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  • Why do we cringe when we hear "Shakespeare?"

  • If you ask me, it's usually because of his words.

  • All those thines and thous and therefores and wherefore-art-thous can be more than a little annoying.

  • But you have to wonder, why is he so popular?

  • Why have his plays been made and remade more than any other playwright?

  • It's because of his words.

  • Back in the late 1500s and early 1600s, that was the best tool that a person had, and there was a lot to talk about.

  • However, most of it was pretty depressing.

  • You know, with the Black Plague and all.

  • Shakespeare does use a lot of words.

  • One of his most impressive accomplishments is his use of insults.

  • They would unify the entire audience; and no matter where you sat, you could laugh at what was going on onstage.

  • Words, specifically dialogue in a drama setting, are used for many different reasons: to set the mood of the scene, to give some more atmosphere to the setting, and to develop relationships between characters.

  • Insults do this in a very short and sharp way.

  • Let's first go to "Hamlet."

  • Right before this dialogue, Polonius is the father of Ophelia, who is in love with Prince Hamlet.

  • King Claudius is trying to figure out why Prince Hamlet is acting so crazy

  • since the king married Prince Hamlet's mother.

  • Polonius offers to use his daughter

  • to get information from Prince Hamlet.

  • Then we go into Act II Scene 2.

  • Polonius: "Do you know me, my lord?"

  • Hamlet: "Excellent well. You're a fishmonger."

  • Polonius: "Not I, my lord."

  • Hamlet: "Then I would you were so honest a man."

  • Now, even if you did not know what "fishmonger" meant,

  • you can use some contextual clues.

  • One: Polonius reacted in a negative way, so it must be bad.

  • Two: Fish smell bad, so it must be bad.

  • And three: "Monger" just doesn't sound like a good word.

  • So from not even knowing the meaning,

  • you're beginning to construct some characterization

  • of the relationship between Hamlet and Polonius,

  • which was not good.

  • But if you dig some more, "fishmonger" means a broker of some type,

  • and in this setting, would mean like a pimp,

  • like Polonius is brokering out his daughter for money,

  • which he is doing for the king's favor.

  • This allows you to see that Hamlet is not as crazy as he's claiming to be,

  • and intensifies the animosity between these two characters.

  • Want another example?

  • "Romeo and Juliet" has some of the best insults of any of Shakespeare's plays.

  • It's a play about two gangs,

  • and the star-crossed lovers that take their own lives.

  • Well, with any fisticuffs you know that there is some serious smack talk going on.

  • And you are not disappointed.

  • In Act I Scene 1, right from the get-go

  • we are shown the level of distrust and hatred

  • the members of the two families, the Capulets and Montagues, meet.

  • Gregory: "I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list."

  • Sampson: "Nay, as they dare, I will bite my thumb at them,

  • which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it."

  • Enter Abraham and Balthazar.

  • Abraham: "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?"

  • Sampson: "I do bite my thumb, sir."

  • Abraham: "Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?"

  • Okay, so how does this development help us understand mood or character?

  • Well, let's break it down to the insult.

  • Biting your thumb today may not seem like a big deal,

  • but Sampson says it is an insult to them.

  • If they take it so, it must have been one.

  • This begins to show us the level of animosity between even the men who work for the two Houses.

  • And you normally would not do anything to someone unless you wanted to provoke them into a fight,

  • which is exactly what's about to happen.

  • Looking deeper, biting your thumb in the time in which the play was written

  • is like giving someone the finger today.

  • A pretty strong feeling comes with that,

  • so we now are beginning to feel the tension in the scene.

  • Later on in the scene, Tybalt, from the House of the Capulets, lays a good one on Benvolio from the House of the Montagues.

  • Tybalt: "What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?

  • Turn thee, Benvolio, and look upon thy death."

  • Benvolio: "I do but keep the peace; put up thy sword,

  • or manage it to part these men with me."

  • Tybalt: "What, drawn and talk of peace!

  • I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.

  • Have at thee, coward!"

  • Okay, heartless hinds.

  • We know that once again, it's not a good thing.

  • Both families hate each other, and this is just adding fuel to the fire.

  • But just how bad is this stinger?

  • A heartless hind is a coward,

  • and calling someone that in front of his own men, and the rival family,

  • means there's going to be a fight.

  • Tybalt basically calls out Benvolio,

  • and in order to keep his honor, Benvolio has to fight.

  • This dialogue gives us a good look at the characterization between these two characters.

  • Tybalt thinks that the Montagues are nothing but cowardly dogs,

  • and has no respect for them.

  • Once again, adding dramatic tension to the scene.

  • Okay, now here's a spoiler alert.

  • Tybalt's hotheadedness and severe hatred of the Montagues

  • is what we literature people call his hamartia,

  • or what causes his downfall.

  • Oh, yes. He goes down at the hands of Romeo.

  • So when you're looking at Shakespeare,

  • stop and look at the words,

  • because they really are trying to tell you something.

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B1 UK TED-Ed hamlet thumb shakespeare scene heartless

【TED-Ed】Insults by Shakespeare

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/01/11
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