Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Done Like A Frenchman

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 13, 2011

William Shakespeare is described by some as the only Elizabethan dramatist to write at length in a foreign language, and he certainly does nothing to prove his critics wrong in the play Henry V where an entire scene is played completely in French!  In the play Henry VI, William Shakespeare does nothing to change his English audience’s opinion of the French.  In fact, the only two lines in French in Henry VI are specifically used to underscore a treacherous lie.

What’s more, back in William Shakespeare‘s time the jargon of thieves was called “broken French” and “pedlar’s French” which implied that the French in Shakespeare’s plays underscored the belief held by most Englishmen at the time that the French were broken, thieving pedlars.  To add insult to injury, the only characters who do not speak proper English are cowards.

In Part 1, Act III, Scene iii the French noblemen appeal to Joan to help them turn the tables on the English who have taken Rouen. Joan says that this can be done if the noblemen can convince the Duke of Burgundy to forsake the English in favour of their side however she has her doubts about the Duke of Burgundy and his sincerity should he decide to side with French.

Duke of Burgundy:
I am vanquished; these haughty words of hers
Have batter’d me like roaring cannon-shot,
And made me almost yield upon my knees.
Forgive me, country, and sweet countrymen,
And, lords, accept this hearty kind embrace:
My forces and my power of men are yours:
So farewell, Talbot; I’ll no longer trust thee.

Joan la Pucelle:
[Aside] Done like a Frenchman: turn, and turn again!

Charles, King of France:
Welcome, brave duke! thy friendship makes us fresh.
 
Bastard of Orleans:
And doth beget new courage in our breasts.

And so, while the expression done like a Frenchman doesn’t seem to be a popular idiom in written English, it enjoys, and has enjoyed, a healthy life in spoken English as an insult towards the French.

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