Folk-lore of Shakespeare, by T.F. Thiselton Dyer, , at sacred-texts.com
Badge of Poverty.—In the reign of William III., those who received parish relief had to wear a badge. It was the letter P, with the initial of the parish to which they belonged, in red or blue cloth, on the shoulder of the right sleeve. In "2 Henry VI." (v. 1), Clifford says—
Bedfellow.—A proof of the simplicity of manners in olden times is evidenced by the fact, that it was customary for men, even of the highest rank, to sleep together. In "Henry V." (ii. 2), Exeter says—
"This unseemly custom," says Malone, "continued common till the middle of the last century, if not later." Beaumont and Fletcher, in the "Coxcomb" (i. 1), thus refer to it—
In the same way letters from noblemen to each other often began with the appellation bedfellow. 1
The Curfew Bell, which is generally supposed to be of Norman origin, is still rung in some of our old country villages, although it has long lost its significance. It seems to have been as important to ghosts as to living men; it being their signal for walking, a licence which apparently lasted till the first cock. Fairies, too, and other spirits were
under the same regulations; and hence Prospero, in the "Tempest" (v. 1), says of his elves, that they
In "King Lear" (iii. 4), we find the fiend Flibbertigibbet obeying the same rule, for Edgar says—"This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet; he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock."
In "Measure for Measure" (iv. 2), we find another allusion—
And once more in "Romeo and Juliet" (iv. 4), Capulet says—
Sacring Bell.—This was a bell which rang for processions and other holy ceremonies. 2 It is mentioned in "Henry VIII." (iii. 2), by the Earl of Surrey—
It is rung in the Romish Church to give notice that the "Host" is approaching, and is now called "Sanctus bell," from the words "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, dominus, Deus, Sabaoth," pronounced by the priest.
On the graphic passage (ii. 1), where Macbeth says—
Malone has this note—"Thus Raleigh speaking of love, in England's 'Helicon' (1600)—
[paragraph continues] Sauncing being probably a mistake for sacring or saint's bell, originally, perhaps, written saintis bell." In "Hudibras" we find—
Carpet-knights.—These were knights dubbed at court by mere favour, and not on the field of battle for their military exploits. In "Twelfth Night" (iii. 4), Sir Toby defines one of them thus—"He is knight, dubbed with unhatched rapier and on carpet consideration."
A "trencher knight" was probably synonymous, as in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2)—
These carpet-knights were sometimes called "knights of the green cloth." 1
Chair Days.—Days of old age and infirmity. So, in "2 Henry VI." (v. 2), young Clifford, on seeing his dead father, says—
Chivalry.—The expression "sworn brothers," which Shakespeare several times employs, refers to the "fratres jurati," who in the days of chivalry mutually bound themselves by oath to share each other's fortune. Thus, Falstaff says of Shallow in "2 Henry IV." (iii. 2)—"He talks as familiarly of John a Gaunt as if he had been sworn brother to him." In "Henry V." (ii. 1), Bardolph says, "We'll be all three sworn brothers to France." In course of time it was used in a laxer sense to denote intimacy, as in "Much Ado About Nothing" (i. 1), where Beatrice says of Benedick, that "he hath every month a new sworn brother." 2
According to the laws of chivalry, a person of superior birth might not be challenged by an inferior, or if challenged might refuse combat, a reference to which seems to be made by Cleopatra ("Antony and Cleopatra," ii. 5)—
Again, in "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 5), the same practice is alluded to by Hector, who asks Thersites—
Singer quotes from "Melville's Memoirs" (1735, p. 165):—"The laird of Grange offered to fight Bothwell, who answered that he was not his equal. The like answer made he to Tullibardine. Then my lord Lindsay offered to fight him, which he could not well refuse; but his heart failed him, and he grew cold on the business." 1*
Clubs.—According to Malone, it was once a common custom, on the breaking out of a fray, to call out "Clubs, clubs!" to part the combatants. Thus, in "1 Henry VI." (i. 3), the Mayor declares—
In "Titus Andronicus" (ii. 1), Aaron says—
“Clubs,” too, “was originally the popular cry to call forth the London apprentices, who employed their clubs for the preservation of the public peace. Sometimes, however, they used those weapons to raise a disturbance, as they are described doing in the following passage in "Henry VIII." (v. 4), “I missed the meteor once, and hit that woman; who cried out 'Clubs!' when I might see from far some forty truncheoners draw to her succour, which were the hope o’ the Strand, where she was quartered.”
