Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “language”

Bard Bits: Oh, For Reading Out Loud


Today’s audiences talk about seeing a movie. And we are very much a visually oriented culture. Yet, in Shakespeare’s day audiences would say they were going to hear a play because language was such an integral aspect of their culture.

Shakespeare knew this, of course, which is why he wrote his plays with rhyme, rhythm, homonyms, laced with ambiguity. He wanted his audience to hear the auditory beauty of language.

Pen in hand the Bard does ponder

Modern audiences are more accustomed (or have grown more accustomed to) sound bites—quick bits of communication. No wonder eye rolls and twitches are commonalities when someone mentions Shakespeare—we are no longer used to the longer, more developed portents of language. We want quick and easy auditory digestion instead of the languid delight of a language banquet. ‘Tis a shame, yet supping upon a Shakespeare play is possible with a bit of effort.

Shakespearean plays are written to be heard and the Stratford-Upon-Avon wordsmith created the means to better enjoy his words by employing the following:

1. Read the lines with deliberation and emphasis. For example, Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” does better with a slow pronounced repetition to emulate the tedious monotony of life.

2. Use punctuation as a guide by reading to the end stop rather to the end of the line it gives more meaning to the lines. This is known as enjambment, where the line overflows into the next line, much like a waterfall cascades flow smoothly creating movement. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet pours out her emotions for Romeo in one rolling, passionate wave:

When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Reading this passage out loud, carrying one line over into the next enhances Juliet’s feelings for her Romeo.

3. Be aware of accented words, pronouncing them with an extra syllable. For example “perfume’d would be three syllables, not two. Shakespeare would have done this to enhance the meter or rhythm of the line. Plus, it has the bonus of sounding fancier.

4. Know that Shakespeare presented his words with intention to paint pictures (no access to CGI) with verbal cues to ignite his audience’s imagination. He needed his words to create imagery since scenery and props were minimal on the Elizabethan stage. For example, when Juliet says, “It was the nightingale, and not the lark,/ That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear,” she is in her wedding bed with Romeo—she is no doubt as close to him as her heartbeat.

Reading Shakespeare can be an enriching, delightful experience when his words are read out loud with considerate digestion.

Word Nerd: December


It’s December, the last month of the year. Getting through another tough year might involve celebrating and celebrating might also involve some appropriate words.

nimiety: excess, overabundance

galimatias: confused or unintelligible talk

pharaonic: impressively or overwhelmingly large, luxurious, etc.

foozle: to bungle; play clumsily

effulgent: shining forth brilliantly; radiant

specious: apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible

brummagem: showy but inferior and worthless

encomium: a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly

terpsichorean: pertaining to dancing

shivoo: a boisterous party or celebration

So, celebrate this last month of a challenging year, and let’s hope the new year brings new hope and healing.

Bard Bits: Being a Bad Be


Be the best you can be

Even if you are not familiar with Hamlet you are probably aware of Hamlet’s anguished soliloquy of questioning his existence. It’s such a well-known speech that it is almost a cliché. It’s ripe for parody.

A “B” by any other name…

However, there is a wee bit of scholarly doubt if the “To Be” speech that is proffered in plays is the “To Be” that Shakespeare intended. The problem being (yes, a bit of play on the play’s speech) is that Shakespeare’s plays were published without him having proofed the final copy, and most of his plays were published after his death. That’s another post.

When his plays were sent to the printer, they might have been copies taken from someone’s memory, such as an actor or an audience member—accuracy wasn’t exactly sound. These manuscripts came in three forms: good (from the theatre company and with permission), bad (someone’s recall), and dubious (another version of recall, but even worse in content).

The printer would create “quartos,” which were pages folded twice to create four leaves, or eight pages. Scholars have divided the available found quartos in “good” and “bad.”

Bad quartos have no authority and the manuscript content is suspect. Here is an example of a “bad” quarto line:

To be, or not to be, Ay, there’s the point,

To Die, to sleepe, is that all? Ay all:

No, to sleep to dreame, I marry there it goes.

Compared with the standard, recognized lines:

To be, or not to be–that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die to sleep–

Some scholarly squabbles exist concerning if “bad” quartos are really all that bad.. The lines might have been rough drafts and since Shakespeare isn’t about for consultation, it’s suggested to leave the matter be.

Word Nerd: October


October is noticing the changes in nature. Have you noticed any of these?

paraselene: a bright moonlike spot on a lunar halo; a mock moon

gloaming: twilight; dusk

cordate: heart-shaped

brumal: wintry

matutinal: pertaining to or occurring in the morning; early in the day

procellous: stormy, as the sea

plashy: marshy; wet

lucida: the brightest star in a constellation

Photo by u4e00 u5f90 on Pexels.com

Word Nerd Confessions: Random Exploration


Instead of a theme-oriented post I thought I pull out at random what I have collected over the last couple of months. Hope you find a few you can use.

