Latest developments in the “What the heck was Shakespeare saying with ‘brach [bitch]’ in Act 3” case. From “The Shakespeare-Expositor: An Aid to the Perfect Understanding of Shakespeare’s Plays” by Thomas Keightley, some entries on the usage of “brach,” specifically in Henry IV.
Here at Towel Hat Appreciation Society Central we all agree that “Lady, my brach” refers to the Other Lady Percy, an actual dog. This is, to me, the most “satisfactory” (to call on Keightley’s standards) explanation of this line. He’d rather hear his dog howl than his sister-in-law sing.
I also think we’re all confused with the interpretation of “brach” meaning the Main Lady Percy, Kate, especially since they seem to have a pretty balanced relationship in general and he does seem to love her under his damaged mental state. So it seems not only unlikely but a little unsettling that he’d call her his bitch. And yes even when he’s the guy who says the heartbreaking line “I love thee not, I care not for thee.” He’s also the guy who promises he’ll say he loves her infinitely. Yes their relationship is a bit confusing.
Aries - but fear not to take upon you what is yours. Taurus - present fears are less then horrible imaginings. Gemini - we fail? but screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail. Cancer - life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. Leo - come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and make me from the crown to the toe-top full of direst cruelty. Libra - so foul and fair a day I have not seen. Virgo - your cause of sorrow must not be measured by his worth, for then it hath no end. Scorpio - come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day. Sagittarius - that which hath made them drunk hath made me bold. Aquarius - that which you are, my thoughts cannot transponse. Capricorn - if it were done when ‘tis, then ‘twere well it were done quickly. Pisces - whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature?
“How do you know if you love someone?” Dean’s only six
months away from being eighteen when the question flows from his mouth as he
hands his father a wrench.
John pauses, seeming to mull over the question as if it’s
the most important question ever spoken in human history. “Love? I don’t really
think I’m the right person to ask, son. You should ask your mother. She’s the
romantic of the family.”
“She told me to ask you.”
“Is that so?” An amused chuckle escapes John’s lips as he
grunts under the hood of the impala.
Dean nods as he tries to wipe some grease from his finger
tips onto his jeans. “Said you could explain it to me simply. I think she said
something like I wouldn’t understand the Shakespeare quotes she’d use.”
This time it’s a snort that bursts from John’s throat. “Well,
I guess you know you love someone when you look at them and life doesn’t seem
like a chore. Before I met your mother I worked and that was about my life. I didn’t
even know what I was working for. Every day I clocked in and clocked out and
that was it. And I was okay with it. Then I met her.
“And just living wasn’t enough.” His hand pauses over the
engine while his eyes seem to lose track of space. “I began to clock out with a
smile because it meant that I could see her smile. The sound of an engine used
to be my favorite sound until I heard her laugh. It’s a weird thing, Dean. I
think it is different for everyone. But for me… loving her is like never having
to settle for anything.”
Dean stared concrete of their garage under his boots with a
growing sense of understanding washing over him. “I think I’m in love.”
“Is that so?” John straightened and turned to smile down at
his son. “What’s his name?”
Blood rushed from Dean’s cheeks as he gawked at his father. “How’d
“You’re my son, Dean.” John smirked and clapped him on the
back. “I know you. Now are you gonna tell me who this lucky young man is or am I
going to have to get it out of your brother?”
“Castiel.” A wave of contentness swept over Dean’s mind as
he finally told his father what he thought was a dangerous secret.
At this John barked out a hearty laugh. “From next door. He
is a strange kid.”
Dean squinted his eyes up at his father. “He’s awesome.”
“He must be.” Without another second to pass John pulled his
son against his chest and wrapped his arm around him. “You treat him right. And
I’ll make sure to let him know that he will treat you right. Maybe over dinner
John held his son tighter, refusing to let go so Dean couldn’t
see the tear threatening to spill. “I’m so proud of you, son.”
“John! Dean!” Mary’s voice traveled from the kitchen. “Come
wash up for dinner!”
“Call Castiel.” John pulled back from his son to ruffle Dean’s
hair. “I’m sure your mother would love to have him over, too.”
Dean’s smile made John’s heart pound. He didn’t move as Dean
bounded into the house with a bounce in his step. As the quiet settled around
him, John knew that no matter what happened in his life his son’s happiness
would be the most important thing to him.
I think I understand why Shakespeare wrote so many sonnets about the same thing, over and over, pouring himself out like concrete, enough to build streets through entire cities. It’s because loneliness for someone feels like an ocean caught beneath your lungs, the pressure building in your chest, the waves forcing at your sides, tearing through,….
I’ve gotten a lot of questions recently (and over the past few years) about why studying Shakespeare is important: people question the relevance of the plays to modern students and whether the difficulty of the language is worth pushing teenagers through weeks of potential frustration.
