There are times when each of us needs to tell someone to go away. Adding a Shakespearean flavour to it lends both style and emphasis to any ejection of a bothersome person. It can also deliver a most satisfying sense of accomplishment to lovers of Shakespeare or of language in general.
Avaunt definitely carries spiritual or superstitious weight. This is the word one would use for commanding demons, witches and any other evil presence to leave. When directed at people rather than the supernatural, it carries connotations of derision, hatred, or fear; that the speaker seeks to protect themselves from those to whom they speak is clearly evident.
In The Comedy of Errors, Act 4, Scene 3, we see Antipholus and Dromio discussing the courtesan who has just demanded gold from Antipholus.
Well met, well met, Master Antipholus. I see, sir, you have found the goldsmith now. Is that the chain you promis’d me today?
Satan, avoid, I charge thee tempt me not.
Master, is this Mistress Satan?
It is the devil.
Nay, she is worse, she is the devil’s dam, and here she comes in the habit of a light wench; and thereof comes that the wenches say, “God damn me,” that’s as much to say, “God make me a light wench.” It is written, they appear to men like angels of light, light is an effect of fire, and fire will burn: ergo, light wenches will burn. Come not near her.
When the lady asks again for either the promised gold chain or the return of her ring, Antipholus uses avaunt to send her away, emphasising the spiritual or supernatural theme of his earlier judgement upon her.
I pray you, sir, my ring, or else the chain;I hope you do not mean to cheat me so?
Avaunt, thou witch! Come, Dromio, let us go.
Othello uses the word twice. First, In the course of Iago’s subtle and insidious destruction of Othello’s belief in Desdemona’s innocence, Othello tells Iago, ‘Avaunt, be gone! Thou hast set me on the rack.”
Later, he uses the term in the presence of Lodovico to dismiss Desdemona once he has finished accusing her of being false and mocking her distress at his treatment of her. Here, he speaks to Lodovico and Desdemona alternately in the one speech.
Sir, she can turn, and turn; and yet go on
And turn again; and she can weep, sir, weep;
And she’s obedient, as you say, obedient;
Very obedient Proceed you in your tears —
Concerning this, sir — O well-painted passion!
— I am commanded home. — Get you away;
I’ll send for you anon. —Sir, I obey the mandate,
And will return to Venice. — Hence, avaunt!
Othello speaks politely to Lodovico while simultaneously disrespecting Desdemona. The tone of Othello’s words to his wife is very similar to that used by Antipholus, demonstrating the contempt and moral heft of the dismissal. At this point, it is clear that there is no going back for Othello: he has made up his mind, and his love and respect for her are dead.
In Macbeth, Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth is shaken by the appearance at dinner of Banquo’s ghost, which he addresses thus:
Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
In that powerful second scene of Richard III in which Richard woos Anne Neville and begs her to marry him, Anne responds to Richard’s interruption of the funeral procession of the former King Henry VI with words and tone of superstition and the supernatural:
Stay, you that bear the corse, and set it down.
What black magician conjures up this fiend
To stop devoted charitable deeds?
Villain, set down the corse, or, by Saint Paul,
I’ll make a corse of him that disobeys.
My lord, stand back, and let the coffin pass.
Unmanner’d dog, stand thou when I command.
Advance thy halberd higher than my breast,
Or by Saint Paull Ill strike thee to m foot,
And spurn on thee, beggar, for thy boldness.
What, do you tremble? Are you all afraid?
Alas, I blame you not, for you are mortal.
And mortal eyes cannot endure the devil.—
Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!
Thou hadst but power over his mortal body,
His soul thou canst not have. Therefore be gone.
The exchange that follows is full of the imagery of saints and devils, angels and demons, and heaven and hell.
In both these instances, the supernatural context of the use of avaunt! demonstrates the seriousness and spiritual gravity with which it was spoken. It was the word used to command sinners rather than saints and fiends rather than friends.
Shakespearean Ways To Tell Someone To Go Away: Avaunt!Tweet
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