Colour-Lore.—Green eyes have been praised by poets of nearly every land, 1 and according to Armado, in "Love's Labour's Lost" (i. 2), "Green indeed is the colour of lovers."
In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (v. 1). Thisbe laments:—
The Nurse, in her description of Romeo's rival ("Romeo and Juliet," iii. 5), says:—
In the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (v. 1), Emilia, praying to Diana, says:—
The words of Armado have been variously explained as alluding to green eyes—Spanish writers being peculiarly enthusiastic in this praise—to the willow worn by unsuccessful lovers, and to their melancholy. 2 It has also been suggested 3 that as green is the colour most suggestive of freshness and spring-time, it may have been considered the most appropriate lover's badge. At the same time, however, it is curious, that as green has been regarded as an ominous colour it should be connected with lovers for, as an old couplet remarks:—
In "Merchant of Venice" (iii. 2), "Green-eyed jealousy;" and in "Othello" (iii. 3), its equivalent "Green-eyed monster," are expressions used by Shakespeare.
Yellow is an epithet often, too, applied to jealousy by the old writers. In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 3), Nym
says he will possess Ford "with yellowness." In "Much ado about Nothing" (ii. 1), Beatrice describes the Count as "Civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion." In "Twelfth Night" (ii. 4), Violet tells the Duke how her father's daughter loved a man, but never told her love:—
Dinner Customs.—In days gone there was but one saltcellar on the dinner table, which was a large piece of plate generally much ornamented. The tables being long, the salt was commonly placed about the middle, and served as a kind of boundary to the different quality of the guests invited. Those of distinction were ranked above; the space below being assigned to the dependents, inferior relations of the master of the house, etc. 1 Shakespeare would seem to allude to this custom in the "Winter's Tale" (i. 2), where Leontes says:—
Upon which passage Steevens adds, "Leontes comprehends inferiority of understanding in the idea of inferiority of rank." Ben Jonson, speaking of the characteristics of an insolent coxcomb, remarks;—"His fashion is not to take knowledge of him that is beneath him in clothes. He never drinks below the salt."
Ordinary.—This was a public dinner, where each paid his share, an allusion to which custom is made by Enobarbus in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 2), who speaking of Antony says:—
Again, in "All's Well that ends Well" (ii. 3), Lafeu says:—"I did think thee, for two ordinaries, to be a pretty wise fellow; thou did’st make tolerable vent of thy travel."
The "ordinary" also denoted the lounging place of the men
of the town, and the fantastic gallants who herded together. They were, says the author of "Curiosities of Literature" (iii. p. 82), "the exchange for news, the echoing places for all sorts of town talk; there they might hear of the last new play and poem, and the last fresh widow sighing for some knight to make her a lady; these resorts were attended also to save charges of house-keeping."
Drinking Customs.—Shakespeare has given several allusions to the old customs associated with drinking, which have always varied in different countries. At the present day many of the drinking customs still observed are very curious, especially those kept up at the Universities and Inns of Court. 1*
Alms-drink was a phrase in use, says Warburton, amongst good fellows, to signify that liquor of another's share which his companion drank to ease him. So in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 7), one of the servants of Lepidus says:—"They have made him drink alms-drink."
By-drinkings.—This was a phrase for drinkings between meals;. and is used by the Hostess in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3), who says to Falstaff:—"You owe money here besides, Sir John, for your diet and by-drinkings."
Hooped Pots.—In olden times drinking pots were made with hoops, so that when two or more drank from the same tankard, no one should drink more than his share. There were generally three hoops to the pots, hence, in "2 King Henry VI." (iv. 2), Cade says—"The three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops." In Nash's "Pierce Pennilesse" we read:—"I believe hoopes on quart pots were invented that every man should take his hoope, and no more."
The phrases "to do a man right," and "to do him reason," were in years gone by the common expressions in pledging healths; he who drank a bumper, expected that a bumper should be drunk to his toast. To this practice alludes the scrap of a song which Silence sings in "2 Henry IV." (v 3)—
He who drank, too, a bumper on his knee to the health of his mistress, was dubbed a knight for the evening. The word Samingo is either a corruption of, or an intended blunder for San Domingo, but why this saint should be the patron of topers is uncertain.
Rouse.—According to Gifford, 1 a rouse was a large glass in which a health was given, the drinking of which, by the rest of the company, formed a carouse. Hamlet (i. 4) says—
The word occurs again in the following Act (i.), where Polonius uses the phrase, "o’ertook in’s rouse;" and in the sense of a bumper, or glass of liquor in "Othello" (ii. 3), "they have given me a rouse already."
