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A Young Reader's Guide to the Study of William Shakespeare

Updated on February 10, 2015

Who is this Shakespeare guy?

William Shakespeare is a mysterious fellow. No one really knows a heck of a lot about him. But, he is very important to English Literature. The poems that William Shakespeare wrote still influence how many poets write today. Mr. Shakespeare, Uncle Will1 for short, was born in 1564. He lived in England all of his life and most of his work was written, or performed, in London. He was not only a writer but a playwright and actor. In fact, though his poems are very important, most people know him from his plays.

William Shakespeare wrote many poems for his friends and published a book of sonnets in 1609. A sonnet, which you will see later, is a stanza of poetry with specific rhymes. He wrote many plays including, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, which many students read in high school. Both of these were made into movies. Many other important plays he wrote have been made into movies. Some of the poems in this reader are from Shakespeare's plays.

According to public records Shakespeare was married to Anne Hathaway in 1582. He had several children. He worked with a number of troupes. A troupe is an old word for a group of actors who performed plays. One of the troupes Shakespeare worked in was quite famous. It was called the Lord Chamberlain's men.

Around 1610 Shakespeare was tired out from his long successful life. He retired to Statford, England. He died a few years later in 1616. He remains today one of the most important English writers of Literature.

Many new readers to Shakespeare think that he writes old English; but he doesn't. Shakespeare's works are written in modern English. However, it has changed a lot from then until now. You will find many of the words that are no longer used defined in the summary of each poem. Don't give up if you don't understand the poem the first time through. You have to look at it, study the meaning of the word, picture it in your head. Read the poem and then the summary. Then, read the poem again. Eventually, it will make sense to you.

1. "Will" is William Shakespeare's nickname for short in Sonnet 135.

Poetry is like singing!

The Study of Poetry

What is poetry? A complex question! The difference between poetry and other types of writing is that poetry is composed of individually standing lines. These lines may be complete sentences, but sometimes are not. It is written in such a way that it is musical. It may rhyme; it may not rhyme. In the case of Shakespeare it usually does. Often within the poem are similar sounds. These sounds give the reader (the person reading the poem) a feeling of a song.

An example of how a poem gets its singsong sound is the repeated use of sounds at the beginning of more than one word; this is called alliteration. Or, as repeated sounds with consonants letters; this is called consonance. It might have repeated vowel sounds within the lines; this is called assonance. Don’t worry if you don’t remember these words. At this point it isn’t very important. But they will be shown to you later when you read the poems.

Poems are often made of Stanzas. A stanza is a group of lines of a poem which resembles a paragraph. Often they have alternating rhyming lines and feel like they end with the last rhyme. The way in which a stanza rhymes is called a “rhyme scheme.” The first poem, “Winter,” is made of two stanzas. These groups of poetry lines also make a poem musical when it is evenly read aloud.

A third thing which makes a poem song-like is called its rhythm.” Rhythm is the way a poem is stressed. A stress is where we say a word slightly louder or hold the sound out longer than in another word or part of a word. For instance say, “I want a candy bar.” If you say “ I want a candy bar” like I do… you say a stress on “I” and at the beginning of “Candy.” Repeat this sentence 5 times with the bold letters a little louder:

Í want a ndy bar.

This particular sound pattern has a "falling" affect because it is stressed at the beginning of each third syllable and gets softer on the next two. Now, correct me if I'm wrong... Most of us could sing, "I want a candy bar" many times!!!

You will learn many interesting ways to look at poetry in this reader. And, you will find that you understand it much more than you thought you did. But, if you find a word you don't know, go ahead and get a dictionary, look up the word, and write its definition down. This will help when you read the poem.

In Winter the Owl says, "Tu-Whit, Tu-Who"

Winter

When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail,

When blood is nipped and ways be foul,

Then Nightly sings the staring owl,

"Tu-whit, tu-who": a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.


When all aloud the wind doth blow,

And coughing drowns the parson's saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian's nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,

"Tu-whit, tu who": a merry note

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.


The first time you read this poem it might seem a bit difficult. So, let's look closer at it. Winter is a poem describing winter. It "paints a picture" of what someone sees when they look at winter. When there are many things in a poem that makes us "see the poem" we call that imagery. An image is a picture.

Let's look at the "form" of Winter first. Or, how it looks. Winter is composed of two stanzas. Remember, a stanza is a group of lines in a poem like a paragraph. Each stanza has eight lines. every other line in the first four lines of each stanza rhymes. And, every other line in the second part almost rhymes. Shakespeare likes to use words that almost rhyme but, do not quite rhyme. This is called an "off-rhyme" because it is so much like a rhyme but, not quite. An example is bowl and owl. They look alike; they sound similar. But, they are not quite a rhyme. In this case they are considered like a rhyme because they are so similar.

