Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Fairy in the Pansy Flower

Meanwhile, back in the land of imagination…

Did you know there’s a fairy in every pansy flower? The wild pansies, not the big cultivated ones you buy at the garden centre. I didn’t know about this until just the other day, when one of the other members of my Writer’s Circle read us a story of how she was a little girl, and her grandmother told her that there were fairies in the flower garden. She showed one to her, picking the petals off a pansy flower and laying them in the little girl’s hand, until the girl could see the fairy’s tiny face, her beautiful yellow and purple skirt, and her big green petal bonnet.

I had never heard about that, so I had to go home and check – I have quite a few wild pansies in my garden (which in this case aren’t wild, but carefully grown from seed). And it’s true! See?

fairy-in-viola

Isn’t she pretty? I’m not sure what her name is, but I think she and her sisters have been looking after my garden quite admirably. I’m pretty sure they’ve also been having conversations with the ladybugs that like to sit on the leaves of the marigolds. It would account for the whispering I sometimes hear when I’m up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and step out on the balcony to look up at the stars.

Oh, and then I found out another neat thing I didn’t know. I was just looking up the flower, which is actually properly called viola (‘pansy’ is generally the term for the cultivar). The Viola tricolor has a whole raft of names, according to Wikipedia – Johnny Jump-up (that’s the name on the seed packet I grew mine from), heartsease, heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy, Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, three faces in a hood, and – drumroll! – love-in-idleness. That’s the one I hadn’t known (or if I did, I’d forgotten).

And it’s cool, because, of course, love-in-idleness is the flower in Midsummer Night’s Dream that Oberon and Puck use to enchant Titania, Lysander and Demetrius, making them fall in love with whomever or whatever they first set eyes on when they wake up:

OBERON: That very time I saw …
Cupid all arm’d: a certain aim he took …
And loosed his love-shaft smartly from his bow, …
Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Fetch me this herb; and be thou here again
Ere the leviathan can swim a league.

PUCK: I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, II, 1

I hadn’t realised that Shakespeare is talking about the humble viola here. Which makes sense, that the flower that has a fairy in each of its blossoms would be ready to do the Fairy King’s bidding, doesn’t it? (The last few lines of that passage also tells you the top swimming speed of a leviathan: less than 1 league in 40 minutes – a league being 5.556km, that comes to 8.33 km/h, or 5.18 mph, which translates to 4.5 knots. Good to know, just in case I ever need to outrun a leviathan when I’m out sailing. Who says Shakespeare hasn’t his practical uses?)

So, apart from the fact that a viola is really pretty (as well as edible), it also has some significant mythical qualities. Between all the fairies in the pansy flowers, and the dragonsbane (tarragon) plant in the herb bed, my garden should be well protected against mythical intruders. At least the undesirable ones. I’m not sure how I’d feel about Puck, or Oberon himself, making an appearance – but we’ll have to see, won’t we.

(There’s also a frog in one of the flowerbeds – he croaks quite loudly sometimes – but so far I’ve been unable to spot him, never mind kiss him or chuck him against the wall. Besides, even though I am the youngest daughter in my family, I’m married already, prince or no prince. So it hardly matters. But if you’re in search of a prince, come on over – you can have a chat with all those pansy fairies, they might point you in the right direction.)

Life, the Universe, and the Fairies in the Pansy Flowers. I’m so glad I found out about them.

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Speaking Shakespearean

800px-ShakespeareSo the Internet was flooded with Shakespeariana the last few days, thanks to the big 400-year anniversary of his death last Saturday, April 23rd, 2016. I kind of missed it, as I don’t go online as much on the weekend, which is why I’m only now weighing in on the issue. But my excuse is that today is the Great Man’s Christening Day (452 years! Significant figure!), so that’s still an anniversary and I can still shove in my oar on the celebrations.

Did you know that even though we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April (the same day he died), we don’t actually know exactly when he was born? I think they (whoever “they” are) just picked the 23rd because it’s convenient so we don’t have to remember more than one date for his birth and death. And because he was christened on the 26th, and it was, apparently, traditional that babies were baptised three days after birth. That must be a peculiarly English custom, though; in Renaissance Germany baptism happened just one day post-partum (that’s how they decided Martin Luther’s birthday must be November 10th, based on his baptismal day).

Anyway, with all this Shakespeare stuff floating around the ‘net, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves. This link demonstrates it quite nicely: there’s a quite funny “translation” of some lyrics by Drake (whom I don’t know anything about other than this clip) into “Shakespearean language”. Except that it’s not. The “translator” falls prey to a very common misconception, which is that to make something sound Shakespearean, all you have to do is attach “th” to the end of every verb, and toss in a sprinkling of “thou”. You know, as in “thou randomly chucketh stuff around and hopeth thou soundeth like Romeo.”

Well, I hate to tell you, but all it does it make you sound like the Shakespearean equivalent of a LOLcat (“I has cheezeburger.”). Now, to avoid your embarrassing yourself further on this issue, let me explain how this “thou” and “sayeth” stuff works(eth).