Sheer Ale.—This term which occurs in the "Taming of the Shrew" (Ind. 2) by Sly:—"Ask Marian Hacket, the fat ale wife of Wincot, if she know me not: if she say I am not fourteen-pence on the score for sheer ale," etc.; according to some expositors, means "ale alone, nothing but ale," rather than "unmixed ale.''
Sneak Cup.—This phrase, which is used by Falstaff in "1 Henry IV." (iii. 3):—
was used to denote one who balked his glass.
Earnest Money.—It was in olden times customary to ratify an agreement by a bent coin. In "Henry VIII." (ii. 3), the old lady remarks:—
There were, however, no threepences so early as the reign of Henry VIII.
Exclamations.—"Charity for the Lord's sake," was the form of ejaculatory supplication used by imprisoned debtors to the passers by. 2* So, in Davies’ "Epigrams" (1611):—
In "Measure for Measure" (iv. 3), the phrase is alluded to by Pompey. "All great doers in our trade, and are now for the Lord's sake."
"Cry Budget."—A watchword. Thus Slender says to Shallow in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (v. 2):—"We have a nay-word how to know one another: I come to her in white, and cry 'mum;' she cries 'budget;' and by that we know one another."
"God save the mark."—"Romeo and Juliet" (iii. 2). This exclamation has hitherto baffled the research of every commentator. It occurs again in "1 Henry IV." (i. 3); and in the "Merchant of Venice" (ii. 2); and in "Othello" (i. 1), we have "God help the mark." In the quarto, 1597, instead of "God save the mark" in the first passage quoted, we have "God save the sample," an expression equally obscure. 1
Halidom.—This exclamation was used, says Minsheu, 2 by old countrymen, by manner of swearing. In "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iv. 2), the hostess says:—
the probable derivation being holy, with the termination dome.
Hall! Hall!—An exclamation formerly used, to make a clear space in a crowd for any particular purpose, was "a hall, a hall." So in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 5), Capulet says:—
Hay.—This is equivalent to "you have it," an exclamation in fencing, when a thrust or hit is received by the antagonist. In "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4), Mercutio speaks of "the punto reverso! the hai!"
Hold—To cry hold! when persons were fighting, was an authoritative way of separating them according to the old military law. So Macbeth in his struggle with Macduff:—
[paragraph continues] We may compare Lady Macbeth's words (i. 5):—
"I’ the name of evil."—A vulgar exclamation formerly in use. So in the "Winter's Tale" (iv. 2), it is used by the Clown.
"O ho, o ho!"—This savage exclamation was, says Steevens, constantly appropriated by the writers of our ancient mysteries and moralities to the devil. In the "Tempest" (i. 2), Caliban, when rebuked by Prospero for seeking "to violate the honour of my child," replies:—
Push.—A exclamation equivalent to pish. 1 It is used by Leonato in "Much ado about Nothing" (v. 1):—"And made a push at chance and sufferance;" and again in "Timon of Athens" (iii. 6), where one of the Lords says:—"Push! did you see my cap?"
Rivo was an exclamation often used in Bacchanalian revels, but its origin is uncertain. It occurs in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 4)
Gifford suggests that it is "corrupted, perhaps, from the Spanish rio, which is figuratively used for a large quantity of liquor," a derivation, however, which Mr Dyce does not think probable.
Snick-up.—This was an exclamation of contempt, equivalent to "go and hang yourself." 2 It is used by Sir Toby in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 3), in reply to Malvolio's rebuke:—
So-ho.—This is the cry of sportsmen when the hare is found in her seat.
Spy.—"I spy," is the usual exclamation at a well-known childish game called "Hie spy, hie?" 1
Tailor.—Johnson explains the following words of Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1), thus:—
"The custom of crying tailor at a sudden fall backwards, I think I remember to have observed. He that slips beside his chair, falls as a tailor squats upon his board." Mr Dyce, 2 however, adds, "it may be doubted if this explains the text."
Tilly-vally.—An exclamation of contempt, the etymology of which is uncertain. According to Douce it is a hunting phrase borrowed from the French. Singer says it is equivalent to fiddle-faddle. It occurs in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 3), being used by Sir Toby:—"Am not I consanguineous? am I not of her blood? Tilly vally, Lady!"
In "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), the hostess corrupts it to tilly-fally:—"Tilly-fally, Sir John, ne’er tell me: your ancient swaggerer comes not in my doors."
As a further illustration of the use of this word, Singer quotes a conversation between Sir Thomas More and his wife, given in Roper's Life:—"Is not this house, quoth he, as nigh heaven as my own? To whom she, after her accustomed homely fashion, not liking such talk, answered, Tylle-valle, Tylle-valle."