The "rhyme pattern" here is called "ABABCDCD." The letters stand for the ending word of each line that rhyme. So "A" and "A" in the first stanza (or poem paragraph) are the words"wall" and "hall" at the ends of the lines. These rhymes make the poem sound nice. Have you ever noticed how much little children like to have a rhyme said to them? Even if they don't know the words most children would like Winter because it rhymes nice.

The first line says, "When icicles hang by the wall" which seems kind of odd as a beginning. But, remember we are talking about winter when icicles do hang by the wall. In particular in old homes where there was no insulation in them, every home had icicles hanging on the outside wall. Looked at it that way it makes perfect sense. Each sentence is like that... a description of what someone sees in winter. The next line says, "And Dick the shepherd blows his nail." Now that sounds kind of strange. Is he sitting there blowing on a nail? Well, yes he is, his finger nails because his fingers are cold from winter. Dick is a Shepard and out in the cold all day tending his flock. "And Tom bears logs into the hall" is the next line. Remember the "context" of the poem. The "context" is where and when. Can you remember when Shakespeare was born? Well, they didn't have indoor central heating. Tom is a boy who is bringing in the wood to heat the house or cook the food on the fire. The next line says, And milk comes frozen home in pail." What does that sound like? kind of strange. Again, think of the context. This is a place where someone goes to the barn to milk the cows for milk. They then finish their chores and return home. By the time they get back to the house with the milk it is frozen in the metal pail.

The next line is very interesting. It says, "When blood is nipped and ways be foul." "Blood is nipped" is kind of like the phrase, "jack frost nipping at your nose." It means when you get so cold the spot hurts, like getting your nose super cold when you go sledding. And the "foul" ways has to do with what people used to think about winter. Back then, when all the plants died in winter, people thought of that time of year as a "foul" time of year when everything spoiled. Many people thought bad spirits roamed the earth in winter. The days grew dark and scary. People woke by dark and went to bed in the dark. Remember, there were no street lights. There was no lighting in the house... just candles and oil lamps. everything was dark and scary most of the time.

Of course the next two lines are obvious. The image (or picture) is the owl with big eyes singing, "Tu-whit, Tu-who." The line calling the owls song "a merry note" is somewhat ironic - meaning that it actually means the opposite. People in those days didn't find owl songs "merry" they found them to be a frightening sound of the night. You might have trouble with, "While greasy Joan doth keel the pot." The word "doth" means "does" and keel means that Joan is tending over the pot and constantly stirring it the way a fisherman moves the keel of his boat. She may be making jam and must keep stirring to prevent burning. It seems kind of gross to call her "greasy," doesn't it? But, watch a cook sometime over a really hot stove for a long time. Evaporated water on the person's face makes them look greasy. And, they often get splattered with food, grease, or water making their face shiny and wet.

The next stanza (or paragraph) begins with an obvious line, "When all aloud the wind doth blow." Again, "doth" means "does." If you have been to a Northern state in winter, you know that the wind is a brutal friend to winter. When it is winter the wind blows and it blows strongly because it brings in the winter weather. The next line might be confusing, "And coughing drowns the parson's saw." A parson is a preacher, or priest, or pastor in a church. The word "saw" is his sermon. To "saw" in this case is to talk or preach. The coughing is another word that really has more meaning with the time that Shakespeare lived in. There were many more people sick with cold like symptoms. And, they often could not handle the diseases well with cold so there were more sick in winter. Such sicknesses as tuberculosis caused racking coughs in winter so severely that people would cough all through church service. So many people could become sick in winter back then that coughing in church is part of the picture of winter.

In the next line you see "brooding" birds. To brood is to feel sorry for oneself. They are sulking because they don't like the cold. The line about Marian's nose shows that she is either sick with a red raw nose or her nose is very cold. The next four lines are almost exactly like the ending of the first stanza except for the one that says "When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl." Well, depending on your tastes, you might be saying "Yum, roasted crabs" or "Yuk, roasted crabs" or "Poor little crabs." But, if your doing that then you probably are thinking of the wrong kind of crab. These crabs are crab apples that hiss when they are heated in water. These are not the small ones you might have from a decorative tree in your yard (which can be poisonous). Crab apples for cooking are a little bigger, slightly sour, and sweet. they make very good jam. So, here we get confirmation that Joan is stirring a pot of jam. The fact that it is crab apples she is stirring is also something related to winter. This is because crab apples are one of the last fruits to ripen before winter. And, they can be picked all the way up to the first frost of the season and stored until they are cooked.

