Many extol King Lear as Shakespeare’s greatest play. Some even vaunt it as the very height of the Western canon. For their claims, they point, inter alia, to the strength of the tragedy’s language.
Take the mad monarch as he roves the wild heath: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!…Singe my white head!” (3.2.1-6). Or the broken father when he cradles his deceased daughter: “Thou’lt come no more,/ Never, never, never, never, never!” (5.3.306-07). The Bard’s language plunges us into the depths of Lear’s despair.
But King Lear doesn’t just feature some of Shakespeare’s strongest language. It also showcases some of his, well, strongest language. And when we give it a closer look, much of it is truly below the belt.
Men: How far we haven’t come.
During the Utah caucuses last month, a super PAC supporting presidential candidate Ted Cruz attacked his Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, with an advertisement featuring a nude photograph of Trump’s wife, Melania. In keeping with a long-evidenced pattern of misogyny, Trump responded by retweeting photographs that suggested Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is less attractive than Melania.
Little has changed, it seems, in 400 years: Not even the great William Shakespeare was above shaming women on the basis of their looks, if his The Comedy of Errors is any measure. But at least he left us with some memorable wordplay, I suppose.
Think Johns, Dicks, and B.J.s have it bad? Try being named Maud in medieval England.
A lot of little
Henry has Hank. Margaret has Peggy. Susan, Sue. Daniel, Danny. We call these diminutive versions of names pet names or hypocorisms, if we want to get fancy about it. In English, we frequently form these names by shortening the given name and adding the –y sound to the end of it. Hence, Chrissie or Sammy. Hank and Peggy illustrate that there are other ways of forming such diminutives, of course. Such is the case for Maud. And this where things got a little messy–and hairy.