Westward-ho.—This was one of the exclamations of the watermen who plied on the Thames, and is used by Viola in "Twelfth Night" (iii. 1). Dyce 3 quotes from Peel's "Edward I.," to illustrate the use of this word:—
Decker took the exclamation, "Westward, ho!" for the title of a comedy; and Jonson, Chapman, and Marston adopted that of "Eastward, ho!" for one jointly written by them a few years afterwards.
Fools.—Mr Douce in his essay "On the Clowns and Fools of Shakespeare," has made a ninefold division of English fools, according to quality or place of employment, as the domestic fool, the city or corporation fool, the tavern fool, the fool of the mysteries and moralities. The last is generally called the "vice," and is the original of the stage clowns so common among the dramatists of the time of Elizabeth, and who embody so much of the wit of Shakespeare.
A very palpable distinction is that which distinguishes between such creatures as were chosen to excite to laughter from some deformity of mind or body, and such as were chosen for a certain alertness of mind and power of repartee—or briefly, butts and wits. The dress of the regular court fool of the middle ages was not altogether a rigid uniform, but seems to have changed from time to time. The head was shaved, the coat was motley, and the breeches tight, with, generally, one leg different in colour from the other. The head was covered with a garment resembling a monk's cowl, which fell over the breast and shoulders, and often bore asses' ears, and was crested with a coxcomb, while bells hung from various parts of the attire. The fool's bauble was a short staff bearing a ridiculous head, to which was sometimes attached an inflated bladder, by which sham castigations were inflicted; a long petticoat was also occasionally worn, but seems to have belonged rather to the idiots than the wits. The fool's business was to amuse his master, to excite his laughter by sharp contrast, to prevent the over oppression of state affairs, and, in harmony with a well-known physiological precept, by his liveliness at meals to assist his lord's digestion. 1
The custom of shaving and nicking the head of a fool is very old. There is a penalty of ten shillings, in one of Alfred's Ecclesiastical Laws, if one opprobriously shave a
common man like a fool; and Malone cites a passage from "The Choice of Change," &c., by S. R. Gent, 4to, 1598—"Three things used by monks, which provoke other men to laugh at their follies: 1. They are shaven and notched on the head like fooles." 1*
In the "Comedy of Errors" (v. 1), the servants says:—
Forfeits.—In order to enforce some kind of regularity in barbers’ shops, which were once places of great resort for the idle, certain laws were usually made, the breaking of which was to be punished by forfeits. Rules of this kind, however, were as often laughed at as obeyed. So in "Measure for Measure" (ii. 2):—
Gambling.—It was once customary for a person when going abroad "to put out" a sum of money on condition of receiving good interest for it on his return home; if he never returned the deposit was forfeited. Hence such a one was called "a putter out." It is to this practice that reference is made in the following passage ("Tempest," iii. 3):—
Malone quotes from Moryson's "Itinerary" (1617, pt. i. 198), who says:—"This custom of giving out money upon these adventures was first used in court and noblemen;" a practice which "bankerouts, stage-players, and men of base condition had drawn into contempt," by undertaking journeys merely for gain upon their return. In Ben Jonson's "Every Man Out of his Humour" (ii. 3), the custom is thus alluded to:—"I do intend, this year of jubilee coming on, to travel; and because I will not altogether go upon expence, I am determined to put forth some five thousand pound, to be paid me five
for one, upon the return of my wife, myself, and my dog, from the Turk's court at Constantinople. If all, or either of us, miscarry in the journey, ’tis gone; if we be successful, why then there will be five and twenty thousand pound to entertain time with."
Garters.—It was the regular amorous etiquette in the reign of Elizabeth, 1 "for a man, professing himself deeply in love, to assume certain outward marks of negligence in his dress, as if too much occupied by his passion to attend to such trifles, or driven by despondency to a forgetfulness of all outward appearance." His "garters, in particular, were not to be tied up." In "As You Like It" (iii. 2), this custom is described by Rosalind, who tells Orlando:—"There is none of my uncle's marks upon you; he taught me how to know a man in love; . . . . your hose should be ungartered, your bonnet unbanded, your sleeve unbuttoned, your shoe untied, and everything about you demonstrating a careless desolation." Another fashion which seems to have been common among the beaux of Queen Elizabeth's reign, was that of wearing garters across about the knees, an allusion to which we find in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 5), in the letter which Malvolio reads:—"Remember who commended thy yellow stockings, and wished to see thee ever cross-gartered." Douce quotes from the old comedy of "The Two Angrie Women of Abingdon" (1599), where a servingman is thus described:—
In days gone by, when garters were worn in sight, the upper classes wore very expensive ones, but the lower orders worsted galloon ones. Prince Henry calls Poins ("1 Henry IV.," ii. 4), a "caddice garter," meaning a man of mean rank.
