While getting my sophomore English classes ready to tackle Julius Caesar, we spend time wrapping up our unit on poetry with some Shakespearean sonnets, and then dive into a two-day crash-course in Elizabethan English, in part using a series of Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English ‘cheat sheets’. It makes for a nice segue from unit to unit and I have discovered that a few days focused on learning the language is worth the effort from a comprehension standpoint.
Some classes really get into it, some don’t – but there is one particular phrase that we always have some issues with: ho.
From one of our Elizabethan-to-Contemporary English glossaries:
ho—hey (roughly equivalent). “Lucius, ho!” [Brutus calling his servant]
There is, of course, some tittering the first couple of times this is said, but it is a very common phrase in Shakespearean language, and very soon the snickering becomes a natural, more comfortable, street-inflected ‘Hoe’ as opposed to the Elizabethan ‘Ho’!
The distinction is not very subtle, and adds a whole different layer of linguistic oddity to my sojourn through the Bard, as there is a vast difference between summoning someone and calling someone…
something like that.
Thou hast noooooo idea.
I always end our pre-Caesar or Macbeth week by having my students rewrite one of their daily start-of-class journal entries into a Shakespearean epic. The prompt I use is imagining or remembering a weekend outing with a friend, including a lot of dialogue. After the writing, we then share some of the results out loud – usually to a mixture of laughter and bewilderment, whether they read what they have written or have me do it.
Here are some of my favorite dagger-stabs at Shakespearean ignominy and glory – verbatim from student papers.
“I stood wall-eyed, “Whence did thee get that zany idea” I said, lapsed. “Thou art mad” I informed him. He discourses. “Thou shouldntst hark. I woo her”. I cursed him. I shook my head. “What are thee going to dost? Thee have a foe”’.
Heavy, he said “I know, come hither. Thou art verily something”. Balked and mated, he didn’t have the addiction of discourses words such as these”.
I am quite sure of that, actually. I think.
“My best friend hark me Friday, doth thee went to hie eat out”.
“Perchance, an I doth not have anything to doth”.
For which we can all be grateful, I suppose.
This next one from a kid who rarely writes more than a sentence or two…again verbatim:
“It’s Friday e’en, methinks perchance I should call my friend to see an thee wants to skate. Methinks also about thee girlfriend. An thee hie hither, thee nots going to have a ride back home. I should privy the mom for a ride back home, but that’s too much. Adieu that idea, so thee calls my friend to come over. Soft, I left thee board in thee mom’s car”.
Hopefully, she’ll find it and give it back to the kid.
Some stray entries from our you-have-to-admire-the-honesty (HATH) department:
HATH #1 “Oft my morrow I am alone and maybe retired because I am an introvert. But were to I discourse and visit with my friends, we off hie to World Market and Barnes and Noble”.
HATH #2 “Today I shall couch. I fancy some chicken for today. Perchance even some tacos. Were I for my dad wrought me the money. I don’t want to woo a job with my friend”.
HATH #3 “Twas a quaint morrow and methinks of a cunning idea. The idea was to mate with a friend”.
The writer of HATH #3 and I had to have a little, um, sidebar conversation.
Moving on, as many of my New Orleans students and colleagues frequently say: “We were conversating”:
We couldn’t think of anything to do. So finally something came to me.
Later that e’en we got dressed and my mom brought us.
Natalie: I bet I can rap a strike before thee
Carla: Methinks not.
Hair is always a popular topic with my students. ‘Going Shakespeare’ changes that not.
“This Friday I’m going to doth my best friend hair
It’s going to take all day but I don’t care
Thee will hie to the movies
whence everything is groovy”.
Stupendous efforts, all. But nobody else went quite in this direction:
One young woman, a recent transfer into my class and a very good, prolific writer, allowed me to read her lengthy and detailed entry, which centered on her mother, who suffered from a long-term illness, giving her and her friends money to drive to a neighboring community to run an errand.
“Speaketh to Mary, Liz, Kenny and Jame” I told her as we got onto the bus. Charlene nodded, pulling out her cellphone and texting all the names listed. I called mother telling her we’ll clean the home, also that we made plans for the morrow. Mother insisted we’d deliver money to Sir Bradley for some of his homemade brownies”.
She went on, making good use of ‘forsooth’ and ‘hither’ among others in describing their nervousness in being followed (innocently and coincidentally, it seems) by a police officer as they returned home with the purchased baked goods from a neighboring suburb.
“You knew what I meant”?
“I grew up in the sixties and seventies. I know exactly what kind of brownies you meant.”
Verily. Shakespeare with my students always is.