Here, in Act I, Scene I of Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Horatio describes the behavior of ghosts. The word "herald" does not occur here in most print versions of the play. The quotation I use is derived from Sir Laurence Olivier's own 1948 production. His re-writing of the play for the screen produced in my opinion a truly memorable line. As it was spoken by actor Norman Wooland, the word and the line in which it occurs are more sound than substance. I am convinced that it is, in fact, poetry, and for one reason: that the means by which it is spoken never leaves you. Without "herald," the poetry would not have been possible. I observe that the right words are the foundation for such a performance.
In Hamlet, the herald announces. In medieval times, the herald delivered a message. A heraldic message, then, would have been delivered by the herald. Heraldic garb was worn by him (his tabard). As the herald crossed the battlelines between both sides, delivering the messages of the warring lords, he would have been protected by both. As the critical messenger he was untouchable. Over time, "heraldry" -- the matter of coats of arms -- became his concern solely; for he alone would announce the two sides at jousts. He would therefore have been familiar with the family coats of arms of the participants and could vouch for their authenticity. His was the heraldric last word.
As I am a beginning student of Heraldry myself, I would like to share the key elements. Here, today, I will talk about the language of Heraldry, briefly.
Besides "herald," another vocabulary term of great value to you as you begin your study of Heraldry is "blazon." This is the statement which describes the coat arms. A blazon must follow basic rules of syntax (order of terms). This must be done both for clarity and brevity. Style is sometimes a consideration in blazon. With regard to style, I have concluded for myself that perfect blazon (again, a description of a coat of arms) is a balance of tradition and taste. Because tradition must always be a factor, perfect elegance is never possible in a modern or a contemporary sense; that is, contemporary taste will always be modified by the tradition which it serves. Nevertheless I think that simplicity is best. Anything which interrupts clarity will, at last, fall away. This includes old, circuitous forms of blazon, as were prevalent (according to my reading on the subject) during both the Tudor and the Victorian eras. In the best communication, style will yield to understanding. Elegant simplicity will prevail.
..........(Today I will push you into the water a little and expect you to swim. Next time I will give you oars and a boat.)
The proper coat of arms is issued to the grantee both emblazoned and blazoned. That is, both an image and a formal written description appear on the grantee's papers. Styles of visual representation of the coat arms will vary according to the artistry of the issuing party. But the blazon holds firm, a matter only of linguistic discipline. The categories of items which make their appearance on a shield of arms (and which, therefore, must be described, or blazoned) include the honorable ordinaries, the ordinaries, and the sub-ordinaries, as well as stylized and traditional versions of animals and plants. Moreover, it is my understanding that just about anything can be applied to the coat of arms as a heraldic symbol, also known as a charge. It is very important, however, that the rendering take on the formal and traditional heraldic form of the object. Here tradition takes over and by means of this, heraldry maintains its distinguished and separate and valued character. In describing a heraldic charge, one notices the item; one names it formally. Then its essential nature is described (heraldry has, for example, names for all the stances of a lion or a stag). Then its color is named, utilizing the Gallic terminology established for naming colors on the coat of arms.
...............................................(Today's lesson is almost over. Are you swimming yet? Good!)
To continue the discussion of language: here, following, is the syntactic formula of heraldry. In general:
Describe first the field (the shield itself, that is).
Describe second the important charge.
Describe thirdly, other charges.
Describe fourth charges upon the charges.
The blazon for the English king's coat arms, anciently, is: On a field Gules, three gold leapards. This could also be blazoned as: Gules, three lions or. This coat of arms is affectionately known as Old England. In the earliest kingly armorial shield there were no
fleur-de-lis. Nor was the shield subdivided in any way. Later, in the era of Henry VIII, a manic level of subdivision of the family shield was dictated. For Henry you had to over-prove your ground and your connection to the noble classes. By then, the directness -- the brilliant simplicity -- of the original era of heraldic devices had passed.
To continue our lesson in heraldic syntax, in broad terms then, the adjective (posture or color notation) follows the noun, which is the charge itself. So in our example, Gules (red) follows the word "field," which it describes. Also, "or," which is of French derivation (as many heraldic terms tend to be) means gold (yellow), and follows the charge it describes, lions. More on the standard terms for colors, metals, and firs, later, in Part III.
One general note. The earliest English coats of arms derive from about the twelfth century. The oldest were the simplest. The charges were often nothing more than lines of division of the field, such as the cross or the pale (a vertical band), or a bend (a sort of diagonal), or a bend sinister (a diagonal running in the opposite direction) . Variations on these lines of division depended upon differences in color (tincture), and the spare arrangement of rather earthly or (on the other hand) rather fantastical things.
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Best Regards ----
G. Claire. (Copyright 2011 by G. Claire.)