Gaudy Days.—Feast-days in the Colleges of our Universities are so called, as they were formerly at the Inns of Court. In "Antony and Cleopatra" (iii. i3), Antony says:—
[paragraph continues] They were so called, says Blount, "from gaudium, because, to say truth, they are days of joy, as bringing good cheer to the hungry students."
Glove.—As an article of dress the glove held a conspicuous place in many of our old customs and ceremonies. Thus, it was often worn in the hat as a favour and as a mark to be challenged by an enemy, as is illustrated by the following dialogue in "Henry V." (iv. 1):—
Again, in "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 2), Diomede, taking the glove from Cressida, says:—
And in "Richard II." (v. 3), Percy narrates how Prince Henry boasted that—
The glove was also worn in the hat as the memorial of a friend, and in the "Merchant of Venice" (iv. 1), Portia, in her assumed character, asks Bassanio for his gloves, which she says she will wear for his sake:—
When the fashion of thus wearing gloves declined, "it fell into the hands of coxcombical and dissolute servants." 1 Thus Edgar, in "King Lear" (iii. 4), being asked by Lear what he had been, replies:—"A serving-man, proud in heart and mind; that curled my hair, wore gloves in my cap," &c.
To throw the glove, as the signal of a challenge, is alluded to by Troilus (iv. 4), who tells Cressida:—
—the meaning being, says Johnson:—"I will challenge Death himself in defence of thy fidelity."
The glove then thrown down was popularly called "a gage," 1 from the French, signifying a pledge, and in "Richard II." (iv. 1), it is so termed by Aumerle:—
In the same play it is also called "honour's pawn." Thus Bolingbroke (i. 1), says to Mowbray—
And further on (iv. 1), one of the Lords employs the same phrase
It is difficult to discover why the glove was recognised as the sign of defiance. Brand 2 suggests that the custom of dropping or sending the glove, "as the signal of a challenge, may have been derived from the circumstance of its being the cover of the hand, and therefore put for the hand itself. The giving of the hand is well known to intimate that the person who does so will not deceive, but stand to his agreement. To shake hands upon it would not be very delicate in
an agreement to fight, and, therefore gloves may possibly have been deputed as substitutes."
Again, the glove was often thrown down as a pledge, as in "Timon of Athens" (v. 4), where the senator says to Alcibiades:—
Whereupon Alcibiades answers—"Then, there's my glove." In "King Lear" (v. 2), Albany thus speaks:—
In "Troilus and Cressida" (iv. 5), Hector further alludes to this practice:—
Scented gloves were formerly given away as presents. In "Winter's Tale," the custom is referred to by Mopsa, who says to the Clown (iv. 4):—"Come, you promised me a tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves;" and Autolycus is introduced singing:—
In "Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 4), Hero says:—"These-gloves the Count sent me; they are an excellent perfume." Trinity College, Oxford, not ungrateful to its founder and his spouse, has many entries, after the date of 1556, in the Bursar's books, "pro fumigatis chirothecis," for perfumed gloves.
Kiss.—In years past, a kiss was the recognised fee of a lady's partner, and as such is noticed in "Henry VIII." (i.4):—
In the "Tempest" (i. 2), it is alluded to in Ariel's song:—
There is probably a veiled allusion to the same ceremony in "Winter's Tale" (iv. 4), where, at the dance of Shepherds and Shepherdesses, the following dialogue occurs:—
In an old treatise, entitled the "Use and Abuse of Dancing and Minstrelsie," we read:—
The practice of saluting ladies with a kiss was once very general, and in the "Merry Wives of Windsor," to kiss the hostess is indirectly spoken of as a common courtesy of the day.
In "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 5), a further instance occurs, where Romeo kisses Juliet at Capulet's entertainment; and in "Henry VIII." (i. 4), Lord Sands is represented as kissing Anne Bullen, next whom he sits at supper.
The celebrated "kissing comfits" were sugar plums, once extensively used by fashionable persons to make the breath sweet. Falstaff, in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (v. 5), when embracing Mrs Ford, says:—"Let it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves, hail kissing comfits, and snow erringoes."