What can you get out of this poem? What is its tone, or, how does it feel? Many children guess it is sad. They feel sorry for these hard-working people. However, if you look, the only "brooding" creatures are the birds. The people do not seem over burdened. The people are not unhappy nor happy. They are just people going about their daily routine. Something might happen later, since, they could become sick or freeze. But, right now they are going about life in a normal country way in the late 1500s. Now that you know what the poem means read it again.


Terms from Winter:

Crabs: crab apples.

Doth: does.

Keel: in this instance to stir a pot.

Nails: finger-nails.

Nipped: cold to the point of causing pain to the skin.

Parson: preacher, priest, or pastor.

Saw: to make noise, talk.

To Fancy: to like based on looks - or other superficial reason.

Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred?

Tell me where is Fancy bred,

Or in the heart or in the head?

How begot, how nourished?

Reply, reply.

It is engendered in the eyes,

With gazing fed; and fancy dies

In the cradle where it lies.

Let us all ring fancy's knell:

I'll begin it~ Ding, dong, bell.

Ding, dong bell.

Now this poem has probably left you with the feeling that everything you learned after Winter was a waste of time since you probably don't understand what you just read. But, don't worry. Every new poem needs to be looked at just as carefully as any other. Especially, when you are reading Shakespeare. Each new poem is like a hill. When you start up the hill you can't see the other side. But, when you get to the top you can see into the next valley.

The form of this poem is a little different. It is not the neat little grouping of two stanzas of Winter. This poem is a little song from one of Shakespeare's plays called, The Merchant of Venice. You can see that it rhymes, "AABCCCDDD." So, we see that the forth line does not rhyme. When you read this poem you should stop a little bit longer after the two indented lines before continuing on. Or, stop after the last lines that rhyme at the last "A" line (at the word nourished), the "b" line (at the second word reply), and the last "c" line (at the word lines). This helps you to understand it better. "Where is Fancy Bred," is something you probably have heard. Gene Wilder quotes it as Willy Wonka!

Let's look at the word "fancy" in the title and the first sentence. Fancy doesn't mean quite the same thing as fancy means today. In Shakespeare's time to fancy is a verb which means to like something. For instance, I fancy candy bars. However, in this case "fancy" is meant as a superficial fancy. Or, a kind of liking of something that doesn't really mean very much. Fancy, for instance is if you like the way someone looks. But, when you get right down to it you don't necessarily like anything else about that person. Maybe you don't even really know them. So, you "fancy" them only because they are pretty. If you fancy someone in that way it doesn't really mean a lot, does it?

The first two lines are "Tell me where is fancy bred,/Or in the heart or in the head?" Notice the slash symbol here. That is how you can tell where different lines begin in a poem when they are written together in a normal paragraph. The word "bred" means "created." The "or" at the beginning of the line can be ignored it is the same as the "or" later in the line which is comparing "heart or head." So, the speaker (the person talking in the poem) is saying, "Where does this shallow "liking" of someone come from? Does it come from a person's heart or their head? The next line says, "How begot, how nourished." Begot again is like saying, "how did it come about" or "How was this feeling created." Asking how it is nourished is asking how is it "fed." Feeding helps us live. What helps fancy live? You don't really care for the person for who they are. You don't really love them. So, what makes you continue to fancy them, asks the speaker. The words "reply, reply" means that the speaker expects an answer. This is placed here to cause a moment of thought. It is kind of like saying "why...why" after something bad happens even though you know you won't get an answer.

The next line says, "It is engendered in the eyes." That means it is "found" in the eyes. In other words, it is looking at the person that makes you "fancy" them. You don't fancy them because you care for them. You don't fancy them because they interest you. It means you fancy them because you see them. Then it says, "With gazing fed; and fancy dies/In the cradle where it lies." This means that when you are done gazing, or looking at the person your "fancy" is fed. Therefore, the fancy dies. Eventually, you don't' find them as pretty as you did when you first saw them. So, if you look at something that is really pretty you start to see its faults in which case you no longer fancy it. Or, you get bored of looking at it and you no longer have the "fancy" or liking of it. And, fancy dies "in the cradle where it lies." Fancy never becomes an old love. It never grows or matures. Fancy is superficial and therefore not important enough to become older.

