Weather: Churlish chiding and the wind-chill factor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"I am but mad north-north-west," said Hamlet, "when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." Presumably the comment was intended more as a plea of temporary insanity than a weather forecast, though other meteorological references in Shakespeare confirm that the Bard knew which way the wind was blowing.

The table below indicates the average number of occurrences of the words "rain", "lightning", "thunder", "snow" and "wind" in the comedies, tragedies and histories of Shakespeare:

Ra Li Th Sn Wi

Comedy 1.4 0.2 0.6 1.1 4.2

Tragedy 1.8 1.1 2.1 1.2 5.8

History 1.3 0.8 2.9 0.9 4.6

The figures make some clear dramatic points: thunder is the stuff of history, while wind and rain are essentially more tragic; also snow is funnier than thunder and lightning, though tragedy is snowier than comedy. The combined score for "thunder" and "lightning" adds up to less than one occurrence per comedy, while averaging over three for the histories and tragedies.

King Lear, with 11 mentions of rain, is the wettest of the plays. Curiously, the word "rain" occurs only once in The Tempest. Henry VI Part III is very much the windiest play, with 16 mentions. Henry IV Part I, however, contains the best weather forecast:

The southern wind doth play the trumpet to his purposes

And by his hollow whistling in the leaves

Foretells a tempest and a blustering day."

Compare this with Hamlet's "'Tis very cold; the wind is northerly", and we have clear evidence that Shakespeare understood that arctic winds may be cold, but it's the ones that reach us from the south that may bring the strongest winds and rain.

And let us not forget the lines from As You Like It: "The icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter's wind, which when it bites and blows upon my body, even till I shrink with cold." As good a definition of "wind- chill" as you will see anywhere.