In "Measure for Measure" (iv. i., song) kisses are referred to as "seals of love." A Judas kiss was a kiss of treachery. Thus in "3 Henry VI." (v. 7), Gloucester says:—
Lace Songs.—These were jingling rhymes, sung by young girls while engaged at their lace-pillows. A practice alluded to by the Duke in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 4):—
Miss Baker, in her "Northamptonshire Glossary" (1854, i. 378), says, "the movement of the bobbins is timed by the modulation of the tune, which excites them to regularity and cheerfulness; and it is a pleasing sight to see them in warm sunny weather, seated outside their cottage doors, or seeking the shade of a neighbouring tree; where, in cheerful groups, they unite in singing their rude and simple rhymes. The following is a specimen of one of these ditties, most descriptive of the occupation:—
Letters.—The word Emmanuel was formerly prefixed, probably from feelings of piety, to letters and public deeds. So in "2 Henry VI." (iv. 2), there is the following allusion to it:—
Staunton says: "We can refer to one MS. alone, in the British Museum (Ad. MSS. 19, 400), which contain no less than fourteen private epistles headed 'Emanewell,' or 'Jesus Immanuel.'"
Another superscription of a letter in years gone by was "to the bosom" of a lady. Thus Hamlet says to Ophelia (ii. 2):—
And in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (iii. 2), Proteus says:—
This custom seems to have originated in the circumstance of women having a pocket in the forepart of their stays, in which, according to Steevens, "they carried not only love-letters and love-tokens, but even their money and materials for needlework."
Livery.—The phrase, "sue my livery," which occurs in the following speech of Bolingbroke ("King Richard II." ii. 3):—
is thus explained by Malone:—"On the death of every person who held by knight's service, the escheator of the court in which he died summoned a jury, who enquired what estate he died seized of, and of what age his next heir was. If he was under age, he became a ward of the king's; but if he was found to be of full age, he then had a right to sue out a writ of ouster le main, that is, his livery, that the king's hand might be taken off, and the land delivered to him." York (ii. 1), also says:—
Love-Day.—This denoted a day of amity or reconciliation; an expression which is used by Saturnius in "Titus Andronicus" (i. 1):—
Military Lore—Fleshment.—This is a military term;—a young soldier being said to flesh his sword the first time he draws blood with it. In "King Lear" (ii. 2), Oswald relates how Kent:—
upon which passage, Singer (ix. 377) has this note:—"Fleshment, therefore, is here metaphorically applied to the first
act, which Kent, in his new capacity, had performed for his master; and at the same time, in a sarcastic sense, although he had esteemed it an heroic exploit to trip a man behind, who was actually falling." The phrase occurs again in "1 Henry IV." (v. 4), where Prince Henry tells his brother:—
Swearing by the Sword.—According to Nares, 1 "the singular mixture of religious and military fanaticism which arose from the Crusades, gave rise to the custom of taking a solemn oath upon a sword. In a plain unenriched sword, the separation between the blade and the hilt was usually a straight transverse bar, which, suggesting the idea of a cross, added to the devotion which every true knight felt for his favourite weapon, and evidently led to this practice." Hamlet makes Horatio swear that he will never divulge having seen the ghost (i. 5):—
In the "Winter's Tale" (ii. 3), Leonato says:—
The cross of the sword is also mentioned to illustrate the true bearing of the oath. Hence, in 1 Henry IV." (ii. 4), Falstaff says jestingly of Glendower, that he "swore the devil his true liegeman upon the cross of a Welsh hook." 2
On account of the practice of swearing by a sword, or rather by the cross or upper end of it, the name of Jesus was sometimes inscribed on the handle or some other part.
Mining Terms.—According to Mr Collier, the phrase "true-penny" is a mining term current in the north of England, signifying a particular indication in the soil, of the
direction in which ore is to be found. Thus, Hamlet says (i. 5):—
when making Horatio and Marcellus again swear that they will not divulge having seen the ghost.
Patrons.—The custom of clergymen praying for their patrons, in what is called the bidding prayer, seems alluded to by Kent in "King Lear" (i. 1):—
Sagittary.—This was a monster, half man, half beast, described as a terrible archer; neighing like a horse, and with its eyes of fire striking men dead like lightning. In "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 5), Agamemnon says:—
Hence any deadly shot was called a sagittary. In "Othello" (i. 1) the barrack is so named from the figure of an archer over the door.
