WOTD: Drab

For your cursing pleasure: a Shakespeare diss. It’s a word often asking about because if its use in one of Shakespeare’s most well known speeches.

drab (n.) IPA Pronunciation: /dræb/
harlot, slut, whore

HAMLET
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave,
That I, the son of a dear father murder’d,
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words,
And fall a-cursing, like a very drab,
A scullion!
- Hamlet (II.ii)

This is a portion of Hamlet’s “O, What what a rogue and peasant slave am I” speech, and as I mentioned before, it is one of Shakespeare’s most famous.
Drab has a certain sound to it that is worse than whore. Shakespeare’s lines build in intensity, and this excerpt is no exception. You’ll notice that Hamlet first says, “like a whore” and continues later with, “like a very drab,” and the audience should get the idea that “whore” is a nice word in comparison to “drab.” With this building intensity and the words getting worse as Hamlet continues, we can imagine that a “scullion” is the muck at the bottom of the lake, but that’s a word of the day for another day.

Show The Histories Some Love

When the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works was compiled by John Heminges and Henry Condell in 1623, the plays were divided into three categories: comedies, tragedies, and histories. Now there are 10 histories total (some say 11 with Edward III, but that’s discussion for another day) and not too many of them are given much exposure.

People are more familiar with the Comedies and Tragedies. Some of them at least. But when was the last time you saw a production of King John? Richard II? Henry VI part 1, 2, or 3? Schools will talk about Hamlet a billion times before thinking of mentioning Henry IV. The only one of these plays that seems to get more exposure is Richard III, and I can see why.

The histories aren’t seen as much – especially outside of the UK – because, well… they take extra effort. The US isn’t familiar with these kings, it’s taught to most students. Some people seem to think that the Histories are more boring than the other plays. I was one of these ignorant people a long time ago, before I read any of the histories — except Richard III. Hm.

I understand the reluctance that people have to touching this category of Shakespeare’s works, but I think we’re missing a huge opportunity for some great language and great action. When I first picked up Richard II I was astounded with how amazing some of the verse was. The characters had plenty I really could sink my teeth into. Shakespeare wasn’t writing a history lesson for his viewers. It was real drama.

I found myself a little lost when I picked up the Histories to read. I didn’t know much about who these kings were, and I had some problems keeping track of everyone and their relations. I didn’t let this stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. A little research on the characters then finding a family tree of English Royalty will be a lifesaver for you and lead to your enjoyment. Once you know who these people are and a couple things about what they did, the language and drama is much more accessible and enjoyable.

If When you read these plays, try to read em in chronoligical order. Be careful. A lot of books and editions will list histories in order of when they were written which is NOT the same as the order in which the historical events occurred. Just to help you along, here are the kings with plays named after them in Historical order starting with the earliest:

  • John
  • *Edward III
  • Richard II
  • Henry IV
  • Henry V
  • Henry VI
  • Richard III
  • Henry VIII

*Edward III isn’t in most Complete Works, not everyone believes Shakespeare wrote it.

If I count Edward III then it comes out to 11 History plays. But wait! There are only 8 names up there! That’s because of the lovely storytelling device I like to call THE SEQUEL! Some of these stories are big. So big that they take up multiple plays. Henry IV has a part 1 and 2. Lucky for him. But even luckier was Henry the VI. His story gets 3 parts! There’s another reason not to produce that story… it’s long.

Do yourself a favor, read the histories if you haven’t already. Do the little bit of research required and enjoy. You’ll be glad you did. It also might come up on Jeopardy one day, so be prepared!

WOTD: Enow

It sounds like a website. “Get your FREE somethingsomething NOW! at eNOW.com!” It’s not. Not that I know of at least.

enow (adv.) IPA Pronunciation: enow
enough

KING HENRY V
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss;
- Henry V (IV.iii)

Apparently enow.com is a website, I checked. Nothing interesting though. Enow is a word when reading is easy to think it’s a misprint, but it’s printed several times in almost all editions, so maybe not.

Good Night Sweet Prince

We often hear how much Shakespeare has influenced our language, that there are phrases and words we still use today. Often they go unnoticed because they’re so tightly woven into our minds and tongues. There’s one recently however that has been hitting me over the head repeatedly.

