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.

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9 thoughts on “Juggling Sonnets

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Duane,
    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.

  4. Sean,

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

    "Bootless cries" really means the "booty call" ain't gettin' it done? 🙂

  5. 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.

  6. 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:

    http://www.shakespeareswords.com/ 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!

  7. "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.

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