespeare isn’t renowned for writing horror, he certainly understood the power of a macabre scene and the dramatic impact of horror when portraying just how evil a character could be. 
He created a number of beautifully creepy and macabre scenes that hold definite appeal for horror fans, and which make great reading for October and Halloween. 

Titus Andronicus is a confronting play. The story is full of enmity and revenge, a lot of violence, and a truckload of bloodshed and murder, with most of that happening on stage. It may already sound like a splatter horror storyline, but the final scene is particularly horrific.

Titus Andronicus is a Roman general who loses all but four of his sons in a war against the Goths, during which he has captured their queen, Tamora, her three sons and Aaron, a Moor, among others. Titus slays Tamora’s eldest son in a ritual killing to honour his dead sons, causing Tamora to swear hatred and revenge against him. 

She isn’t kidding. Having married the Emperor Saturninus, Tamora has two of Titus’ four remaining sons framed for the murder of the Emperor’s brother — a crime committed by her own sons, Chiron and Demetrius — for which they are beheaded. Then she has her sons rape Titus’ daughter Livinia, cut off her hands and cut out her tongue so that she can’t tell anyone what they’ve done. 

Titus feigns madness, ostensibly brought on by grief, until Tamora, trying to take advantage of his insanity, tries to make a deal with him. Titus isn’t falling for that, though: he wants revenge, and he intends that Tamora will suffer far more than he has done. Keeping up his ruse, he invites Tamora, Saturninus, and various others to a banquet in Rome’s honour.

In Act 5, Scene 3, Titus proves that he is a master of revenge, and Shakespeare proves that he is a master of the macabre.

In this scene, Titus himself serves dinner and  encourages everyone to eat heartily of the feast. 

He proceeds to kill his daughter Livinia in front of the guests and tells Tamora it’s actually her sons that killed her through their despicable actions. When Saturninus demands that they are called to answer for their actions, Titus reveals that they’re already there— they’ve been baked into the pie that Tamora and everyone else just ate for dinner. 

At that point, the bloodshed starts again in full earnest. 

Titus stabs Tamora to death with a knife. 
Saturninus kills Titus. 
Titus’ son Lucius kills Saturninus. 

Lucius and Marcus, Titus’ other remaining son, expose the crimes of Tamora’s sons. They also expose Tamora’s love child to Aaron, the Moor who was  captured by Titus at the same time as she was.  Lucius and Marcus then invite the people of Rome to judge them for their deeds in avenging their brother and father. Instead of punishing them, the Romans make Lucius the new Emperor.

Aaron is buried alive, breast deep, so that he can regret his actions while starving to death. The Romans are forbidden to feed or help him. 

Tamora is denied a funeral, and her body is thrown to the wild beasts and birds of prey.

This scene alone has seven murders, four of which are brutally violent and take place on stage, and one live burial. 

You can read the rest of the scene, or the whole play, here.

William Shakespeare: writing splatter horror four hundred years before it became popular.  
You’re welcome. 

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 


In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures, sets and furniture is available to them. 

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: “A Foregone Conclusion”

These days, when people talk about a “foregone conclusion” they mean something is a given: it is inevitable, it will happen, it may safely be assumed. As certain as it sounds, it is still a statement of conjecture about an event that is yet to occur.

When Shakespeare had Othello speak those words in Act 3, Scene 3 of the play that bears his name, it had quite the opposite meaning.
In this scene, Iago is manipulating Othello’s thoughts and making him believe that Desdemona has cheated on him. 

Othello says, “But this denotes a foregone conclusion:  Tis a shrewd doubt, though it be a dream.” 

Here, he is speaking of the adultery between Desdemona and Cassio as something that he is certain has already happened. This gives the phrase “foregone conclusion” the opposite meaning to that which it holds today. 

This, and statements such as “I’ll tear her all to pieces” and “O blood, blood, blood!” are evidence that Othello has already made up his mind about the guilt of his wife and former second-in-command. 

The scene ends with Othello swearing his loyalty to Iago and thinking of ways to kill Desdemona. Charming, I know. 

Misunderstood and Misquoted Shakespeare: “Lead on, Macduff!”

“Lead on, Macduff!” is a phrase often used to say “after you” when people are being polite and opening doors for someone, or showing that they will follow another person’s lead. 

People who use this phrase think they are quoting Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, but they’re not quite doing so: those are not the words Shakespeare wrote. 

Both the phrase and its meaning have been changed over time. 

What Shakespeare wrote was “Lay on, Macduff”, and Macbeth wasn’t opening any doors or following Macduff’s lead when he said it. Macbeth and Macduff were fighting one another, and only one of them would survive. The words “Lay on, Macduff” were Macbeth saying “come on, fight me!”

So, next time you open a door, or commit to following someone else’s lead, be careful about saying “Lead on, Macduff”. If they know their Shakespeare, they might just fight you!