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Session 3

Thomas Swann fixes a broken door at the theatre… and gives William Shakespeare a great idea for his new play! Pick up some useful expressions with dead, hammer and nail in this episode.

ክፍለ-ስራሓት ናይዚ ምዕራፍ

ድምር ነጥቢ ናይዚ ክፍለ-ስራሓት 3

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    Activity 4

Who's dead?!
Thomas Swann gets a shock... luckily, it's just a line from a play!

To do

Watch the video and enjoy! It's about 4 minutes long. While you watch, answer this question: How does Thomas help William Shakespeare with his new play? (The answer's under the video – no cheating!).

ነቲ ቪድዮ ብምዕዛብ ነቲ ስራሕ ዕመምዎ

ነቲ ቅዳሕ ጽሑፍ ኣርእይዎ ነቲ ቅዳሕ ጽሑፍ ሕብእዎ

Narrator
It was a cold morning. William Shakespeare is in the theatre, working on Henry VI part II, whilst his actor friend Thomas Swann is mending a broken door.

Will
Thomas! Can you stop that banging? I'm trying to write here!

Thomas
Will, this door needs fixing properly. I have to hit this doornail hard… there. That will never come out.

Will
What's that about a doornail? Hmmm… you've just given me an idea… dead as a doornail… dead as a doornail!

Thomas
Who's dead?! Will?

Will
Thomas, I have the perfect line for your character… Jack Cade, the rebel leader, strong and proud. But in this scene, he's on the run, hiding from his enemies. He hasn't eaten anything for five days, except herbs… even grass… he's weak… alone… and suddenly, six of his enemies find him.

Thomas
So he's in danger…

Will
Yes, but he doesn't show any fear: in fact, he threatens to kill all of them dead as a doornail. Come Thomas, let's read your lines. Look on me well: I have eat no meat…

Thomas as Jack Cade
Look on me well: I have eat no meat these five days; yet come thou and thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

Will
You have it! Well done Thomas: there's another classic Shakespeare line.

Thomas
I don't know how you do it, Will.

Narrator
We'll leave them there for now. The phrase as dead as a doornail was in common use in Shakespeare's day. It means the same today as it did back then: Dead. Very dead. Totally dead. It's a very well-known English expression - for example, novelist Charles Dickens used it to describe the character Marley in A Christmas Carol:

Clip 1
Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.

Narrator
These days we can use it for electrical gadgets that aren't working.

Clip 2
Oh no - I forgot to charge my phone. It's as dead as a doornail.

Will
Right! All that writing has made me thirsty. Let us go to the Duck and Whistle. Come on Thomas, close the door behind you… Hmmm… perhaps you should put another couple of nails in that door before we go, Thomas?

Thomas
Ahh… To nail, or not to nail: that is the question.

Answer
Will sees Thomas hammering a nail into a door - and it gives him the idea for the phrase as dead as a doornail, which he uses in his new play Henry VI part II.

To do

Let's do a quiz to check you've understood this episode. Watch it again first if you want.

To nail, or not to nail...

5 Questions

Check what you understood by trying this quiz...

ኣገናዕ፡ ፈተናኹም ዛዚምኩም
Excellent! Great job! ሕማቕ ዕድል! ዘመዝገብኩምዎ ነጥቢ ...:
x / y

How many did you get right?
3-5 - you hit the nail on the head!
0-2 - oh dear - you missed!

Next

Time to hammer home this vocabulary! Go to the next page to find out about the meaning and use of as dead as a doornail, but first, can you remember which famous British writer wrote the line "Old Marley was as dead as a doornail"? (Clue - It wasn't Shakespeare!)

Session Vocabulary

  • For more great Shakespeare content visit our partner,The OU

    For teachers:
    lesson plan and worksheets for As dead as a doornail 
    Eight Vocabulary Activities for the classroom

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    As dead as a doornail

    Meaning
    The phrase as dead as a doornail was in common use in Shakespeare's day. It means the same today as it did back then: Dead. Very dead. Totally dead.

    Example sentence
    Old Marley was as as dead as a doornail. (Charles Dickens)

    Note
    These days we can use as dead as a doornail for electrical gadgets that aren't working.

    Example sentence
    Oh no - I forgot to charge my phone. It's as dead as a doornail.

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    Extra vocabulary

    to hit the nail on the head
    to be exactly right

    to hammer something home
    to make certain something is understood

    to nail it
    to complete a task successfully

    dead easy
    very easy

    dead to the world
    sleeping deeply

    drop-dead gorgeous
    very very attractive

    wouldn’t be seen dead...
    I would never do that, (usually) because it would be too ​embarrassing.

    a dead ringer for...
    looks very similar to...

    Over my dead body!
    I will never let that happen!

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    Find out more

    About Shakespeare Speaks

    Shakespeare Speaks is a co-production between:

    BBC Learning English

    The Open University

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