“Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”
The phrase may seem familiar to you from the musical piece “Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches, Op. 39” by Sir Edward Elgar, often heard at graduation ceremonies.Given these two contexts, one may be able to deduce that the meaning hasn’t changed too drastically since Shakespeare’s time. Pomp is derived from the Greek word “pompa” meaning procession, and is used to describe something of “magnificence and splendor”. (Pomp, used in its negative form, describes “an ostentatious display of wealth or ceremony” lending the adjective “pompous”, which originally meant simply “characterized by pomp” but now means “self-important or arrogant.”) Circumstance, in this phrase, is used in its singular form, and means “the ‘ado’ made about anything; formality, ceremony, about any important event or action”. We commonly use the plural form “circumstances” in a similar way to describe “a fact or condition connected with or relevant to an event or action”.
The phrase “pomp and circumstance” thus means a magnificent display with surrounding fuss and/or importance. I think graduation ceremonies capture the essence of this phrase quite well. The “pomp” is the ceremony itself of graduates being celebrated, and the circumstance is demonstrated by those attending the event to witness and celebrate the achievements of the graduates, many of whom take photos and videos to commemorate the event.
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This week’s wordy Wednesday is “to kill with kindness”, uttered by Petrucio, in his speech revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature:
And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,
And with the clamor keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness.
–Taming Of The Shrew: act 4, scene 1
In this speech Petrucio is revealing how he plans to tame Kate’s shrewish nature and make her into an obedient wife. He claims that the only way to make her truly obedient and get rid of her wild and feisty nature is to kill a wife with kindness. From Petrucio’s point of view “killing with kindness” involves depriving Kate of food and sleep for a period of time, until she willingly gives in to being his obedient wife.
According to dictionary.com killing with kindness is any action that involves overwhelming someone with mistaken or excessive kindness. This expression originated as a reference to something that fond apes do to their young: crushing them to death in a hug and was a proverb by the mid 1500s.
The usage of the phrase in Taming Of The Shrew is fascinating because of its ties to the word’s origins. Petrucio is like the ape crushing its young through an ignorantly and overwhelmingly aggressive act that he claims is an act of love. The usage of ‘kill with kindness’ strays away from our traditional notions of what overwhelming an individual with mistaken or excessive kindness really is. The one question we’re left with is the following: is this an excessive and mistaken act of kindness or is it straight-forward aggression and cruelty?
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is ‘mind’s eye‘, uttered by Hamlet to Horatio:
My father—methinks I see my father—
Where, my lord?
In my mind’s eye, Horatio.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 2
In the scene, Hamlet’s use of the phrase contrasts and foreshadows Horatio’s sight of the deceased king by his own, bodily eyes. Although Shakespeare did not originally coin the term, its utterance in Hamlet likely popularized it. We use the phrase ‘mind’s eye’ today much in the same way Shakespeare had intended; that is, to talk about our ability to visualize images in our thoughts the way that Hamlet is likely haunted by mental images of his deceased father.
Philosophers and cognitive scientists have adopted the word to talk about consciousness yet more broadly as thoughts and perceptions occur to us mentally and at times, use the term more concretely to refer to some hypothesized part of the brain where perception is located.
For most of us, the mind’s eye is synonymous with mental imagery – much like how we may visualize a show on stage while reading one of Shakespeare’s plays!