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Understanding the Bard (Or, Really, Not) (1 Viewer)

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
Who’s there?
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

To be honest, I would have read that shallowly and thought that "unfold yourself" was redundant with stand. That wouldn't be good writing. The Oxford Dictionary says unfold means "To disclose or reveal by statement or exposition; to explain or make clear." That would be good writing -- He is telling Barnardo to verbally reveal himself.

So, as you can see, an attempt to understand Shakespeare leads to a much better appreciation of his writing ability, and I think the scene comes alive better. And there is no problem with the first six words, as far as I know, but I don't know what "stand" means -- the characters are entering the scene and I assume already on foot. Maybe stand means to stop walking?

[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
Long live the King!
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
Barnardo?
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
He.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
You come most carefully upon your hour.

Again, I would shallowly read carefully as having the same meaning as it does now, which doesn't make a lot of sense. I can see why I didn't appreciate Shakespeare. I like Oxford's archaic "Full of care, trouble, anxiety, or concern; anxious, troubled, solicitous, concerned." But this meaning seems more likely, especially the watchful and cautious part: "Applying care, solicitous attention, or pains to what one has to do; heedful, painstaking, attentive to one's work; circumspect, watchful, cautious."

I assume the following were not cliches when Shakespeare wrote them:

[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
’Tis now struck twelve. Get thee to bed, Francisco.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
For this relief much thanks. ’Tis bitter cold,
And I am sick at heart.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
Have you had quiet guard?
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
Not a mouse stirring.[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]
I would have taken relief as being more emotional, but that would be my bad reading. From Oxford: "Release from some occupation, post, or duty; spec. the replacement of a person or persons on duty, as a soldier, sentinel, watch, etc., by another or others; an instance of this."

BARNARDO.
Well, good night.
If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste

Really, the next problematic word is rivals, which cannot have it's modern meaning. (And assuming the modern meaning would make the actions of the scene confusing.) Oxford provides the answer here:[/FONT]
"A person having the same objective as another, an associate. Obsolete. rare."
[FONT=&Verdana]
I have now taken a scene that I did not understand, and turned it into a scene I understand and appreciate. I am now thinking students should be asked to understand a page of Shakespeare, or at least a half page.

I have not yet unfolded the extent of the difficulty.[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]

[/FONT]
 
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EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
That was the first 73 words of Hamlet. From a little more on:

Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle, hot and full,
[FONT=&quot]Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there.

Apparently, metal and mettle were two different spellings of the same thing. As far as I can tell. So Shakspeare presumably meant:

Of unimproved metal.

Which makes more sense of "unimproved". Or, really, Shakespeare would be able to do both meanings in a way we cannot.

And, [/FONT]
Long live the King! was, probably (?) a show. Or, for all we know, a common reply, though it could be a brilliant show.

MARCELLUS.
[FONT=&quot]Holla, Barnardo!

As writer, I draw a distinction between "Hi", "hello", and "hey". And think about it. But we cannot live in 1600 England to know the fine meaning of holla. Hello didn't exist. It come[/FONT]
s from Hallo, which comes from Holla, which has a different meaning, probably "A shout to excite attention."

And this method works only when the sentence doesn't quite make sense. It wouldn't help when the modern meaning of a word makes sense. The only one I remember: "'Nunnery; was an Elizabethan slang term for a brothel." But I am hoping these are minor. Just looking up the meaning of the questionable words makes the scene come alive.
 

vranger

Staff member
Global Moderator
I find personally that well acted Shakespeare comes through as less archaic than simply reading Shakespeare, as somehow the actor brings the sense across with his action and delivery. I differentiate well acted Shakespeare from what I call Doing Shakespeare. Too many actors present Shakespeare dialogue with a ponderous voice and affected manner, believing they are emphasizing the importance of their selection for the role.

Excellent Shakespearian actors simply deliver the lines as if they were modern dialogue, as real people do in normal conversation. Olivier performing and directing Shakespeare exemplifies well acted Shakespeare. I point to his film Henry V. Marvelous. Plus, the cinematography depicting the cavalry charge is breathtaking (and much copied). :) Also, in well acted Shakespeare, you tend to get the jokes. Presented too broadly, it can be hard to tell where the jokes are.