Salad Days.—Days of green youth and inexperience. Cleopatra says (I. v):—
Salt.—The salt of youth is that vigour and strong passion which then predominates. The term is several times used by Shakespeare for strong amorous passion. Iago, in "Othello" (iii. 3), refers to it as "hot as monkeys, as salt as wolves in pride." In "Measure for Measure" (v. 1), the Duke calls Angelo's base passion, his "salt imagination," because he supposed his victim to be Isabella, and not his betrothed wife, whom he was forced by the Duke to marry. 1
Salutations.—God-den was used by our forefathers as soon as noon was past, after which time "good morrow" or "good-day" was esteemed improper; the phrase "God ye good den," being a contraction of "God give you a good
evening." This fully appears from the following passage in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4):—
Upon being thus corrected, the Nurse asks, "Is it good den?" to which Mercutio replies, "’Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon."
A further corruption of the same phrase was "God-dig you den," as used by Costard in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 1):—"God-dig-you-den all!" Shakespeare uses it several times, as in "Titus Andronicus" (iv. 4), where the Clown says:—"God and Saint Stephen give you good den;" and in "King John" (i. 1), the King says: "Good-den, Sir Richard!"
Another old popular salutation was "good even and twenty" ("Merry Wives of Windsor," ii. I), equivalent to "twenty good evenings." Mr Halliwell-Phillipps quotes a similar phrase from Elliot's "Fruits of the French" (1593), "God night, and a thousand to everybody."
We may also compare the phrase "good-deed" in "Winter's Tale" (i. 2.); a species of asseveration, as "in very deed."
Servants’ Customs.—The old custom of the servants of great families taking an oath of fidelity on their entrance into office—as is still the case with those of the sovereign—is alluded to by Posthumus in "Cymbeline" (ii. 4), where, speaking of Imogen's servants, he says:—
Gold chains were formerly worn by persons of rank and dignity, and by rich merchants—a fashion which descended to upper servants in great houses, and by stewards as badges of office. These chains were usually cleaned by being rubbed with crumbs. Hence, in "Twelfth Night" (ii. 3), Sir Toby says to the Clown:—
In days gone by, too, it was customary for the servants of the nobility, particularly the gentleman-usher, to attend bare-headed. In the procession to the trial in "Henry VIII." (ii. 4), one of the persons enumerated is a gentleman—
usher "bare-headed." On grand occasions, coachmen, also, drove bare-headed, a practice alluded to in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Woman Hater" (iii. 2):—
Sheriff's Post.—At the doors of sheriffs were usually set up ornamental posts, on which royal and civic proclamations were fixed. So, in "Twelfth Night" (i. 5), Malvolia says—"He'll stand at your door like a sheriff's post." "A pair of mayor's posts," says Staunton, "are still standing in Norwich, which from the initials T. P., and the date 159–, are conjectured to have belonged to Thomas Pettys, who was mayor of that city in 1592."
Shoeing-Horn.—This, from its convenient use in drawing on a tight shoe, was applied in a jocular metaphor to other subservient and tractable assistants. Thus Thersites, in "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 1), in his railing mood gives this name to Menelaus, whom he calls "a thrifty shoeing-horn in a chain, hanging at his brother's (Agamemnon) leg."
It was also employed as a contemptuous name for danglers on young women.
In the same way "shoe-tye" became a characteristic name for a traveller, a term used by Shakespeare in "Measure for Measure" (iv. 3), "Master Forthlight the tilter, and brave Master Shooty, the great traveller."
A Solemn Supper.—In Shakespeare's day this was a phrase for a feast or banquet given on any important occasion, such as a birth, marriage, &c. Macbeth says (iii. 1)—
Howel, in a letter to Sir T. Hawke, 1636, says—"I was invited yesternight to a solemne supper by B. J. [Ben Jonson], where you were deeply remembered."
So in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 5), Tybalt says—
[paragraph continues] And in "All's Well That Ends Well" (ii. 3), the King, on the conclusion of the contract between Helena and Bertram, says
Statute Caps.—These were woollen caps enforced by Statute 13 Elizabeth, which, says Strype, in his "Annals" (ii. 74), was "for continuance of making and wearing woollen caps in behalf of the trade of cappers; providing that all above the age of six years (excepting the nobility and some others) should on Sabbath-days and holy-days wear caps of wool, knit thicked, and drest in England, upon penalty of ten groats." Thus, in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2), Rosalind says—
Johnson considered that the statute caps alluded to were those worn by the members of the universities.
Theatrical Lore.—At the conclusion of a play, or of the epilogue, it was formerly customary for the actors to kneel down on the stage, and pray for the sovereign, nobility, clergy, and sometimes for the commons. So in the epilogue to "2 Henry IV." the dancer says—"My tongue is weary; when my legs are too, I will bid you good night; and so kneel down before you; but, indeed, to pray for the queen." Collier, in his "History of English Dramatic Poetry" (iii. 445), tells us that this practice continued in the commencement of the 17th century.
