QotW (#61): 12 November 2018

BH ken dodd
Ken Dodd (and his infamous tickling stick):  ‘I haven’t spoken to my mother-in-law in eighteen months.  I don’t like to interrupt …’

You probably know my taste for puerile humour by now.

This joke (and there are many versions of it knocking around) has been a favourite since before I got married, a good twenty years ago.  You can imagine how well it went down, the first time I used it on my (rather fierce) ex-mother-in-law.  I received what we might call an ‘old-fashioned look’, with added chilli.  Nowadays, poking fun at someone’s verbosity is also self-referential, because, yes, I unashamedly like to talk!  In my defence, it’s because I ‘live’ in 1592.

Which leads me nicely to this week’s QotW

I advise students to expect, actually to welcome loquacity.

They may not believe so, but actually it sometimes makes Shakespeare easier to understand, when a character is saying the same thing in several different ways.  Whilst they assume that each phrase develops the plot in some way, I’ve been taking about ‘amplification’ for a couple of years now – it was with mixed feelings (see this post about saying something original about Shakespeare) that I found the following in last week’s reading …

The noun ‘copia’ was interchangeable with ‘eloquence’ because fullness or variety of statement was considered a virtue in and of itself. As Thomas Wilson says of ‘amplification’, ‘Among all the figures of rhetoric, there is none that so much helpeth forward an oration and beautifieth the same with such delightful ornament as doth amplification.’  Revelling in the new possibilities of their language, writers (and readers) took pleasure in repetition, variation, exemplification, synonymy, and a host of other specific forms of verbal multiplication. [a]

A few points:

  • Humanist education, of the type that Shakespeare (and indeed Marlowe, Kyd, Greene, et al) would have received, venerated rhetoric.  It was as much an accomplishment of a gentleman as skill in arms;
  • Shakespeare was GOOD at this; one factor in his contemporary popularity;
  • it’s useful because when you are in the audience a character is experiencing any kind of emotional surge, this simply can’t be conveyed through facial expression alone; and
  • it’s absolutely glorious.  It sounds good in the ear, and in the brain.  Just allow it in …

A couple of lesser-known examples for you – check out Henry IV’s speech towards the end of 3 HIV, (let alone Richard Gloucester’s incredible soliloquy as he decides to aim for the crown) or the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech persuading Henry V to take arms against France.

Either way, embrace Shakespeare’s garrulity, students, for the beautiful and useful thing it is!  And forgive me mine, please …


[a]  McDonald, Russ, Shakespeare and the Arts of Language (Oxford Shakespeare Topics), (OUP;  Oxford, 2001)

[b]  Wilson, Thomas, The Art of Rhetoric (1553), referred to in [a]

Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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