Branagh, who must be commended for bringing a lot of Shakespeare to the screen, sadly does Shakespeare much of time, although that isn't true throughout his casts. I still enjoy Branagh's films, but his acting pales by comparison to Olivier. (Plus, I'll have to say I wasn't too keen on him turning Hercule Poirot into an action hero. LOL)

That was the first 73 words of Hamlet. From a little more on:

Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle, hot and full,
[FONT=&Verdana]Hath in the skirts of Norway, here and there.

Apparently, metal and mettle were two different spellings of the same thing. As far as I can tell. So Shakespeare presumably meant:

Of unimproved metal.

Which makes more sense of "unimproved". Or, really, Shakespeare would be able to do both meanings in a way we cannot.

And, [/FONT]
Long live the King! was, probably (?) a show. Or, for all we know, a common reply, though it could be a brilliant show.

MARCELLUS.
[FONT=&Verdana]Holla, Barnardo!

As writer, I draw a distinction between "Hi", "hello", and "hey". And think about it. But we cannot live in 1600 England to know the fine meaning of holla. Hello didn't exist. It come[/FONT]
s from Hallo, which comes from Holla, which has a different meaning, probably "A shout to excite attention."

And this method works only when the sentence doesn't quite make sense. It wouldn't help when the modern meaning of a word makes sense. The only one I remember: "'Nunnery; was an Elizabethan slang term for a brothel." But I am hoping these are minor. Just looking up the meaning of the questionable words makes the scene come alive.
 

Bloggsworth

Senior Member
I think not - Mettle - fortitude, strength of will in the face of difficulty. Metal is what it is, iron, steel, copper etc....
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
For those interested in reading Shakespeare without having to go to a college class. This book might be a decent substitute. His language can be archaic a lot of the time and obscure. That's to be expected since he used old English (don't know if middle English). I found this browsing the internet some days ago, so this is a coincidence. Of course, I did take British Literature class once, and I did appreciate it.

https://www.amazon.com/Shakespeares...coding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=61HR1MVPXDP6PEFFEQYR
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I think not - Mettle - fortitude, strength of will in the face of difficulty. Metal is what it is, iron, steel, copper etc....

What you say seems to have become true in the 18th century, but not during Shakespeare's time. I read this about the etymology of mettle:

1580s, a variant spelling of metal. Both forms of the word were used interchangeably (by Shakespeare and others) in the literal sense and in the figurative one of "stuff of which a person is made, (a person's) physical or moral constitution" (1550s), hence "natural temperament," specifically "ardent masculine temperament, spirit, courage" (1590s). The spellings diverged early 18c. and this form took the figurative sense.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Just looking up the meaning of the questionable words makes the scene come alive.

It's not practical, though. In fact, I would argue that the mere act of needing to stop reading and google [questionable word] is the antithesis of what it means for a 'scene to come alive'. Alive scenes move. Their intent, and the author's interpretation, are in harmony (if not necessarily in perfect harmony).

And that's the fundamental problem with Shakespeare to a modern audience. It takes effort. Effort beyond mere engagement (a lot of people conflate the act of simply paying attention and using the brain to the act of having to put in real labor) and that's a fundamentally a problem in any artform. It's the same reason a lot of people find experimental jazz music and modern art unappealing. It's the same reason most people don't really like James Joyce. There is a sort of diminishing return in challenging literature. Beyond a certain point, the challenge becomes a distraction and the distraction makes one indifferent, or antagonistic even, to the story. At that point, the story fails.

I like Shakespeare, studied it for years, know most of the plays pretty well and generally defend him to those tiresome people who complain about him. But even I will be the first to admit his writing is quite overrated. Overrated, of course, does not mean 'bad'. Overrated means 'not as good as claimed to be'. It isn't as good as claimed to be from a modern literary point of view precisely because it is unreadable to most people. Not merely idiots, either.

Consider the most famous of Shakespeare...

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--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.
'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

I will defend this forever as remarkable writing for it's time. I will sneer at it forever as having great literary value to any modern audience.

