Friday, December 16, 2011

Juggling Sonnets

Tough day yesterday all around.

I have a habit at my day job of wandering around and juggling when I need to get up from the desk.  So I did so, wandering over to a coworker's desk as I often do. 

"I've seen that trick," she says. "I feel like you should sing or something while you do that, step up the difficulty."

"Why would you want to hear me sing? You've not wronged me in any way, I wouldn't want to subject you to that," I reply.

"Then quote Shakespeare or something."

I'd like to think that I missed no beats before replying, "When it disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state.  And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries and look upon myself and curse my fate...," all while still juggling.

"What does bootless mean?" she asks.


"I can't believe I picked up on the one word you don't know the definition for.  I'm disappointed."

And with that, my Shakespeare cred took quite the hit and I looked stupid.

But, damnit, isn't it missing the point to pick out an individual word and say "Quick! define this out of context!" I'm not even sure what the right answer is to that.  Bootless cries means what, exactly - "my cries that have nothing behind them"?  "My cries that go unheard"?  She wasn't asking for a translation of the text I'd just spoken, she zeroes in on one word. Besides, isn't that what the "deaf heaven" part is for?  (The best translation that I've found says that I could have said "useless."  Bootless cries are useless cries, because heaven's not listening.)

Between losing that cred with my coworkers, and learning that I won't get to teach the kids, it wasn't a great day I tell ya.


Alexi said...

Sorry to hear things haven't worked out for you. But the word means "useless," regardless of context, correct?

Duane Morin said...

I realize that the word must have had a logical definition regardless of context, I was just taken by surprise at the question. I get the general imagery of the sonnet, but I'd honestly never stopped to quiz myself on whether I knew the dictionary definition of each word, the way Shakespeare used it.

JM said...

Boot is profit.("booty" as in profit, spoils )

Bootless is profitless, or unsuccessful, or in vain, fruitless, etc. Bootless cries are to no avail or result; in short, useless. You had it right.

Sean O'Sullivan said...

I think it would be wise to get hold of a Shakespeare
glossary to avoid this situation
from the "Ink and Inkability"
episode of Blackadder - workmates
can be like sharks, once they
smell blood.....

I, like yourself, had no doubt
of the general meaning of bootless,
but never made the connection to
being without booty - there's a
clear Hip-Hop double-entendre
right there.

JM said...


A definition of meaning straight out of Prof. Kiernan's "Filthy Shakespeare"?

"Bootless cries" really means the "booty call" ain't gettin' it done? :-)

Wayne Myers said...

I like Lovel's line to Hastings after Richard orders the latter's beheading in "Richard III": "Come, come, dispatch, 'tis bootless to exclaim."

"Useless" it is.

catkins said...

"A Shakespeare Glossary," by C. T. Onions would be a great gift for a Shakespeare geek. It has straightforward definitions and cites one or more examples of the word's use by Shakespeare. If someone you know happens to see this link very soon

maybe you might get it in time for Christmas!

Sean O'Sullivan said...

There is an online glossary of
Prof David Crystal and his actor
son Ben's Shakespeare Glossary
book which gives definitions
for all the words in the plays: default.aspx

Prof Crystal is THE go-to guy
for the history, current uses
etc of the English language...
and he and his son are a great double act.Who knew the finer points of Shakespearean language could be such fun?....see
YouTube for examples.
You certainly don't have to
go far for filth in Shakespeare,
JM, but who'da thought he
could anticipate the saucy possibilities of "booty" 400yrs
in advance!?..Genius!

Ric said...

"bootless cries" simply means that the cries have no footing in getting to heaven. From whence may come grace! In his heart Shakespeare is more Catholic than Church of England.