by Piet Coetzer

Minister Dina Pule’s defence

Even Shakespeare would have been bedazzled


After a 10 month long series of investigations and articles by the Sunday Times that alleged that she had a hand in awarding lucrative contracts to her boyfriend, communications minister, Dina Pule, finally publicly defended herself. She launched a blistering counterattack on the journalists responsible for the investigation and articles, setting out a plot that would have left even William Shakespeare jealous and, probably, bedazzled by all the intrigue it suggested.

Ironically, the Shakespearian-type allegations against her neatly coincided with the birthday of the man widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language of all time. He died 449 years ago on 23 March, only three days short of his 52nd birthday.

Shakespeare has seen many a phrase that he used in his famous plays become part of the everyday lexicon to this day and the origin of many words are ascribed to him. In many instances some expressions and words were probably already part of the spoken word in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when he was writing his plays. However, it was him who popularised them.

Bedazzle, is one such word. He was the first on record to use the word in his play The Taming of the Shrew, written between 1590 and 1592. The word itself, however, probably has a Scandinavian origin found in the Old Norse word, dasask, which arrived in Middle English dasen.

The word, dasask, originally meant to make weary with cold, in the Icelandic environment. However, the modern definition of the word has special relevance to minister Pule’s accusations that the journalists of the Sunday Times, in conspiracy with business interests, tried to blackmail and bribe her.

According to Word Hippo amongst having other meanings, bedazzle means to cleverly outwit.Most other sources also indicate that 'bedazzlement' can be used “to impress forcefully” with the aim of confusing people.

The minister’s story of blackmail and attempts to spin a “honey trap” for her with promises of not only a courtship but even a marriage offer for financial gain, share interesting elements with the plot of The Taming of the Shrew.

In the play, Petruchio offers to marry to the vicious, ill-tempered Katherine, so that her more popular, younger sister Bianca can be released by their rich farther to marry his friend Hortensio. Petruchio’s aim in the first instance is to find himself a rich wife to bring him fortune.

In the end he does not only succeed in 'taming' Katherine, but at her sister's wedding she gives a long speech advocating the loyalty of wives to their husbands. She is relieved of her fear that she will become an old maid and Petruchio gains his fortune and a good wife.


One would, however, be mistaken to seek some relevance, symbolism or irony in the fact that the minister of communications claim that there were attempts to blackmail her. The fact is that the term blackmail has no bearing in the history of postal services. It does, however, have much in common with the accusations and counter accusations about attempts to manipulate state tender processes for purposes of plunder.

'Mail' in the context of the word 'blackmail' derives from another Old Anglo Norse term for rent or tribute. During the time of border warfare between England and Scotland, dating as far back as the 13th century.

English people, residing along the border of Scotland, paid tributes to influential Scottish chieftains in exchange for protection from thieves and marauders. But since most of these English farmers were very poor, they could not afford to pay with silver or 'white mail'. Instead they paid with grain, meat or copper coinage, which became known as 'black mail'.

In time, the word took on the meaning of any payment extorted by threat of exposure of an incriminating secret. The term is also often as a synonym for some forms of extortion, especially when there is a personal threat involved regarding some future harm if a particular performance or non-performance is not delivered.

It is not particularly clear of what variety of 'blackmail' it was that the minister of was referring to but she will have to be careful how she treads in this matter, because in terms of at least one definition of blackmail, it would seem that some of the blackmail has already been delivered. This definition reads that “the crime of threatening to reveal substantially true information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand made upon the victim is met.”

Lastly, the other key word in this whole saga, is 'bribe'. It also offers some room for playfulness. While the word today generally means a gift given to influence corruptly, it has an interesting origin.

It arrived in English in the late 14th century from he Old French word bribe, meaning a bit, piece, hunk or morsel of bread given to beggars. In English, however, it originally indicated something stolen.

One can just imagine how much fun Shakespeare could have had with this still developing plot if he was alive today and living in South Africa.

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Issue 410


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