Jun 24, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Shakespeare Edition Part 1

My husband I have this project, where we're trying to watch all of Shakespeare's plays. We have the 80s BBC box set with all the plays. It was quite a bargain even when we bought it, and now it looks to be only 129 dollars on Amazon, if you like this kind of thing. Some of them have aged better than others, but aside from some hammy acting and questionable wardrobe choices, they're pretty good. 

There are better productions of the more popular plays, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V, the production of Hamlet with David Tennant, and the Hollow Crown series are some personal favourites. I also love the National Theater plays that they broadcast at movie theatres. I just wish they'd release them on dvd or blue ray already. 

Digital theatre is also very nice. You can watch great theatre for a very reasonable price on your iPad or computer. (And it has subtitles, woot!) The link goes to Much Ado About Nothing with Tennant. It was fantastic.

I like to watch the plays rather than read them, because that's the way they're meant to be seen, and a good production can really help one get past the whole Elizabethan English language barrier. 

If I'm watching a play at home, I like to try and figure out the parts I don't understand. At first I just used google, but then I found this great website called Shakespeare Navigators. Now I keep it open on my iPad and pause a scene to check the notations. 

One reason I do these posts is to expand my vocabulary in a fun way, and to learn about etymology, too. Especially in science fiction and fantasy you need to make up new words or languages, and I think that knowing about etymology can make that easier and the result more believable. 

So, getting to the point, here are some of the expressions I learned from watching Romeo and Juliet. All of these examples are from the Shakespeare navigators website. 

To carry coals means to put up with insults

ladybird means sweetheart, but also prostitute.

bear a brain: to have a great memory

man of wax: handsome as a wax figure

crow-keeper: scarecrow

lusty: robust, healthy

visor: mask (This is one of those words that feels modern but isn't.)

palmers: pilgrims. Called palmers because they brought back palm fronds from their pilgrimages.

stay the circumstance: wait for the details

chopp'd logic: illogical argument.

beshrew: curse

doleful dumps: sad dejection

pestilent: extremely annoying

These aren't even the best ones, because for those you need the context of the play. This is fun to do, you can miss lots of gaudy jokes if you don't read the notations:

Bonus: do you know how to give someone the finger in the Elizabethan way? Bite your thumb at them. 


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