Sunday 16 June 2024

Misunderstandings in Shakespeare

We all know that "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" means "Where are you Romeo?" Juliet is on her signature balcony calling down to her lover in the garden. Isn't she? Actually she is soliloquizing and has no idea her lover is listening. "Wherefore art thou 'Romeo'?" she asks, adding "Deny thy father, and refuse thy name". She is a member of the Capulet clan, and he is a Montague, and the families have been at daggers drawn for decades. Or the other way round. She means "Why are you 'Romeo'?" She adds:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

The essence of the thing is not contained in the name, said philosopher Ernst Cassirer. Juliet is being quite deep.


If it were done when 'tis done t'were well
It were done quickly

The witches have told Macbeth that he will be "king hereafter". So why not fulfil the prophecy by killing King Duncan?

He ponders: If it's all over when the deed is done, then it's a good idea if it's done quickly.

He is punning on two meanings of the word "done" – "over" and "achieved". But as Agatha Christie proved so often, you commit one murder and then...


There's husbandry in heaven – their candles are all out.

Banquo is walking around Macbeth's castle. He is uneasy and can't sleep, and tries to work out what time it is, observing that the stars can't be seen. "Husbandry" means thrift: the inhabitants of heaven have put their candles out to save money. But it's also a pun – he means that husbands are doing what husbands do after lights out. In the dark he bumps into Macbeth, who is on his way to murder King Duncan. 


Hoist with his own petard clearly refers to suspending someone by a giant skyhook – doesn't it? It means "blown up by his own mine". Here's what Hamlet said:

For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard; and 't shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.

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