Episode 82 - Trippingly on the Tongue


Enter HAMLET and Players

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

First Player
I warrant your honour.


Town Crier
The town crier was a figure with various public duties, foremost among them the announcement of important information. He also accompanied people to the workhouse, escorted criminals to the stocks, and various other duties.

A word Shakespeare made up. Something between robust, illustrious and boisterous. (Also used in Henry V!)

The first mention of the word periwig - from which we get the word wig - came in Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In a world infested with lice and other such unpleasantries, wigs became a handy way of keeping one’s appearance while maintaining a shaved head (to prevent lice). Queen Elizabeth I famously wore a red curled wig, and it is safe to assume that others may have emulated her in this. For Hamlet, a wig-wearer is someone affected and overcompensating - like the worst kind of (unperfect!) actor on the stage.

The earliest known verse drama is Gorboduc, and it dates from 1561. It features a dumbshow - an interlude of non-spoken activity that illuminates the plot. They were very popular, a hangover from medieval morality plays, but had fallen out of fashion by the time that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. As mentioned in the episode, the play brought about something of a resurgence, and many Jacobean plays included dumbshows in the years after Hamlet was written.

The origins of the name are complicated - cases have been made for it having come from German, Latin, Italian, English or French. (You can check wikipedia for a detailed analysis of them all…) The name emerged as a personification of a god worshipped by Muslims, but it has almost nothing to do with actual Islamic worship. The character appeared in medieval poetry and drama, usually as an example of a terrible villain (and therefore an excuse for bombastic, over-the-top acting!)

There are in fact a few famous Herods in the Bible. Herod the Great (responsible for the construction of the temple in Jerusalem) was the client king of Judea at the time Jesus was born, and also ordered the massacre of the innocents. Herod Antipas, his son, is the Herod who appears in the stories of John the Baptist and Salome, and was also in part responsible for the death of Jesus. The name is associated with the worst excesses of Biblical debauchery and murder - again an excuse for exaggerated acting.