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Word of the Day: Machiavel

James Harriman-Smith - June 1, 2012 in Word of the Day

There are, according to various counts, approximately four hundred references to Niccolò Machiavelli in Elizabethan literature. Three of them are in plays of Shakespeare; what is interesting is that two of the three are from the lips of Shakespeare’s greatest …

Word of the Day: Sword

James Harriman-Smith - May 27, 2012 in Word of the Day

Henry V, Act II, Scene 1:

NYM You’ll pay me the eight shillings I won of you at betting?
PISTOL Base is the slave that pays.
NYM That now I will have: that’s the humour of it.

Word of the Day: Flesh

James Harriman-Smith - May 18, 2012 in Word of the Day

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!

says Hamlet in soliloquy at I.ii, unknowingly anticipating the sight of his dead, and now ghostly, father. As the
framework of mortality, ‘flesh

Word of the Day: Kibes

James Harriman-Smith - May 4, 2012 in Word of the Day

The source of this word is – most likely – Welsh, where cibi or cibwst means exactly the same thing as Shakespeare’s four “kibes”. That meaning evidently has something to do with feet, as the Fool poses Lear the curious …

Word of the Day: Ragamuffin

James Harriman-Smith - March 30, 2012 in Word of the Day

We are near the end of Henry IV part I, on the battlefield not far from Shrewsbury. King Henry’s army is locked in bloody combat with the rebel forces, led by Douglas and Hotspur. Completely out of place, and …

Word of the Day: Canker

James Harriman-Smith - March 23, 2012 in Word of the Day

Canker comes to us from the classical Latin ‘cancer’, meaning the sign of the zodiac, an actual crab, and anything from a whole range of tumours, abscesses, sores and even worms. According to Paulus Aeginata’s Epitomae Medicomae, the …

Word of the Day: Varlet

James Harriman-Smith - March 2, 2012 in Word of the Day

“A good varlet, a good varlet, a very good varlet”, says Shallow of his servant, after having drunk a few too many glasses of “sack” (wine). The question is, though, is the inebriated rustic being decorous or insulting? To judge …

Word of the Day: Haggard

James Harriman-Smith - February 10, 2012 in Word of the Day

Although it’s not very polite, one can still say nowadays that someone is looking a bit ‘haggard’. Unfortunately, what we use the word to mean – “Wild-looking, applied […] to the injurious effect upon the countenance of privation, want of …

Word of the Day: Pawn

James Harriman-Smith - January 27, 2012 in Word of the Day

Everyone knows that this word refers to the most insignificant piece on the chessboard, and from this, it is tempting to understand Kent’s use of the word in his pledge of loyalty to an irate King Lear in a particular …

Word of the Day: Brimstone

James Harriman-Smith - January 20, 2012 in Word of the Day

Given that it’s been a while since I last wrote about Shakespeare and fire, I decided to return to the topic with this thrice-occurring word. Although we now talk about the ‘brim’ or edge of an object, the first …