HORATIO
Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
- Hamlet (V.ii)

“Good night sweet prince,” says Horatio as Hamlet dies. This phrase is everywhere! I haven’t always watched a lot of TV, but I’ve had time recently. Over the last couple months I’ve heard these words at multiple deaths or people going to sleep. In all instances it is used for comic effect for those who get the reference. And all should, if they paid attention in English while studying Hamlet. Most, of course, didn’t.

The most recent shows I heard this phrase were Futurama and M*A*S*H. There are others, but I can’t seem to remember them at this moment in time. I should have been keeping track.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this one. And let me know where else you find it. In fact, if you find other similar occurrences of different Shakespearean phrases please let me know! I’d love to hear about it.

WOTD: Buckle

I’m not talking about what holds the ends of your belt together. You might buckle with your buckle to buckle, but that’s not very Shakespearean, is it?

buckle (v.) IPA Pronunciation: buckle

grapple, fight, combat

CHARLES
In single combat though shalt buckle with me.
- Henry VI, part 1 (IV.iv)

Here, Charles the King of France is challenging Joan of Arc so that she may prove she has divine support before letting her lead his men into battle. It’s always good to test that sort of thing instead of taking their word for it.

This word’s meaning can usually deduced from the context. But don’t get confused, buckle is also used with the definition you’re more familiar with.

Review: Shakespeare A to Z

by Charles Boyce

When I’m working on one of Shakespeare’s plays there are a few books that I won’t go too far without. This is one of them. Shakespeare A to Z is a sort of encyclopedia of Shakespeare’s plays and characters, along with entries on people, places, things, stories, mythology, times, days, and more that is mentioned in any of The Bard’s works.

This book contains over 700 pages of concise information. I don’t usually label something that’s 700 pages as ‘concise,’ but there’s a lot of data in this work. All the entries are in alphabetical order making everything easy to find. Who needs a table of contents when it’s alphabetical? Not I.

There is an entry in this book for every single character in the plays. All the servants with one or no lines who are on for just a moment get an entry. It isn’t very long of course, but it just goes to show how thorough this volume is. There are 30 entries for a character named Servant. Who knew?

Each play’s entry is a few pages long and offers a scene-by-scene sypnosis of the show, some commentary, notes on the sources of the story, the text, and any notable history if the play in performance. Plus each character is given their own entries elsewhere. The major characters have a nice long passage about them which includes their journey through the plays, perhaps some actual history of the character, and some other general notes about them.

This is a great companion to reading, studying, and acting anything from Shakespeare. A very handy first stop for research. Yes, first stop. Don’t use this as your only source of information. If you want to understand anything really well it needs to come from a variety of sources. Even so this text is amazingly useful and completely indispensable.

Shakespeare A to Z:
The Essential Reference to His Plays, His Poems, His Life and Times, and More

WOTD: Reguerdon

Since you have come here looking for information, I shall reguerdon you with some.

reguerdon (n.) IPA Pronunciation: reguerdon
recompense, reward, repayment

KING HENRY VI
Stoop then and set your knee against my foot;
And, in reguerdon of that duty done,
I gird thee with the valiant sword of York
- Henry VI (III.i)

Also can used as a verb, exactly like the word reward. The word guerdon has the same meaning and uses as it does with the prefix re. The ability to drop or add a syllable and keep the same meaning is a useful tool to have to keep to the ten syllable meter of the verse.

This just in: The Glossary!

The Bard Blog is a month old today. WOW! So much has been added already and there’s a billion more things to do. I have a long list of items to write about for every category in the sidebar. If you have any suggestions for something you’d like me to discuss I’d be glad to hear about, just let me know!

There are a lot of Shakespeare dictionaries and glossaries online and very few of them are any good. You’re best bet will always be a physical book. A Shakespeare Lexicon of some sorts, or the Oxford English Dictionary.

The new glossary page is by no means a substitute for those wonderful resources, I’m not even going to try. The glossary is a list of all the past Words of the day. In a long while from now it will become a long semi-comprehensive list that might be a good first place to look for some more challenging words, but don’t throw your dictionaries away! And be careful of some of those free online Shakespeare glossary pages. They’re usually not very complete, not always useful, and sometimes don’t have correct definition for the context you’re looking for.

All that aside, check out the page and enjoy!