On the one hand, we can get a good deal out of this writing if we want to. On the other hand, pretty much nobody wants to. "A consummation directly to be wished"? This isn't how modern human beings talk. This isn't how modern expression happens. Just because I CAN understand what is being said and just because I CAN appreciate the linguistic dexterity with which he is saying it doesn't mean this is the BEST way by any standard to communicate what is being said and it's a lie to pretend it is. Ultimately, this kind of writing in a modern world jumps the shark into a product of elitist snobbery, of class conflict. Hugely ironic, of course, because Shakespeare was originally written to have mass appeal.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
What you say seems to have become true in the 18th century, but not during Shakespeare's time. I read this about the etymology of mettle:

Did you understand your own citation?

1580s, a variant spelling of metal. Both forms of the word were used interchangeably (by Shakespeare and others) in the literal sense and in the figurative one of "stuff of which a person is made, (a person's) physical or moral constitution" (1550s), hence "natural temperament," specifically "ardent masculine temperament, spirit, courage" (1590s). The spellings diverged early 18c. and this form took the figurative sense.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Did you understand your own citation?

1580s, a variant spelling of metal. Both forms of the word were used interchangeably (by Shakespeare and others) in the literal sense and in the figurative one of "stuff of which a person is made, (a person's) physical or moral constitution" (1550s), hence "natural temperament," specifically "ardent masculine temperament, spirit, courage" (1590s). The spellings diverged early 18c. and this form took the figurative sense.

Yes! I wrote: "Apparently, metal and mettle were two different spellings of the same thing."

Nowadays, we can write, "Of unimproved mettle, hot and full," which I would take as metaphorically treating mettle as if it was a metal. Or we can write: "Of unimproved metal, hot and full," which would be a different metaphor. Shakespeare apparently could do both, or use both meanings together, in a way we cannot. And for better or worse, we are not understanding that the same way the people of the time would have.
 

Bloggsworth

Senior Member
Interesting points. I think of mettle as the concept of the strength of metal but in no way interchangable in the prose/poetic sense. "A man may show his mettle" is not requesting whomever to produce his armour or weaponry...
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Yes! I wrote: "Apparently, metal and mettle were two different spellings of the same thing."

Nowadays, we can write, "Of unimproved mettle, hot and full," which I would take as metaphorically treating mettle as if it was a metal. Or we can write: "Of unimproved metal, hot and full," which would be a different metaphor. Shakespeare apparently could do both, or use both meanings together, in a way we cannot. And for better or worse, we are not understanding that the same way the people of the time would have.

You still aren't 'getting' it. We can, and I'd wager most readers willing to think about it do, understand it the same way. Your entire argument about Shakespeare seems to hinge on the assumption that readers today are too stupid, or lazy, to understand the subtleties of Elizabethan writing. Some are. Many are not. I wouldn't stop exposing students to the wealth of great storytelling and intricate use of language offered by the classics just because they may fall into the former group rather than the latter.

"There is no darkness but ignorance."
 

midnightpoet

WF Veterans
I went 16 years of school never making under a "c" in any course, except beginning college English Lit. Got a "d." Chaucer and Shakespeare. To this day I don't remember what happened, but the next semester I made straight a's (including second semester English Lit) and the dean's list. In later years with more experience and study I learned to appreciate the Bard, but that experience still rankles somehow (so I blamed it on the prof). :icon_cheesygrin:
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
You still aren't 'getting' it. We can, and I'd wager most readers willing to think about it do, understand it the same way. Your entire argument about Shakespeare seems to hinge on the assumption that readers today are too stupid, or lazy, to understand the subtleties of Elizabethan writing. Some are. Many are not. I wouldn't stop exposing students to the wealth of great storytelling and intricate use of language offered by the classics just because they may fall into the former group rather than the latter.

I doubt it.

If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,
The rivals of my watch, bid them make haste.

The only sane thing for a reader to do is assume that they understand. Do we agree? Then the next scene is a little confusing. But there is no clue until then that rival has changed meaning.

[FONT=&Verdana]FRANCISCO.
Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]BARNARDO.
Long live the King![/FONT]
[FONT=&Verdana]

Here, the careful reader can puzzle out the meaning of stand. (I did not on first reading.) On first reading, I assumed that unfold was some wonderful Shakespearean metaphor that I could try to understand. You would ask more of the reader? I admit a quick trip to the Oxford English Dictionary reveals the correct answer. And there is no metaphor. Do we disagree on how many suspicious words there are?