Then the speaker (again, the person in the poem) says, "Let us all ring fancy's knell." A knell is a church bell at a funeral. Or, in a scary movie, play, or poem it is a long dong that tells you something is going to die. So, ringing "fancy's knell" means that the speaker does not want to have anymore superficial liking. Fancy should not exist. We should only care for people based on our hearts or our minds and not by what our eyes see. The speaker wants only meaningful relationships with people who really love him or her. Of course, the last two lines are clear. They are the ringing of the bell.


Terms from Where is Fancy Bred:

Bred: created, born.

Engendered: found within, contained in, stemming from.

Fancy: superficial liking.

Knell: a bell which rings during a funeral; a sound indicating a death is near.

Nourished: fed.



A "taper-light" is a candle thinner at the top than the bottom.

Shakespeare's To Paint the Lily

To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.


This poem is part of a speech in Shakespeare's play King John. The poem begins with the line, "To guard a title that was rich before." This line is about a "title" which is given to a man or woman from a queen or king. A title is like us saying doctor before someone's name instead of mister; such as Dr. Smith. In the case of doctor you get the title because of completing a certain level of college. However, in the poem the title is because the king gives the title. For instance, the King says we must now call Mr. Smith, "Lord Smith." It is a little more than that but, basically, it shows Lord Smith is an important person. In the line of the poem a person is "guarding" his title as though it is very rich though he already had a title. So, maybe he was a Duke. Then, he wanted to be a Lord, too. So, now he is Lord Duke - which is silly. Why would a Duke then need to be called a Lord? His Duke wasn't enough? It is kind of like calling your doctor, say Dr. Smith, "Doctor Doctor Smith." One "doctor" is enough!

The next line says, "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily." To gild means to cover something with gold. And, "refined" means it was melted to a certain temperature and all other metals removed so it was "pure" gold and then it was made into something... like a gold bar. So, to "gild" gold is a waste of time and energy - it would be to coat gold in gold - it is already gold. Why cover it with gold? Just to make bigger gold? The same is true with painting a lily. Lilly's are beautiful and colorful flowers all by themselves... there is no need to paint them.

The next line says, "To throw a perfume on the violet." Maybe you have never smelled a violet. They are very sweet and pretty to smell. Do they need perfume? Not really. It would be a waste to put mom's expensive perfume on a violet. She probably would be mad and yell, "What a waste! Why would you do such a thing?"

Then the poem reads, "To smooth the ice, or add another hue/Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light/To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish..." ice is already smooth so why would a person smooth ice (given that hockey didn't exist in Shakespeare's time). A "hue" is a color. The rainbow already has all the colors that exist, so why add another color? He also asks if the light of heaven's eye is not pretty enough? In Shakespeare's time everyone accepted "heaven" as real and bright, full of light, and in the sky. They also referred to "the heavens" as the sky. Heaven is already bright and beautiful. A taper-light is a candle. It is "tapered at the end, or thicker at one end because it is made the old way by dipping the wick in wax over and over, as the wax dribbles down as it turns solid it is thicker at one end. "Why would anyone add a taper-light to garnish (which means to improve or add a decoration to) heaven? Why put a candle to light what is already lit? You certainly can't garnish heaven with it, heaven is already beautiful and bright (we, of course, are talking about during the day). To do so would be exactly what the last line says, "wasteful and ridiculous excess." "Excess" is something extra that is too much extra... something that does not need to exist. This poem is similar as "Where is Fancy Bred" where Shakespeare is discussing elements of culture that seem a waste to him. He is demonstrating waste for the sake of appearance. Sometimes we go too far. This isn't much different than how society is today. There is always something in society that goes too far for the sake of being popular or appearing wealthy.

To Paint the Lily is a tough poem. If you can make a picture in your mind of each idea you will see that its message is very clear and has as much meaning today as it did then. try reading it again.

Shakespeare's Opportunity

You must note beside,

That we have tried the utmost of our friends,

Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe:

The enemy increaseth everyday;

We, at the height, are ready to decline.

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

On such a full sea are we now afloat;

And we must take the current when it serves,

Or lose our ventures.


This poem is a bit strange, isn't it? You will notice that it does not rhyme. Part of the reason it doesn't rhyme is that this poem is taken from a play called Julius Caesar. You might not think that this is a poem at all, therefore. However, most of Shakespeare's plays are written in a poetic style. they are not paragraphs, or even sentences. They are, indeed, poems.

