Archive for the ‘Shakespeare’ Category
Of the nearly 18,000 written words in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, over 1,700 are seen for the first time in his works. This doesn’t necessarily mean he coined all those words — and in fact many of them most likely existed in other languages, like Latin, for a very long time before Shakespeare anglicized them.
New words are known as neologisms, and the coining of new words or adopting words from other languages and making them, in essence, your own is called neologizing. Shakespeare was a master neologist.
The word “eyeballs,” for instance, made its first appearance in the English language when Shakespeare wrote:
Then crush this herb into Lysander’s eye;
Whose liquor hath this virtuous property,
To take from thence all error with his might,
And make his eyeballs roll with wonted sight.
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act III, Scene ii)
And the word “puking”:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
(As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii)
The following — an astounding and by-no-means exhaustive list – are words that according to the Oxford English Dictionary Shakespeare was the first to put in print:
And people have the nerve to ask me if “Shakespeare is all that”?
This is a famous and often misunderstood line from Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 5), spoken by the unforgettable Lady Macbeth, who says:
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe topful
Of direst cruelty.
She’s referring, of course, not to sex or the sex act but to the fact that her husband is becoming more and more squeamish about the business of murder, and (she fears) he may not be up to the task of killing King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth imagines herself as a kind of vessel, and her eloquent malediction is her own vivid way of praying to be stripped of the feminine and filled completely, “from crown to toe,” with “direst cruelty” — i.e. masculinity — so that she herself might help her hapless husband fulfill the dirty deed.
It is interesting to note also here that the prefix un– appears with abnormal regularity in Macbeth, almost as if the characters are continually trying to undo the horrible deeds they’ve done — “to cancel reality by appending negatives,” as the Shakespearean Michael Macrone felicitously phrased it — though of course once the deeds are done “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten Lady Macbeth’s little hand.”
Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield.
Wrote Charles Dickens.
Where does that phrase “heart of hearts” come from?
It’s a perversion of Shakespeare’s heart of heart, which appears in Hamlet (Act 3, scene 2, 71-74):
Hamlet: Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, aye, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.
Shakespeare — a breathtakingly levelheaded fellow whose similes and metaphors are almost always grounded in reality — coined the phrase “heart of heart” and meant it to be essentially synonymous with “heart’s core.”
Like the heart of an artichoke — like my heart — the “heart of heart” is the most tender part. And this most tender part is the part that Hamlet reserves for those who are ruled by reason, like his friend Horatio, and not by passion, as the melancholy Dane is himself, perhaps.
The bastardization of Shakespeare’s delicately rendered phrase probably comes from the equally delicate “vanity of vanities,” which we find in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes:
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
Ecclesiastes, however, a very beautiful and Pagan-like book, lists a number of different vanities from which negative things flow — whereas, conversely, one does not in reality possess a number of hearts.
Shakespeare always preferred the apposite metaphor to the inapposite, and that is one of the primary reasons “the verbal poetical texture of Shakespeare is the greatest the world has ever known“:
He anchored his abstractions in concretes, a lead we as writers would do well to follow.
William Shakespeare — who’s remarkable for so many things that it’s easy to forget the thing he’s perhaps most remarkable for: the fact that he doesn’t reveal himself in any of his plays — was born in 1564, in Stratford, a tiny village which at that time had a population of approximately 1,500 people.
In the summer of 1579, when Shakespeare was fifteen-years-old, a young woman named Katherine Hamlet fell into the river Avon and drowned, an incident the young William Shakespeare would have for certain known about.
It’s not much, but it’s something.
Here’s Queen Gertrude’s poetic description of Ophelia’s muddy death:
Gertrude: There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
Hamlet Act IV, scene vii