Wordy Wednesday – “O Wednesday, Wednesday, wherefore art thou Wednesday?”

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Welcome wise web-user, welcome to Wordy Wednesday, which will whet your wits with wistful wordplay!

So, as March draws to a close and we prepare to welcome that “cruelest month” with open arms – we here at Shakespeare In Action bid a fond farewell to our memorable production of “The Diary Of Anne Frank” and turn our attentions to our upcoming “Double Tragedy” which once again features two excellent performances: Romeo and Juliet and….the Scottish play.

Which brings us around to today’s word – wherefore. No, Shakespeare did not invent this word: according to our friendly neighbourhood OED, it was first used  centuries before Shakespeare was writing. But Shakespeare is fond of this word and it appears quite often, most notably in Romeo and Juliet, while Juliet stands at her balcony and cries to the darkness:

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet. (II.ii)

How many times have I seen misinformed students, or unfortunate actresses, say these lines while frantically peering around seeking out her Romeo? “O Romeo, Romeo! Where are you Romeo?” Makes sense doesn’t it? Well, as long as you ignore the following lines or brush them off as a completely separate thought.

“O Romeo, I cannot find you in this darkness. If you would but cast off your name you would suddenly appear to me.” Not quite what Shakespeare is going for here.

Of course, for those in the know – wherefore does not mean where but why, or more accurately what for: “O Romeo, Romeo! What for art thou Romeo?” meaning “what is the reason for you being Romeo?”

So the “where” in wherefore means what which really translates to why. Is it any wonder that people have such a hard time with English?

“O wherefore, wherefore! Wherefore art thou wherefore?”

As popular a word as wherefore once was, it has not appeared in recorded text (according to the OED) since the early 20th century. Wherefore? We should bring it back!

Well, happy Wednesday to you all!

-Alex

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