The first clue to the meaning of this poem is the title: Opportunity. What is opportunity? Well, let's think of the ice cream truck coming down your street on any sunny summer afternoon. The moment that you hear the tinkle of music you know that an opportunity is on its way. Would you wait until the evening to ask for ice cream? Of course not! You would take the opportunity and run to your parents and ask them for money for ice cream. Furthermore, just like in the poem, if you don't make it to your parents in time to ask your opportunity is over. The truck won't sit outside and wait. Once the truck has passed and gotten an unreasonable distance then the opportunity (for ice cream) is gone. The fact is that every child knows how to use opportunity even if they don't know what it means.

This is the point that the character is making in this poem. these lines are spoken by a character called Brutus and he is making a metaphor for the need to take action in war. A metaphor is when two things non-literal are compared to each other. That is - two things not related. Brutus compares a merchant's ship to the chance of battle. A merchant, in Shakespeare's time, was a person who bought goods in one place, shipped them to another, and then sold the items for profit. Merchants were wealthy people. But, they took some risk. If they could not sell what they bought they would owe people money without having anything to sell to pay them with. Or, they could lose all of their goods because they could not sail and remained "in the shallows" or the shallow water close to shore never able to sail.

The first three lines indicate that everything has been done that can be done in order to prepare for the battle. The strange beginning, "You must note beside" is because Brutus is in the middle of a conversation here. Brutus is arguing that his forces should attack the enemy. Brutus indicates that they have gathered all the people and resources they could when he says, "tried the utmost of our friends." He has all the men he needs and "tried them" to their most. They have given all of their time and energy to be there ready to strike. He states, "Our legions are brim-full." A legion is a large number - in the metaphor a large number of ships full to the "brim" with goods to transport. A legion is also a group of fighting men in the Roman army. He has the support he needs from other people when he indicates, "our cause is ripe." Think about ripe fruit which is when you wish to eat it. You don't wait until the banana turns brown... in that case the opportunity to eat it has passed. He has the support of people for his "cause" but fears that will not remain.

"The enemy increaseth everyday," he says. Increaseth means "increases." This means that if they continue to wait all they are doing is allowing the enemy to gain strength. Brutus then says, "We, at the height, are ready to decline." Think of climbing a hill. When you get to the top of the hill it is immediately time to go down again. It can always be much quicker to go down then up. It takes a long time to walk up a hill, but, if you fall on your first step down you are at the bottom before you know it. In the metaphor (the comparison of the battle to a ship) he talks about a ship on a tide. If you want to ride the tide somewhere you have to pull up anchor when the tide comes. If you don't ride the tide the opportunity passes. In terms of being ready for battle, Brutus is at his "height" or the "highest" point of the hill, or the highest point of the tide. He is as ready as he can possibly be. They can't get more strength but they can decrease in strength. Therefore, argues he, it is time to take the opportunity to strike.

Brutus says, "there is a tide in the affairs of men." Instead of a real water "tide" he is saying the "affairs of men" are like a tide. And,then he talks about ships on a tide. There are two examples of what could happen on a tide. In one he says, "Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." This means if they take the water out to sea at high tide then it will lead them to wherever it is they need to go to make a fortune with their goods. The next two lines say, "Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and in miseries." This indicates if the opportunity is missed they are stuck in the shallows of water (at the shore) where they will be in misery because they can not sell what is on the ship. Brutus then goes back to the first example, "On such a full sea are we now afloat;/And we must take the current when it serves..." This indicates he thinks they should take their opportunity and act immediately. And the last line, "Or lose our ventures" indicates the loss of goods in the ship if you don't take it out to sea so you can sell someplace. It is the metaphor for the lost chance at attacking the enemy if they don't act now.


Terms in Opportunity:

Increaseth: increasing.

Legion: a large number of something, a group of fighting men in the Roman army.

Shallows: the shallow region of a body of water along the shoreline.

Utmost: all that is possible.


Romeo on Juliet's Beauty

O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright.

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night.

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear;

Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows.

As younder lady o'er her fellows shows.

The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,

And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.

Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!

For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.


This poem is another stanza (or poetic paragraph) from a play called, Romeo and Juliet. This play is often read in middle school or high school. What you learn here may help you in class. Romeo and Juliet is a love story with a sad ending. We call this sad ending a tragedy because the people involved are tragically compelled to a sad conclusion, or ending. Romeo and Juliet fall in love, though their families hate one another, and they later poison themselves.

In this poem Romeo sees his fated love for the first time. He is instantly amazed at her beauty. He sees her for the first time at a costume party given by her parents. He exclaims, "O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright." In case you missed it earlier the term "doth" means "does." He sees her at night and he is saying that she is so pretty the torches burn brighter just to show her beauty. And, her beauty grows so brightly, itself, that the torches learn to burn by her example.