Tournaments.—In "Coriolanus" (ii. 1) Shakespeare attributes some of the customs of his own times to a people who were wholly unacquainted with them. In the following passage we have an exact description of what occurred at tiltings and tournaments when a combatant had distinguished himself:—
An allusion to the mock tournaments, in which the combatants were armed with rushes in place of spears, is used by Othello (v. 2)—
Trumpet.—In olden times it was the fashion for persons of distinction, when visiting, to be accompanied by a trumpeter, who announced their approach by a flourish of his trumpet. It is to this custom, Staunton 2 thinks, that Lorenzo refers in the "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1), where he tells Portia—
War-Cry.—"God, and Saint George!"—the common cry of the English soldier when he charged the enemy—"King Richard III." (v. 3). The author of the "Old Arte of Warre," printed in the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, formally enjoins the use of this cry among his military laws (p. 84):—"Item.—That all souldiers entring into battaile, assaulte, skirmishe, or other faction of armes, shall have for their common cry-word, 'Saint George, forward, or upon them, Saint George!' whereby the souldier is much comforted to minde the ancient valour of England, which with that name has been so often victorious; and therefore he who upon any sinister zeale shall maliciously omit so fortunate a name, shall be severely punished for his obstinate, erroneous heart and perverse mind."
"Havoc!"—To cry "havoc" appears to have been a signal for indiscriminate slaughter. The expression occurs in "King John" (ii. 1)—
In "Coriolanus" Menenius says (iii. i)—
[paragraph continues] And in "Julius Cæsar" (iii. 1)—
"Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill him!"—This was the ancient cry of the English troops when they charged the enemy. It occurs where the conspirators kill Coriolanus (v. 6).
Leet-Ale.—This was the dinner provided for the jury and customary tenants at the court-leet of a manor, or "view of frank pledge," formerly held once or twice a year, before the steward of the leet. 1 To this court Shakespeare alludes in the "Taming of the Shrew" (i. 2), where the servant tells Sly that in his dream he would "rail upon the hostess of the house," and threaten to
Aubrey, in his MS. history of Wiltshire, 1678, tells us, too, how "in the Easter holidays was the Clerk's ale for his private benefit, and the solace of the neighbourhood."
489:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 68.
490:1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, iii., pp. 220–5; also Harland and Wilkinson's "Lancashire Folk-Lore," 1867, p. 44.
490:2 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 379.
491:1 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," pp. 65, 66.
491:2 We may compare, too, what Coriolanus says (ii. 3)—"I will, sir flatter my sworn brother, the people."
492:1 Cf. "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 1); "As You Like It" (v. 2).
493:1 See Singer's "Shakespeare," viii. p. 204.
493:2 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 133.
493:3 See an Article by Mr. Black in "Antiquary," 1881, iii.
493:4 See Henderson's "Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties," pp. 34, 35.
494:1 Gifford's Note on "Massinger's Works," 1813, i. p. 170; see Dyce's "Glossary to Shakespeare," pp. 269, 380.
495:1 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 381; Nares’ "Glossary," ii., p. 764.
496:1 See Dyce, iv., p. 395.
496:2 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 402.
497:1 Staunton's "Shakespeare," i. p. 257.
497:2 "Guide into Tongues," ed. 1607.
498:1 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 343.
498:2 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 402.
499:1 Dyce, vi. p. 45.
499:2 "Glossary," p. 43
499:3 "Glossary," p. 497; see Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 952
500:1 "Encyclopædia Brittanica," 1879, ix., p. 366; see Doran's "History of Court Fools," 1858.
501:1 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 345; see Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 702, where various references are given to this custom.
502:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 350.
503:1 Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 371.
504:1 The verb "to gage," or "to pledge," occurs in "Merchant of Venice" (i. 1):—
Cf. "1 Henry IV." i. 3.
504:2 "Pop. Antiq.," ii. p. 127.
509:1 "Glossary," ii. p. 858; see Dyce's "Glossary," p. 431.
509:2 A Welsh hook was a sort of bill, hooked at the end, and with a long handle. See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 497; and Singer's "Shakespeare," ix. p. 168.
510:1 Brewer's "Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," p. 782.
511:1 See Percy's "Northumberland Household Book," p. 49.
514:1 See Singer's "Shakespeare," vii. p. 350.
514:2 "Shakespeare" 1864, i. p. 61.
515:1 See page 293.