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05 March 2016 @ 08:42 pm
since apparently I'm on an updating spree today  
And an Atlantic piece on Shakespeare's puns and the forthcoming Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation:

Such Ado: The Fight for Shakespeare's Puns

I always find these sorts of articles mildly bemusing, first because one man's pun is sometimes another man's single meaning; but secondly because they often declare, as this one does, that an exchange is "jibberish" (sic) unless one knows about Elizabethan pronunciation. For example, the exchange between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew given here:

OP also helps to explain this otherwise baffling exchange in Twelfth Night:

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: What is “pourquoi”? Do, or not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting. O, had I but followed the arts!

Sir Toby Belch: Then hadst thou had an excellent head of hair.

Sir Andrew: Why, would that have mended my hair?

Sir Toby: Past question, for thou seest it will not curl by nature.

It’s jibberish, essentially, unless you realize two things: 1) “tongue” was pronounced, in OP, as “tong,” and 2) a “tong” in Elizabethan England was a rudimentary flat iron, a tool people used to straighten their hair. Aha. Sick burn, Toby.

Okay, but…the tongue/tong thing might add an additional layer of meaning to the line, but Toby's primary joke is on the art vs. nature contrast that serves as the springboard for several Shakespeare discussions. Same with reasons being as plentiful as blackberries: knowing that "reason" was pronounced "raisin" gives you an extra bit of amusement and an additional connection, but the line makes sense even if we don't know that, because puns only work if they work in two or more places at once: Falstaff's point is that even if reasons were as plentiful as a really plentiful thing - in this case blackberries - he still wouldn't give one. Declaring that the line makes no sense without OP - as opposed to saying that it regains another layer of meaning - always feels to me like another inadvertent way to say to people that Shakespeare is indecipherable to modern people (so why not just translate the whole lot, right?).
negothicknegothick on March 6th, 2016 12:15 pm (UTC)
Excellent response--and I have suspected that even some original audience members would not have picked up the tongues/tongs pun, which is precisely why Sir Andrew has to question Sir Toby, and Sir Toby has to say "curl by nature." Now the sophisticates will "Get" the arts/ nature contrast, and the slower audience members can slap their knees and think "Ohh! Curling tongs! What an upper-class twit that Sir Andrew is!"
tempestsarekind: the wind and the raintempestsarekind on March 6th, 2016 02:39 pm (UTC)
Sir Andrew is a great straight man, because he never quite gets the joke on the first go; someone always has to explain it further. :) But the word "tongues" is far enough away from Sir Toby's response that I bet many people in the audience didn't catch it, either.

The art/nature thing seems so common that I always feel - with no real evidence - that it must have been a widely understood antithesis rather than a rarefied joke. Mercutio plays on it with Romeo, for example: "Now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature." But times have changed...
negothicknegothick on March 6th, 2016 09:24 pm (UTC)
Indeed. In Shakespeare's time, "artificial" was still a compliment, and "natural" had several uncomplimentary meanings, including "a fool." But you knew that, of course--