référence : http://listes.cru.fr/arc/mascarene/1996-09/msg00017.html


Une nouvelle abonnee a pose sur une autre liste une question savante a 
laquelle je n'ai pas vu passer de reponse. Cette question faisant des 
recoupements avec des textes francais, il se peut que certains d'entre 
vous puissent apporter une solution. Je la transmets en son nom. Il 
s'agit d'interpreter le sens du mot "Termagant" dans les indications 
donnees par Hamlet aux comediens.
Andre G. Bourassa.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

D.C.Whaley@newcastle.ac.uk wrote:

Dear All,
I have been pondering what lies behind the phrase 'o'erdoing Termagant' in
Hamlet's advice to the Players, and find I need to check my amateurish
conclusions with the experts, so I apologise for troubling you with a
trifling point about a non-existent infidel deity!
As you may know, several authorities, including the Oxford English
Dictionary (2nd edition) and various editions of Hamlet, take Termagant as
a medieval stage character - 'in the mystery plays represented as a violent
overbearing personage' (OED) or 'introduced into our old plays and
moralities, and represented as of a most violent character ...  so that a
ranting actor might always appear to advantage in it'  (Nares, Glossay).
But so far I can only agree with the dissenting editor of the New Cambridge
Shakespeare (Edwards), who claims that Termagant 'does not figure in
earlier drama'.
There are, of course, plenty of references to,  or appearances of, T. in
medieval  literature, e.g., the Chanson de Roland, Lagamon's Brut, Octavian
etc., where T. is a Saracen god or idol to be worshipped, invoked, or
smashed; and T. becomes a figure of speech by the 16th century,  but as for
actual appearances in the drama, I have drawn a blank in the lists of
dramatis personae in the Malone Society texts, in Berger & Bradford's Index
of Characters in English Printed Drama to the Restoration (1975), and in
various lexicons, concordances and databases, so that I can't at present
bridge the gap between T.'s appearance in Jean Bodel's Le jeu de saint
Nicholas) c. 1200, and Shakespeare's mention of Termagant. (This is a
connection made by Nares, and by Hardin Craig.)  The possible routes to
Shakespeare seem therefore to be either 'general (non-dramatic) usage' or
'lost drama'.
So, the first question is, does anyone know of any dramatic appearances of
Termagant (in English or Continental drama, other than Bodel), or have
further suggestions as to where to look?
I would also be interested in actual stage appearances of Mahomet/Mahounde
in pre-Shakespearian drama, as a parallel. (I don't think the interesting
discussion of Mahounde by this group a few weeks ago focussed on M. as a
stage character). So far I am only aware of the brazen head of M. belching
smoke in Greene's Comicall Historie of Alphonsus.
A second query arises from the possibility that St Nicholas drama in
England was a context for Termagant as a stage character. So far, having
checked through the published REED volumes,  I only know of evidence of St
Nicholas plays (as distinct from the Boy Bishop/St Nicholas' Bishop
ceremonies) from Gloucester 1383-4 and in Trinity College Cambridge B 14.
39, but if anyone could direct me to further evidence I would be very
Thanks for reading this, and apologies again for troubling you all with a
longwinded question or three, but the opportunity to pick so many
distinguished brains at once is irresistible!

Diana Whaley
Dr Diana Whaley
School of English
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 7RU. England
Tel: (091) 222 7756;  Fax: (091) 222 8708