Word of the Day has been on leave recently, but has decided to come back in its usual self-referential style, with a word that occurs one hundred and ninety-seven times in Shakespeare’s works. Hear follows, necessarily, a short yet eventful cherry-pick of some of the best uses of the word ‘return’ in the plays and poems.
I take my first example from *Richard II*, not least because the word return occurs a great deal in the so-called history plays, where messengers are forever being sent to various English and French courts only to be returned again with a polite reply or, in one memorable case after a delivery of tennis balls, a declaration of war. The lines below, however, do not deal with messengers but with two quarreling Dukes, Bolingbroke and Mowbray; Richard orders them to stand down in a rare display of royal authority, even as this point marks the slow erosion of his sovereignty until he eventually resigns the crown to the returning Bolingbroke.
KING RICHARD Let them lay by their helmets and their spears,
And both return back to their chairs again:
Withdraw with us; and let the trumpets sound
While we return these dukes what we decree.
King Richard is not the only king in Shakespeare to talk of returning: Lear, who also shares Richard’s downward trajectory, has a very well-known speech about his desire not to return to his daughters’ houses. With the dethroned Lear wandering the countryside, he would resemble those messengers at the other end of the normal hierarchy, forever being sent hither and thither in the history plays, were it not for his stubborn refusal to reject all houses.
LEAR Return to her, and fifty men dismiss’d?
No, rather I abjure all roofs, and choose
To wage against the enmity o’ the air;
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl,-
Necessity’s sharp pinch!–Return with her?
Why, the hot-blooded France, that dowerless took
Our youngest born, I could as well be brought
To knee his throne, and, squire-like, pension beg
To keep base life afoot.-Return with her?
Persuade me rather to be slave and sumpter
To this detested groom.
[Pointing to Oswald.]
My last example, before I leave off for this week and prepare my own return to action at a slightly slower rate than Ariel, returning to Prospero “ere your pulse twice beat”, is taken from the *Sonnets*. These poems, charting the speaker’s emotional engagements are full of references to separation and return: my favourite, by virtue of its wonderful conclusion, is number 56.
Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpened in his former might:
So, love, be thou, although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fullness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love, with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
Or call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.