Studying Shakespeare is an interesting lesson in all the things that can go wrong in reading. The next line is a non sequitur, or at least does not fit the flow of the conversation, unless unfold is properly understood. Imagine if Shakespeare had written:

[/FONT]
FRANCISCO.
Nay, answer me. Stand back and reveal who you are.
BARNARDO.
Long live the King!

Now I feel like I'm in the scene. What an interesting way to answer -- revealing his allegiance.

I lack the skills to know if there is an allusion to "the king is dead". Do we agree that it's ok if I ignore that? Or is that careless? (I did search the internet for about 10 minutes.)

What a mess! Thinking something is a metaphor when it is not; thinking something is a non sequitur when it is clever. And on and on.

So, if you want to understand the story, I suppose Cliff Notes is the way to go. To actually understand a few pages of Shakespeare as a writer requires unlimited time, perhaps access to the Oxford English Dictionary, and good awareness that words have changed meaning and often cannot be understood as written.

 

Matchu

Senior Member
Tho' acted, spoken on a stage, and therefore the redundant argument.

...

Of course, and yet one rallies, mob-surrounds individual(s) abusing the mettle/metal. A 'literally' type of a crime, or children. Very disappointed how this is not the case on this occasion :( .

I believe Shakespeare is our modern English, Chaucer is middle English.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Hugely ironic, of course, because Shakespeare was originally written to have mass appeal.

I used to believe this. Because they were high-drama stories, and the writing was unimpressive.

But I have translated a few of his passages into modern English, and I was consistently impressed by the cleverness and depth of his writing. So I think he was writing for the court. There is some evidence that he was paid by the queen, and Hamlet was performed before the court. But here I am just saying that his writing doesn't read like it was for the common man. He was no Patterson.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
I used to believe this. Because they were high-drama stories, and the writing was unimpressive.

But I have translated a few of his passages into modern English, and I was consistently impressed by the cleverness and depth of his writing. So I think he was writing for the court. There is some evidence that he was paid by the queen, and Hamlet was performed before the court. But here I am just saying that his writing doesn't read like it was for the common man. He was no Patterson.

Then you should do more research. Shakespeare's plays were written to have very broad appeal with bawdy, violent, satirical content targeting mostly middle and lower class audiences. His plays were the HBO and Netflix of their day, easily attainable entertainment with a wide range of viewership. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you can't understand the language it wasn't easily understood by the people who spoke it every day.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I used to believe this. Because they were high-drama stories, and the writing was unimpressive.

But I have translated a few of his passages into modern English, and I was consistently impressed by the cleverness and depth of his writing. So I think he was writing for the court. There is some evidence that he was paid by the queen, and Hamlet was performed before the court. But here I am just saying that his writing doesn't read like it was for the common man. He was no Patterson.

It seems like you have committed the error of assuming that which is written for the upper crust can be presumed cleverer/deeper than that which is written for the common man. I do not think you could have thought that position through.

You know who else wrote for mass appeal? Charles Dickens. Victor Hugo. Thomas Paine. Mark Twain. A huge number, perhaps even the majority, of authors -- certainly since literacy became normalized. How about Karl Marx? Lots of clever stuff has been written for peasants. It's not all rum, sodomy and the lash.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I was consistently impressed by the cleverness and depth of his writing. So I think he was writing for the court. There is some evidence that he was paid by the queen, and Hamlet was performed before the court. But here I am just saying that his writing doesn't read like it was for the common man. He was no Patterson.

Also, I don't know if you've ever translated Merry Wives Of Windsor or The Taming Of The Shrew, but it's really not that clever or deep and certainly not the sort of thing written for the court. Shakespeare wrote lots of different kinds of material over his life. Sure, some of it is deep and meaningful -- Hamlet, Lear, Romeo & Juliet, etc. but a lot of it is pretty trashy.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
This may seem odd, but I love listening/watching Shakespeare but hate reading his works. The same can be said for poetry - particularly Shelley, Wordsworth, and Keats, I absolutely love listening to their works (https://youtu.be/uLBHmoSGcvE) but don't enjoy reading them.
 

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