Those aren’t the only problems people raise, but they are the most common. For me, these aren’t problems. These are the reasons I think reading Shakespeare is important.
Students need to understand that Shakespeare is relevant. The questions he asks in the plays are often universal; the characters are thought-provoking; and everyone needs a good penis joke now and again. Students need to understand that their questions and struggles in life are part of being human. Can this be demonstrated in modern literature? Of course. Shakespeare demonstrates the familiar human experience hundreds of years before our own.
The language poses another problem: it can be difficult, but if students never do anything difficult, how will they learn? That’s a short version of a much longer answer, but students need to experience some frustration and know that it’s alright.
As a side note to that, it’s also time to shift how Shakespeare is taught. He wrote plays. Not books. It’s time that students experienced Shakespeare: they should read it aloud, act out scenes, become involved creating the world of the play.
Students need to experience the play as a play.
Let students fall in love with Shakespeare. Let them discover what it might mean to “tread the boards.”
*curtsies* [am I doing this correctly??] Any advice or resources for a new teacher delving into Romeo & Juliet with a bunch 14 year olds?? Any help would be appreciated! Thank you in advance!
*Curtsies* [You are!] In my opinion the most important thing about teaching Shakespeare–and ironically, the thing which is most often overlooked–is that you have to teach the language, not just the plot. Thing is, they don’t need you to learn the plot of Romeo and Juliet. They can look that up on Google or SparkNotes or whatever (and they probably will), so your spending the whole semester explaining what happens in each scene is redundant, and the kids will finish the class without actually having improved their understanding of Shakespeare at all. What they actually need you to teach them is how to read Shakespeare, because SparkNotes can’t do that. Pick one speech and teach them how to do close reading. Get them to pick out words they don’t know or turns of phrase they don’t understand and parse it out. Once a kid learns that ‘an’ can mean ‘if,’ and that ‘wherefore’ means ‘why’ and not ‘where,’ and that ‘would I were’ means ‘I wish I was’ they’re that much better prepared to read more Shakespeare in the future. Teach them what words like ‘prate’ and ‘chough’ and ‘troth’ and ‘zwounds’ actually mean so that Shakespeare doesn’t look like gibberish. Clue them in to the differences between ‘you’ and ‘thou,’ the differences between verse and prose, what happens when characters finish each other’s lines. Teach them iambic pentameter. When you give them the equipment to actually read the text and discover what’s going on under the surface on their own, they’re going to be that much more interested. Let them pick another speech and try close reading on their own. See what happens.
The other things I would suggest are: (1) Whatever you do, do not start your Shakespeare unit by telling kids how difficult or boring Shakespeare is. Almost every teacher I had in high school started with some version of “This is going to suck but it’s part of the curriculum so we have to do it, sorry,” and literally nothing will put a kid off faster than that.This is a play about love and sex and murder and betrayal and suicide! There’s nothing boring about it, so don’t let them think there is. Be excited. (2) Don’t shy away from the heavy stuff. They’re fourteen, not five. Literally nothing will get them interested faster than talking about the sex and the dirty jokes and the gallows humor. They can handle it, and if you only teach them the highbrow stuff, they’re not getting a real understanding of Shakespeare. (3) Tell them why it’s important. Why does Shakespeare matter? High school Shakespeare classes often give kids the plays with no context, and they finish without having any idea who Shakespeare was or why his work matters. (If you don’t believe me, look at how many high school kids are reviewing Shakespeare plays on Goodreads and talk about him like he’s still alive. Really.) Clue them in. We don’t know much for certain, so you can cover it pretty quickly, but I think it’s important to know that Shakespeare was a middle-class son of a glover with no university education who moved to London and ended up being a playwright in the personal commission of the king, and eventually the most famous playwright of all time. That’s a rags to riches story, it’s inspiring, and there’s no reason your class shouldn’t hear it.
do you think that there're people who simply can't understand (and never will) Shakespeare? Because I'm starting to think I'm one of them
Honestly, no. I don’t. I think there are a lot of people who have never had an adequate opportunity to learn how to read Shakespeare because not many people are really qualified to teach it. I don’t think it’s a question of ability. I think it’s a question of education. Genuinely good teachers of Shakespeare are few and far between and I count myself extraordinarily lucky to have had a few of them. But it is one of the many tragedies of our academic system (I don’t know what country you’re in, but it’s a broad problem) that Shakespeare is often taught without expertise or passion. To teach Shakespeare well you don’t just need to understand the words. You need to understand how to help someone else understand them, and that is a much greater challenge. I’m so sorry and so sad that you and so many other students have been made to believe that you are incapable of reading or enjoying Shakespeare. Because you’re not. I’m promise. You just need someone to give you the tools. If there’s any way I can help you, please let me know.