  1. furphy: a false report; rumor

2. mellifluous: flowing with honey; sweetened with or as if with honey

3. yare: quick; agile; lively

4. desideraturm: something wanted or needed

5. supercilious: haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression

6. mal du pays: homesickness

7. perfervid: very fervent; extremely ardent; impassioned

8. garboil: confusion

9. lagniappe: a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus

10. friable: easily crumbled or reduced to powder; crumbly

Ten words that can zip up the most mundane of conversations. Think of the possibilities.

“He seemed to enjoy the lagniappe he received for spending so much money in the store.”

Word Nerd: Special Edition


Girandole: a spinning, rotating firework

Happy Fourth of July!

May you go Fourth and sparkle!

Bard Bits: Overcoming Shakespism


Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?

That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.

How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?

First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.

Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.

Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.

And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.

My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.

I can hope.

Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.

Why We Say: from Villain to Windfall


Villains are the bad guys, right? During medieval times when manor houses were kept by feudal lords villains referred to “one attached to the villa” or the manor house. Now a lord, the one who owns the manor house would or should be considered a good guy, right? Wealthy, taking part in civic responsibilities, watching over the land, helping the poor and needy. Apparently not all lords were good guys and villain took on the meaning of bad guy.

Villain - Wikipedia
“Mwah ha ha”

Go to a library and there will be volumes of books just waiting to be read. By why call them volumes? In ancient times books were written on sheets of paper and then rolled up, much like a window shade is rolled up. Ah–“volume” is derived from the Latin volvere meaning “to roll up.” Next time you are feeling the need to read roll up with a volume in your favorite reading spot.

Volume (bibliography) - Wikipedia
Books? Volumes (go for the erudite)

Feeling the last attempt to succeed was a wash out? Thank the nineteenth century British soldiers for this term alluding to failure. As the soldiers practiced their marksmanship by shooting at targets, bad shots were erased by painting over the targets with whitewash. A “wash out” took on the meaning of failure or disappointment.

GAMO PAPER TARGETS, 100 PACK - Walmart.com - Walmart.com
Sometimes our best shot needs a redo

No one wants to be the wet blanket, especially at a party. But why a wet blanket? Well, a wet blanket puts out a fire and a person who is not into the fun zone essentially puts out the good times at a gathering.

More 100 Wet blanket Synonyms. Similar words for Wet blanket.
Wet Blanket goes by other terms, too

Ever go on a wild goose chase? There is no real winner, but it was once considered a game. Riders would follow the lead rider with all the riders following like geese in flight. The leader set the pace and each rider had to follow and repeat the rider’s actions accurately. The game was a chase with no winner which ends up as a wild run with no true outcome.

A Wild Goose Chase!: Morris, Lynne, Morris, Lynne: 9781953177056:  Amazon.com: Books
No doubt there are plenty of variations

Villains, wash outs, wild goose chases–time for a positive saying. How about receiving an unexpected bit of good fortune, such as a windfall? In Old English days people were required to leave the forest timber for the Royal Navy; however, if any trees were felled by the wind they could gather up the storm’s leavings. There you go–bad weather can bring good tidings.

windfall - definition and meaning
When the wind falls a tree does someone yell “timber?”

Which sayings were a surprise to you in their original form?

Word Nerds: Contronyms


I was quite chuffed, having received quite a positive response from my Kangaroo Words post.

And there it was—another strange lexiconical usage of a word. You see “chuffed” (British slang) can mean one is pleased or displeased. It becomes its own antonym. These words are known as “contronyms.”

Here’s a list to get a better idea:

bolt – to secure; to run away

cleave – separate, adhere

clip – fasten, detach

custom- usual, special

dust – add fine particles, remove fine particles

enjoin – prescribe, prohibit

fast – quick, unmoving

fix – restore, castrate

garnish – enhance (e.g., food), curtail (e.g., wages)

give out – produce, stop production

handicap – advantage, disadvantage

left – remaining, departed from

mean – average, excellent (e.g., “plays a mean game”)

out – visible (e.g., stars), invisible (e.g., lights)

put out – extinguish, generate (e.g., something putting out light)

quite – rather, completely

ravel – tangle, disentangle

sanction – approve, boycott

screen – show, hide

table – propose (in the United Kingdom), set aside (in the United States)

unbending – rigid, relaxing

weather – withstand, wear away

Talk about shades of ambiguity! Then again it keeps people on their toes to pay closer attention to the context to better understand the content.

Bard Bits: Seasonal Sonnet


I tend to inundate my students with Shakespeare’s sonnets as part of our poetry unit. For one, sonnets often show up on the AP exam. For another, Shakespeare knows how to rock the sonnet. He saw what Petrarch has done with the Italian sonnet, smoothed and improved it to the point where he owns it. When someone says “sonnet” Shakespeare is what comes to mind. He tended towards taking what someone else had created and reshaped it so that it was his claim. It wasn’t plagiarism then, only genius.

This month’s Bard Bits recognizes how Shakespeare mastered the metaphor. Many of his sonnets dealt with aging out and Sonnet 73 captures the autumnal drift into winter with thoughtful reflection.

Sonnet 73: That time of year thou mayst in me behold

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Captured this photo yesterday. Mehap’s I render this to be a new season:
Finter—when the trees have not shed their leaves before the first snow falls

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