Wot! What? Wot’s on second. I know not is on third.

wot (v.) IPA Pronunciation: wot
learn, know, be told

But, my good lord, I wot not by what power,
But by some power it is,–my love to Hermia,
Melted as the snow,
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (IV.i)

I wot not what I ought to have braught.

This word isn’t uncommon in Shakespeare; it’s in many of his plays. You out to wot this word.

Review: The Essential Shakespeare Handbook

by Leslie Dunton-Downer and Alan Riding

When DK named their Shakespeare Guide Essential Shakespeare Handbook, they weren’t kidding: it’s definitely a handbook. It’s also about Shakespeare, and I think it’s essential!

It’s about the size of any other handbook. Small enough to fit into a backpack, messenger bag, or suitcase easily; large enough to read and hold comfortably. The difference between this and your Boy Scout Handbook is that there’s no place to check off the merit badges you’ve earned. And the subject matter.

This gem of a book is a wealth of quickly-referenced information. You get a brief bio of The Bard himself, a chapter on Elizabethan theatre, notes about Shakespeare’s works as a whole, and about his language. Then we move on to his plays.

The plays are broken up into four categories: Histories, Comedies, Tragedies, and Romances. Each section begins with a couple pages of talk on that particular category. Each section has a different color header which makes it very easy and quick to get to what you’re looking for.

Within the sections, you get several pages on each play. There’s so many goodies in there, it makes me all giddy. A few paragraphs of intro and history of the play is given. The date it was written is shown on a timeline, along with the length of the play (number of lines of text) in comparison to Shakespeare’s shortest and longest plays – Comedy of Errors and Hamlet, respectively.

Then there’s a page that lists every character with a few lines about them and how many lines of text each has; certain characters are marked with icons to denote a great role, comedic character/villain, dies, and more. There’s a little chart that even tells you how many lines of text are in each act, and another that gives you a percent of verse to prose comparison! There’s a full synopsis of each act, and then commentary about reading the play, the play in performance, and more!

This volume is one of the most useful books on my bookshelf. If ever I need to quickly and easily reference almost ANYTHING about Shakespeare’s plays I check here first. It’s not just great content, it even looks great! Check bookstores around you if you wanna flip though it before you buy it… you will. Trust me.

Essential Shakespeare Handbook

WOTD: Choler

Sounds just like the part of the shirt that is always messed up in the back: collar. When your collar is wrong, you may get full of choler and soon change your color in front of a caller.

choler (n.) IPA Pronunciation: choler
anger, rage, wrath

Your wisdom should show itself more richer to signify this to his doctor; for, for me to put him to his purgation would perhaps plunge him into far more choler.
- Hamlet (III.ii)

When your collar is wrong, you may get full of choler and soon change your color in front of a caller.

This word shows up all over the place so it’s a very important word to know when working with Shakespeare. That’s probably because there are a lot of angry people in the plays.

Just my guess.

Finishing The Thought

In the recent post, “Now is NOT the Winter of Our Discontent,” I mentioned that people are misreading and misunderstanding verse because they are reading to the end of the line. That’s not right!

The end of the page limits the space of a line in a book, website, news article, etc. In Shakespeare’s verse, there is a syllable limit instead. Imagine, if you will, that the page is much thinner when reading Shakespeare. A line of iambic pentameter is only a rhythm pattern with a syllable limit. The thought does not stop on the line, it ends with the punctuation mark.

The following passage of verse I have taken out of the line form, and punctuated as if you should stop at the end of every line. Read it aloud and see what happens.

Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy. And will not let belief take hold of him. Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us. Therefore I have entreated him along. With us to watch the minutes of this night. That if again this apparition come. He may approve our eyes and speak to it.

Does this make any sense to you? Didn’t think so. It is, unfortunately, a common practice for actors of all ages and experience. Don’t be like them. Let’s try some normal punctuation but still without confining the text to seperate lines. Read this one out loud too. Use the punctuation and your smarts to make sense of the words as you read it.

Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy and will not let belief take hold of him, touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us; therefore I have entreated him along with us to watch the minutes of this night, that if again this apparition come, he may approve our eyes and speak to it.

It’s all one sentence! So there’s no reason to pause or lose energy at the end of the line. You have to continue the thought when speaking and reading until you reach the end-stop punctuation mark. Here’s the text as it appears normally. Read this out loud too and notice that you’re now able to make sense of the text better than before.

Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us;
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
- Hamlet (I.i)

If you’re having trouble breaking the habit of stopping at the ends of lines you can try editing your lines to look like prose instead for easier reading. Always remember that you’re not saying words; you’re telling a story.

“Speak to be understood”
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (V.ii)

WOTD: Caveto

Be careful with this word… just ‘cuz.

caveto (int.) IPA Pronunciation: caveto
beware, take care, careful

Therefore, Caveto be thy counsellor.
- Henry V (II.iii)

This word means caution, related to a term you may be already familiar with: caveat. Good ol’ Pistol, always a careful one. NOT!

Now Is NOT The Winter of Our Discontent

One of the many Shakespeare related peeves I have is cutting off the end of a line as if it’s a full idea, creating an incorrect meaning. On of the big ones are the famous opening words of Richard III.

What many don’t know is that Richard is not telling the audience that the winter of their discontent is now. Take a look at the full SENTENCE, not just the first line.

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Richard is telling us that the worst times (“winter of our discontent”) have been made into good times (“glorious summer”) by King Edward (“this son of York”). Or to put it more simply, “Times sucked, but now they’re good. Thanks bro.” Followed by “the gloom that hung over us is now buried in the deep ocean.”

I’ve seen a T-Shirt that said “When is the Winter of my discontent?” That just makes no sense. Why would you want to know anyway? That’s just like putting “When am I going to have the worst day ever?” on a shirt.

The problem doesn’t lie with the quotation, but with people’s lack of understanding that one line does not always equal one thought. It’s a silly misconception but it exists for some reason. When someone reads a book or an article and they get to the end of the column they automatically know to go to the next line and that the thought stops at the period or question mark. But as soon as someone picks up verse, many will pause at the end of the line instead of reading to the punctuation mark.

There shouldn’t be any sort of difference in the way that verse or prose is read in this way. Whether the line is restricted by physical space or amounts of syllables, the thought doesn’t stop until you reach the appropriate punctuation mark.

WOTD: Doit

No, it’s not an elided part of a Nike commercial.

doit (n.) IPA Pronunciation: doit
small sum, worthless amount, trifle

Where they will will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar…
- The Tempest (II.ii)

A doit was a small Dutch coin that was worth half an English farthing, which wasn’t much. So half of that (and perhaps the fact that it was Dutch) made it a worthless amount.

Shakespeare and Musical Theatre

At first glance, some might see no real relation between performing Shakespeare and a musical. But look again. I’m not talking about songs that Shakespeare wrote in to many of his plays, but the style of writing and acting. First a little disclaimer: lots of people don’t like musical theatre because it is hokey and unrealistic and lame. It is if you see bad musical theatre! Any good theatre production will let you suspend your disbelief and become engrossed in the stories and character. The community and high school musical theatre productions can’t really count. The instruction is often “smile,” and that’s about it. Super cheesy mediocre theatre is not what I’m talking about.

My best example of the similarities between Shakespeare and Musicals is the average Shakespearean soliloquy and a traditional solo song. Both pieces are delivered to the audience as a glimpse into the character’s thoughts and feeling at that very moment in time. The soliloquy (most often) and the song are in verse, have rhythm, meter. Both are definitely not true to real life; they are heightened language at an heightened emotional part in the characters journey and needs to be shared.

I’ve often heard said in musical theatre classes, “when the emotion is too great to speak: sing.” The same is often true in Shakespeare, except that the character will rattle off a monologue instead of a song. But the verse structure is very similar to that of a song. There is meter and rhythm, but the pitches and tempos are up to you.

The training for performing in either can be similar too. Being able to speak the words with distinction and give them meaning is essential. If you sing a song and have a pretty voice put put no emotion in it, no one will care. A great actor with a not so great voice will usually get away with it, but a horrible actor with a not so horrible voice gets boring real fast. The words need to have meaning because theatre is an auditory experience primarily. The author has created the story with words (and maybe music) and need to be given meaning. If an actor in Shakespeare can put “emotion” into their voice but not connect with the words, their performance will fall flat too.

Unfortunately today a lot of musical theatre, even at a professional level, does not put a lot of emphasis on acting the songs. As long as you’re a great dancer and have a decent voice – you’re in. But the BEST musical theatre performers are actors first who know how to use the words. What good is a play when the story that is written is not being told well?