The next lines, "It seems she hangs up the check of night/Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear." He is comparing Juliet to a jewel. An "Ethiop" is a person from "Ethopia" who would have dark skin. He is comparing the contrast between a brightly colored jewel against dark skin to the "cheek of night." Instead of a jewel against dark skin it is Juliet against the night. This, as well as upcoming lines, are a study in contrast - a comparing of opposites. A bright piece of jewelry against dark skin, Juliet gleaming against the night.

Romeo then states that she is so beautiful that she is, "too rich for use." This would be like fine sterling silverware that is only used at special occasions. Or, something so beautiful and precious that people only take it out to look at it but not use it. He adds that she is too dear for earth. This has two meanings. The first is that she is so beautiful that she should be in heaven; she is above earthly beauty. This is also subtle foreshadowing. To foreshadow is to put a hint in the story of what bad things are to come. Juliet is too dear for earth and belongs in heaven. This is where she ends up since she dies at the end of the play. Shakespeare is foreshadowing the death of Juliet in this poem through the subtle words of Romeo.

You may think that the idea of a gang is new. Basically, Romeo's family is a part of a gang. Juliet's family is a part of another gang. Romeo says, "So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,/ As younder lady o'er her fellows shows." "Trooping" means hanging around or walking with and younder means "over that way" and "o'er" means "over her" or "better than her" fellows. The reference of the crows also hints at Romeo's negative thoughts on Juliet's family. The two families do not get along and her brothers and family are Romeo's enemy. He can only be there because it is a costume party and can't be recognized. Crows, in Shakespeare's time, were feared. Since they eat carrion (dead animals) they were thought to symbolize death. In literary terms we say that a crow is a "harbinger" of death. If we see a crow something is to die. Here, Romeo indicates that Juliet's family are crows and she a dove. This again is a contrast and a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

Romeo says, "The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,/And touching hers,make blessed my rude hand." "The measure done' refers to a musical measure. The crowd is dancing and Romeo plans to "watch her place of stand." In other words, he is watching where she stands and figuring out where she will be at the end of the dance measure. In his day people stood in rows facing each other with men on one side and women on the other. The people would move toward one another and lightly touch hands with the person in the other row. Romeo will try to place himself opposite Juliet when the music continues. In this way he has a moment to touch her hand to his and in that act have his hand blessed by touching hers. Again, this is subtle reference to her being heavenly or heaven bound.

In the last lines Romeo states his love for Juliet, "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!/ For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night." Now this is interesting because, I myself, would think such a speech belonged in the poem, "Where is fancy Bred." After all, Romeo proclaims his love after the "sight" of Juliet. Fancy is engendered in the eye and not the heart.Many critics see Romeo's interpretation of Juliet's Beauty to be superficial and insincere, as well. But, we will give poor Romeo the benefit of the doubt so that we can believe the story. Later, in the play he recovers from this and has more sincere speeches of his love.


Terms in Romeo on Juliet's Beauty

Doth: does.

Ethiop: a person from Ethiopia.

Foreshadow: a subtle double-meaning in a word that hints at something bad to come.

O'er: over her.

Tragedy: a sad story in which the characters have chances to take a happier road but seem driven to their sad outcomes.

Trooping: to walk with, hang around with.

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man's ingratitude;

They tooth is not so keen,

Because thou art not seen,

Although they breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.


Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,

Thou doest not bite so nigh

As benefits forgot:

Though thou the waters warp,

They sting is not so sharp

As a friend remembered not.

Heigh-ho! Sing, etc.


Earlier we talked about a metaphor which is to compare one thing with another such as a merchant ship to opportunity. We also looked at imagery with the picture of winter. An image is a picture. This poem uses both of these things. A metaphor is a comparison of something. A simile is also a comparison and uses the words "like" or "as." In this poem a simile is used instead of a metaphor. The first three lines show us what the comparison is, "Blow, Blow, thou winter wind,/Thou are not so unkind/As man's ingratitude." Here we see that winter is compared to a person who has done some wrong to the speaker in the poem. The word thou" means you. So, the speaker is saying "Go ahead wind... blow your cold air on me it can't be any worse than the ingratitude I suffered." Ingratitude is when you do something for someone and they don't appreciate it. If you ever gave someone a present and they said they didn't like it they showed ingratitude.

The next few lines compare the ingratitude to winter wind. "Thy tooth is not so keen,/Because thou art not seen,/Although thy breath be rude." "Thy" means "your." And, "keen" means sharp or biting as in biting cold. So, he says, "I don't feel you biting cold directly but I smell your bad 'rude" breath anyway." the next few lines are song-like. This is typical for Shakespeare as he often used little songs in his plays that were poems.

Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.

If you look closely at these lines they sound nice but, they aren't. "Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho!" Unto the green holly," sounds like a nice seasonal song. And, the last two lines say, "Then heigh-ho, the holly! This life is most jolly." These sound nice also. But, the line in the middle, "Most friendship is feigning,/most loving mere folly," indicates the real meaning of the four lines together. To "feign" is to fake. While, "folly" is a superficial feeling which should not be taken seriously. So, the happy sound of the other lines actually means the opposite. This would be like if a friend made fun of you and you didn't like it and you said, "Very Funny!" You probably didn't really think it is funny if you say that, do you? The person in the poem feels as though this person pretended to be his friend. His song meaning the opposite of what it said is called irony. He does not feel like singing; he is sad. He feels as though he has lost his friend and his friend did not appreciate him.

Next the speaker says, "Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky." He is saying go ahead and be cold. Then, "Thou doest not bite so nigh/As benefits forgot." "Nigh" means hear. So, to him, the cold is not as near as the pain of his friend forgetting him. He adds, "Though thou the waters warp." Again, remember that "thou" is you. So he is saying, "Winter wind you are so cold you warp water." What is warped water? Have you ever noticed that water expands slightly as it freezes? This causes it to warp. So, he is saying it is cold enough to freeze water. But, says he, "Thy sting is not so sharp/As a friend remembered not." So, no matter how cold it is he is much worse off with this sad feeling than he was with the cold.

The last line says, "Heigh-ho! Sing, etc." That makes no sense unless you know the meaning of "etc." Etc. is the abbreviation for "et cetera" which means "other things" in Latin. Or, more to come... this is a note to the people in the play. If you look at the last four lines of the previous stanza (which again is a paragraph) you will see that they begin "High-ho!" Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind, is a song. The last for lines are sung. And, in a play the singers would know to repeat the last four lines of the first stanza beginning with "Heigh-ho!" So after the lines, "as a friend remembered not," whoever sung this sad song would know to add the following lines to the end of the song:

Heigh-ho! Sing, heigh-ho! Unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:

Then, heigh-ho, the holly!

This life is most jolly.

This poem is very interesting because it combines one of Shakespeare's favorite images (of winter) with the irony he likes to use. Not everyone listening would realize this song was sad if it was sung to happy music. But if you listen to the words you will see it is a poem about a friend's betrayal.


Terms in "Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind:

Et Cetera: other things.

Feign: to fake.

Folly: a superficial feeling not to be taken seriously.

Ingratitude: being ungrateful for a gift or service someone has given you.

Keen: biting, as in biting cold.

Nigh: near.

Thou: you.

Thy: your.

Warp: to change shape.

Advice to a Son

And these few precepts in they memory

Look thou character, Give thy thoughts no tongue,

Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar;

Thy friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,

Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment

Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd courage, Beware

Of entrance to a quarrel, but, being in

Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;

Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.

costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;

For the apparel oft proclaims the man.

And they in France of the best rank and station

Are of a most selected and generous, chief in that.

Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;

For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry,

This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man,


This work of writing is a segment from Shakespear's play Hamlet. It is a fascinating piece of advice from the character Polonius to his son Laertes. Polonius begins by saying, "And these few precepts in thy memory." A "precept" is an idea or perception - he means take these few ideas and keep them in your memory. Much of it is pretty darn good advice. Some of it applies to the position Laertes had in his society. This work also shows just how well Shakespeare understood people and developed characters. Though the advice is good it seems to ramble a bit longer than anyone would care to listen if it was their father doing the talking. When I read this I always expect Laertes to say, "Can I go now?"

The first two lines read, "Look thou character, Give thy thoughts no tongue,/Nor any unproprition'd thought his act." Unproportion'd means "unconsidered" and "unfitting." Polonius is saying pay attention to the quality of your character - look at it. Don't just allow your tongue to blurt out what thought you have had without giving it consideration. Think over what you say before you say it. If you insult someone make sure it fits their actions.

Polonius then says, "Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar." "Familiar" means social and friendly. Vulgar means common or friendly with everyone. So he is saying be social but not too social that you friend people inappropriate. He says, "The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,/Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel." Remember that "thou" means you. "Adoption tried" means once their loyalty is proven - once you know you can trust them. To grapple is to hold tightly or a physical steel band that attaches something or holds something together. So he is saying that when you know a friend is true and trusted friend keep him close to you as though he were tied with steel hoops.

