Wordy Wednesday – “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep”

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As Romeo & Juliet has its first performance this week at Shakespeare in Action, I felt it only apt that our Word Wednesday come from its pages. I’ve always loved Romeo’s hope at the beginning of this scene as we all know what comes next will pain him even further. (And for those who don’t, I’ve not spoiled it here for you. Go read!)

The quote in particular I’ve chosen for us to look at today includes the word “presage”. Here it is in context:

Act V Scene I

Romeo  “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,

My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:”

Presage, as the context of Romeo’s line can attest to, is the presence of foretelling or intuition about the future. Romeo’s hope is that he can trust his dreams; they were full of joy and he hopes the news he is about to receive will be too. Shakespeare, ever the dramatist, however, soon shatters Romeo’s hopes and you know the rest.

The word presage is a Middle English word, first coined in the 14th Century, but has its roots in the Latin praesagium, from praesagus (having a foreboding), from prae- + sagus (prophetic). Sagium and Sagus in these Latin terms point us toward the Sage, who was a figure of mythic ability who could tell the future. In fact, we could call the three Witches at the beginning of Macbeth Sages, as they foreshadow the events to come. Foreshadowing in its literary use is a device used to suggest what might happen in the future. Usually authors and playwrights will fulfill these foretellings as it brings the narrative full circle. It also usually creates a sense of foreboding for the audience as they await the story to unfold. Ooo!

Tune in next week for more wordy wonders, Shakes.

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