Contextual material

The world in which Shakespeare's plays are performed today is very different to the world for which he wrote and performed. Here are some examples which put his words in the context of the politics or culture of his time.

These examples were put together by Heloise Senechal, from the Complete Works of Shakespeare (2008) published by the RSC and Macmillan.

1. From The Life and Death of King John, 5.7.62-63

BASTARD: The dauphin is preparing hitherward,
Where heaven he knows how we shall answer him:

preparing hitherward on his way here/preparing to come here heaven he probably originally 'God', altered because of the 1606 Parliamentary 'Act to Restrain the Abuses of Players' which sought to put an end to blasphemous language on stage

2. From Much Ado About Nothing, 3.2.15-

BENEDICK: I have the toothache.

DON PEDRO: Draw it.

BENEDICK: Hang it.

CLAUDIO: You must hang it first and draw it afterwards.

DON PEDRO: What, sigh for the toothache?

LEONATO: Where is but a humour or a worm.

Draw extract Hang it expression of angry impatience hang it teeth were hung up outside barbers' shops as advertisements for the dental work carried out there; Claudio also refers to the hanging, and drawing (disembowelling) of a criminal Where where there is humour … worm toothache was thought to be caused either by the descent from the head into the tooth of one of the four bodily humours (fluids), or by a worm in the tooth

3. From The Second Part of Henry the Sixth, 4.8.1-2 & 21-22

Alarum. Enter again Cade and all his rabblement
CADE: Up Fish Street, down St Magnus'Corner, kill and knock down: throw them into Thames!
Sound a parley
. . . [Cade's followers are offered a pardon if they give up the fight; Cade remonstrates with them]
CADE: … Hath my sword here broke through London gates, that you should leave me at the White Hart in Southwark?

Location: near London Bridge, on the north side of the River Thames Alarum trumpet call to arms rabblement riotous followers Fish Street on the north side of London Bridge, across the river from Southwark St Magnus' Corner site of St Magnus Church, by London Bridge at the bottom of Fish Street parley trumpet summons for negotiation between opposing sides, during which fighting was to stop White Hart an inn on Borough High Street in Southwark, south of the Thames, at which Cade had lodged; here its name puns on 'white heart', i.e. 'coward'

4. From The Merry Wives of Windsor¸ 5.5.1-18

Falstaff prepares for what he thinks will be a secret romantic rendezvous in a wood, unaware that he is about to be tricked by Mistress Ford and Mistress Page.

FALSTAFF: My doe with the black scut! Let the sky rain potatoes, let it thunder to the tune of Greensleeves, hail kissing-comfits and snow eryngoes. Let there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.

MISTRESS FORD: Mistress Page is come with me, sweetheart.

FALSTAFF: Divide me like a bribed buck, each a haunch: I will keep my sides to myself, my shoulders for the fellow of this walk, and my horns I bequeath your husbands. Am I a woodman, ha?

doe female deer/mate/whore scut tail/vulva Greensleeves a popular love song potatoes sweet or Spanish potatoes were considered aphrodisiacs kissing-comfits confectionary for sweetening the breath eryngoes candied roots of the sea holly; a type of sweetmeat viewed as an aphrodisiac and particularly effective for older people provocation sexual stimulation sweetheart puns on 'sweet hart' (i.e. male deer) Divide … buck in order to conceal the theft, stolen (bribed) deer were cut up and divided rapidly amongst the poachers fellow … walk gamekeeper of this part of the wood woodman hunter/womanizer/lunatic

5. From King Lear, 2.2.11-14 & 22-23

OSWALD: What dost thou know me for?

KENT: A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave, a lily-livered, action-taking whoreson … Draw, you rogue, for though it be night, yet the moon shines: I'll make a sop o'th'moonshine of you…

knave rogue/servant broken meats scraps of food three-suited servingmen were permitted to have three outfits a year hundred-pound far more than a servant's income; possibly a contemptuous reference to those who bought knighthoods from James I for £100 worsted-stocking i.e. servant/unable to afford silk stockings (worsted is a woollen fabric) lily-livered cowardly, with a bloodless liver (the organ thought to be the seat of strong emotions) action-taking litigious whoreson bastard (son of a whore)sop o'th'moonshine i.e. beat you to a pulp (so that you resemble either a soggy piece of bread lying under the moon's light, or the blancmange pudding called moonshine).

Developed with Macmillan and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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