Them There is Fighting Words: The Language of Conflict in Shakespeare’s Works

It was great pity, so it was,
That villanous saltpetre should be digg’d
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy’d
So cowardly; and but for these vile guns
He would himself have been a soldier.
— Henry V, Act I, scene 3

Wait… What is he saying? We spent the last four weeks really diving into Shakespeare’s histories (thanks to the PBS series The Hollow Crown) and it occurred to us that many of those plays are tales of battles and military men. So too is our 2014 Winter Shakespeare production The Tragedy of Othello

In the 400 years since Shakespeare wrote his plays, the language of battle and conflict has changed. Understanding what these words meant in Shakespeare’s day can enhance your understanding of the plays so we’ve put together a list of words found in Shakespeare’s works that deal specifically with conflict and put them together with the corresponding word used today. Study up and prepare your arsenal of words!

amaze: dismay
ancient: a soldier who carries the army’s flag
apace: quickly
arrant: downright, absolute
avaunt: be off
bedlam: mad
betimes: quickly
boisterous: violent, fierce, savage
bootless: unprofitable, useless
broach: pierce, impale
brook: put up with
casque: helmet
chambers: small cannon
choler: anger
confounded: ruined
dastard: coward
defend: forbid
false: traitorous
fillip: strike or hit
gage: a glove thrown down, as a challenge
galls: bitterness
girded: besieged, blockaded
gorbellied: fat
happy: fortunate
host: army
high-stomach’d: haughty
humorous: capricious, fickle
let: hindrance
lusty: vigorous, strong
meet: suitable
mickle: great
ordinance: cannon
overweening: arrogant
pale: fence
parley: negotiation
pith: strength
puissance: power, force
quick: alive
raught: reached
recreant: faithless
rub: obstacle
spittle: hospital
stout: valiant
vile: lowly, of humble birth
warrant: assure, promise
white-liver’d: cowardly
yearn: grieve

Othello will be performed at Belmont University’s Troutt Theater January 9th – February 2nd, 2014. For specifics, including ticket availability, visit our website.

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