Hello everyone and apologies for my continued absence – I have been moving house, which has put a definite crimp in both my theatre-going and my blogging. Normal service will be resumed in January – or possibly even slightly abnormal service, since I’m going to at least five Shakespeare productions next month!
In the meantime, and to give you all a festive gift and make up for my prolonged (and not at all gracious) silence, I’m going to share with you the Twelve Days of Desperately Seeking Cymbeline at Christmas (TM). There’s no real link between Shakespeare and the song, which was first published in 1780 and put to its current musical accompaniment in 1909, but it’s a good excuse to shower you with posts.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,
A partridge in a pear tree
Since the old French for a partridge was perdrix, this phrase is likely to be a bilingual pun, of the sort you get when two nations who are close neighbours spend as much time fighting each other as anything more useful like trade…
More on Shakespeare’s attitude to the French later (what did you think I’d do for the third day of Christmas?) – his love of puns was deep and undeniable. “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” says Mercutio, while Benedick runs on: “she’s too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise”. The man always did love the sound of his own voice.
Shakespeare has one notable set of very rude bilingual puns courtesy of Katherine in Henry V:
Le foot et le count. O Seigneur Dieu! ils sont mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d’honneur d’user
I’ll translate the last few sentences for you: “O Lord God! those are evil-sounding words, easily misconstrued, vulgar, immodest, and not for respectable ladies to use”. The words which cause such consternation (French words which sound like “foot” and “count”) – I’ll leave those to your imagination, or a hard-to-explain Google search…