"But do not dull thy palm with entertainment/Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd courage," Polonius adds. He is saying do not be too friendly with new people. "Entertainment" means company. "New hatch'd" and unfledg'd" means a young bird - a bird with no feathers. The words hint at a young bird with a young "courage" which means "spirited youth." This young person with "courage" would be the person your parents don't want you to spend too much time with. Their "spirited" ways might lend them to jump into dangerous activities. He says pretty much that you should not spend too much time shaking hands with new inexperienced people. Seek old friends and wise old owls as your company who won't get you into trouble.

He adds, "Beware/Of entrance to a quarrel, but, being in,/Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee." To "bear't that th''" means "manage it that the." To say it another way - avoid a quarrel but once you are in it make sure that the person is "beware" of you. Or, make sure they take you as a formidable person in the argument - not weak. Don't back down once you are in the argument; hold your ground.

About listening to others Polonius says, "Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement." To give someone your ear is to listen to them and to "take their censure" is to listen to them. "Censure" is someone's opinion. So, listen well, but do not speak easily. Listen to all opinions that are present but do not volunteer your judgement.

He also advises on clothing, "Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy." A "purse" in Shakespeare's time was not just for women. A purse was a small leather pouch for carrying one's money. A habit" implies your habit of dressing. Remember when reading the next line that "fancy" means superficial. The line which follows reads, "But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy." So, he is saying buy the best clothes that you can afford. Make your clothes nice but not a whim of fashion. They should be rich but no so rich as to be gaudy. Then he states, "For the apparel oft proclaims the man,/ And they in France of the best rank and station/Are of a most select and generous chief in that." "Generous, chief" here means noble and eminent. He is saying that his advice comes from watching the nobles of the court of France. In Shakespeare's day many Englishman watched the court of France to set their fashions and their ideas of nobility. He is using the nobility as his example of how his son should dress. He also might be mocking the French slightly with his statement, "be not gaudy." It is at this time that the English began to develop their true self-identity and if the actor's words were stated right, "And they in France of the best rank and station/Are of a most select and generous chief in that" could be applied to the statement gaudy. In other words, here is an early version of French and English animosity where the English audience would laugh and take great pleasure in mocking the French.

"Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;/For loan oft loses both itself and friend,/And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." he is saying that if you lend money you will lose the money since it is unlikely to be paid back and you will lose the friend since either he will feel guilty at not returning your money or you will dislike him for not returning the money. The word "husbandry" means thrifty. So, it is more use to be thrifty in the first place then to borrow money after spending too much. This is also a good lesson for any person loaning money. In my own life I have found that if I am able to "lend" I do so and I think of it as a gift. If I have no money to part with I say no. In this way, I don't have to resent its loss. If I give money and it is given back I can be thrilled with that but if it isn't I don't ever have to think of it after it parts my hand. Give the money and then never think of it again (just a bit of personal advice from the author).

Polonius' concluding advice is the most famous line, "This above all, to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man." "Thine own self" is shortened today as "yourself." So, if you are always true to yourself and if you act with honesty and integrity and do not degrade yourself in anyway then you are a better person. You will therefore be better to others. Those who act with integrity rarely cause unwarranted harm to others. They are true and just people not false and unjust.

Terms in Advice to a Son

Adoption tried: loyalty proven

Bea't that: manage it.

Censure: opinion.

Chief: of high class.

Familiar: social and friendly.

Generous: noble

Husbandry: Thrift.

New-hatch'd: newly hatched.

Purse: a leather pouch for money.

Take: listen, listen to.


Internet Shakespeare

A great place to find

Shakespeare's info --->

Copyright Information

Copyright © Christine Patrice Gebera 1997. Reproduction for educational purposes. All rights reserved for profit and print publication.

Another good book for the serious study of Shakespeare.

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    • CPGebera profile image
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      Christine Patrice Gebera 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you! I have over 200 essays on many literature topics. I noticed the distress of college level students when looking at British Literature. I did not have such a high school emphasis of high school Lit to explain why I understood it better than the next. My understanding is merely from the practice of reading. Hopefully, I can inspire a few others to read it along the way.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Welcome to HubPages. This is quite a debut offering. My late father-in-law was a Shakespearean actor in his youth and remembered well into his 80s lengthy speeches from the plays in which he acted. He often said he considered it a pity that students weren't taught Shakespeare in such a manner that they would both understand and enjoy it. I think he would have given you a vote for this lesson. I certainly do, and hope to see similar work from you on HP.

      Voted Up++++

      Jaye