Friday, June 27, 2008

Words, words, words ...

Bit out of sorts at the moment so not up to posting too much, but


That, as everyone knows is the bunch of garlic smelling hobbledehoys who are too tight to pay for a real ticket and we assume it was the name they were known by in Shakespeare's time - not true.

Hamlet does the dirty deed of naming them:

O, it offends me to the soul to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to totters, to very rags, to spleet the ears of the groundlings, who for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb shows and noise.
(Act 3, Scene 2)

... and that is the first usage we know of.

What he is doing is using the metaphor of a fish - something like the stone loach. Not a fish you'd normally think of unless you are mad about fish - but Shakespeare knew about them - he mentions fleas on a loach in one of the history plays.
What is significant about the fish is there habit of staying close to the ground - this particular loach is called stone because that's where you find it, under stones.
They are rubbish eaters - collectors and consumers of the detritus which falls to the bottom of the water it lives in - it's small and thin: You can see Shakespeare's idea of naming the apprentice full courtyard after the fish is something of a joke!

But the insult has become a mere, common name - and all assume it was the name given by the Elizabethans - whereas, in fact, it is one of the words that maybe gives a clue to Hamlet being a much less than sympathetic character.

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Gedaly said...

Interesting. I never realized that Hamlet's use was the first appearance of that word in reference to the audience in the "cheap seats."

Then what, I wonder, were they called during Shakespeare's life?

Alan K.Farrar said...

Not found the answer to that one yet ... but looking.

I am reminded though of the mis-information circulating about the original Greek word for actor which wasn't 'Thespian' (based on the supposed name of the first actor to step out from the chorus and play a character) but ὑποκριτής (hypokrites) - from which we get our hypocrite!

Gedaly said...

There's always mis-information where translation comes in.

I remember throughout school learning about theatre and its origins, reading about Greek theatre and one of the main structures in the amphitheatre which was transliterated as "skene" and the teacher always pronounced "SKAY-nay." I was told that it was from this word that we get the word scene, and proscenium.

Later on I studied Greek theatre with actual Greeks, who pronounced it "skee-NEE."