It breaks up into two parts. First, let’s tackle the thou’s and thee’s, because that’s not quite as complicated as the verbs. What we want for the purpose is a nice little grid, like so:

Singular

Plural

First Person

I

we

Second Person

thou

you

Third Person

he/she/it

they

You see, the “thou” is just an old form of saying “you” – in fact, “you” is the old plural, “you two” (or “y’all”, if you’re from the Southern States). Even though “thou” sounds old-fashioned and formal today, it was actually informal and a bit rude, sort of along the lines of “Hey you!”, which is why it fell out of favour. So, what about the “thee” and “thy” stuff? Simple – they’re forms of “thou” just like “me” and “my” are variants of “I”. So whenever you’d say “me”, use “thee”; for “my” or “mine”, “thy” or “thine”: “He hit me, because my face annoyed him; he said the fault was mine,” or “He hit thee, because thy face annoyed him; he said the fault was thine.” To put it in another nice grid:

first person

second person

third person

subjective case

I

thou

he/she/it

objective case

(he hits) me

(he hits) thee

(he hits) him/her/it

possessive case

my (house)

thy (house)

his/hers/its (house)

Okay, now what about the LOLcats and their cheezeburger? Where does the “hath” come in? Quite simple: Renaissance people had a perpetual lisp. Wherever we put an “s” on the end of a verb, they put a “th”. (Completely off topic, I just found out there’s a special character for “th”, Þ, and it’s called a thorn. Cool, eh?) The third person singular (see above) present tense verb in modern English takes an -s: he jumps, she walks, it has; in old English, it takes a -th (or -eth): he jumpeth, she walketh, it hath. So, an actual Shakespearean LOLcat, messing up its first and third persons, would say “I hath cheezeburger,” or probably more like “I hath an eel pie” (or some such thing).

Now, in modern English, the third person singular is the only case in which the verb changes. But in old English, the second person singular also got its own verb ending, namely -st (or -est). So, whenever you pull out a “thou”, you also need to slap an “-est” on the verb that goes with it: thou jumpest, thou walkest, thou hast. To grid it:

Singular

Plural

First Person

I jump/have/do

we jump/have/do

Second Person

thou jumpest/hast/dost

(modern: you jump/have/do)

you jump/have/do

Third Person

he jumpeth/hath/doth

(modern: he jumps/has/does)

they jump/have/do

That’s why you get: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” or if you say it straight to someone’s face: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

So, now you know. All you need to do is add a sprinkling of “alas”, “forsooth”, “methinks”, or “knave”, and thou art all set to quaff a flagon of ale with Falstaff, Hamlet and Prince Hal.

Life, the Universe, Thou and Hath. Alas, forsooth, methinks thou hast heard enough of my pontification. I prithee that thou takest it not amiss.

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Pictures and Pears and Other Randomness

Helen Jones, of Journey to Ambeth, just posted some lovely pictures for her “Thursday Doors” series, of the church in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire. Take a look, here. I love the way Helen’s pictures can grab me and just, for a few minutes, toss me into another place, right across the other side of the globe. And then, bing, I’m back in my Canadian existence, just a little richer for my tiny little armchair travel experience. (Check out this crazy lapis-lazuli-and-gold swimming pool she posted pictures of the other day. I mean, doesn’t that make you feel like your mind has expanded just a tiny bit, knowing this ludicrously, gloriously extravagant piece of achitectural razzle-dazzle exists in the world?)

One of the things that caught my attention in today’s post, though, was the name of that one and only English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear (who apparently came from Abbots Langley, hence his inclusion in the post). I’d never heard of him before. Now, frivolously-minded person that I am, it didn’t make me think deep thoughts about history – it just set me to wondering if he’s any relation to The Bard. You know, 12th-century Breakspear to 16th-century Shakespeare… Maybe in the intervening 400 years, the family figured out how to wave about their weaponry without cracking it – from Nick “break spear” to Will “shake spear”… [Yeah, I know, it’s bad. I just couldn’t resist.]

Nicholas Breakspear would have been Pope right around the time Brother Cadfael did his sleuthing in Shrewsbury Abbey, and Catherine LeVendeur hers in Paris. As far as I know, those two never did cross paths, although I’m sure they would have got along swimmingly. Neither did Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Roderick Alleyn, although by rights they should have – both attended Oxford right around the same time, were younger sons of the peerage, had mothers who read almost like identical twins, and married women involved in the arts/writing scene. And that’s not even taking into account the Scotland Yard connection. Lord Peter’s brother-in-law, Charles Parker, in fact occupies Inspector Alleyn’s chair as Chief Inspector, right around the same time. We must be dealing with parallel universes here; I’m sure Scotland Yard Chief Inspectors aren’t as thickly strewn on the ground as all that. (While we’re at it, Carola Dunn’s Alec Fletcher, the Hon. Daisy Dalrymple‘s husband, is another contender for that Chief Inspector’s chair. That seat must have been one hotly contested piece of furniture in the 1920s.) IMG_20160211_125146

Anyway. To wrap up today’s silliness, here’s a picture of Steve on a laundry basket. Just because you, I’m sure, needed to see a photo of a bear sitting on a household implement today. You’re welcome.

Life, the Universe, Fictional Sleuths, Pictures and Pears. And bears, of course, as well.

PS: Have you put in a pre-order for Checkmate yet? Just eight more days…

PPS: Now that I think of it, none of this has anything to do with pears, just spears. But I like the alliteration.

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