Body Language with Miranda Fay Thomas (Ep 196)

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One of the most remembered lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is when Sampson says “I bite my thumb at your sir!” It’s funny to us today partly because we don’t understand why someone would bite their thumb. We can tell from context that it's’ meant to be an insult, but do you know why it was insulting? Culture of the 16th-17th century when Shakespeare wrote lines about biting thumbs or making figs were similar gestures to giving the finger, or even milder gestures like putting your hands on your hips to indicate impatience. We recognize the cultural gestures of our own lifetime like hook ‘em horns or the “A-ok” symbol, but Shakespeare had these same kinds of specific body language communications as well that were just as well known for his audience as a facepalm might be for us today. Shakespeare uses the word “gesture” at least 10 times in his works with phrases like “there was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture” from A Winter’s Tale, or when he writes in the stage directions of the Tempest that Alonzo should use “a frantic gesture” when he comes on stage. From Sampson biting his thumb in Romeo and Juliet to the unwritten motions characters would have used when delivering their lines to indicate sarcasm, grief, insult, or shame, physical motions of the characters on stage were often just as, if not more, important to understand than the words themselves. Our guest this week has researched 16th century gestures and body language extensively and written about them in her book titled “Shakespeare’s Body Language: Shaming Gestures and Gender Politics on the Renaissance Stage.” Dr. Miranda Fay Thomas joins us this week to discuss gestures like biting thumbs but also assumptions we make about "praying hands" or "palm to palm." We are delighted to have her with us this week to explore gestures, symbols, and the culture of unspoken physical performance from Shakespeare’s lifetime.

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