* * *

Contents · Atom Feed · Submit · Publications

Lo and Behold!

Periodical enquiries, facts, and problems regarding antiquarianism, the history of science, etymology, palæography, and other sublunary affairs.

So Witty Worded

Shakespeare used many mysterious words, words whose meanings are lost to us due most likely to corrupt texts. The best example is probably sessa from the Taming of the Shrew, as it also seems to appear in King Lear as either ‘caese’, ‘cease’, ‘ceas’, or ‘sese’ depending on which passage and version you read. Malone edited them all to ‘sessa!’, and Dr. Johnson wondered if the word was derived from the French ‘cessez’. The OED merely defines it as an “exclamation of uncertain meaning.” Elsewhere in the canon, All’s Well That Ends Well has quatch, The Winter’s Tale has pugging, Romeo and Juliet has skains-mate, and The Tempest has pioned, twilled, and scamel. The scamel, “sometimes I’le get thee young Scamels from the Rocke”, may be the same as the Norfolk dialect word ‘scamell’ for the bar-tailed godwit.

In Hamlet we have, amongst others, the word paiock (from the Second Quarto, Q2; paiocke in the First Folio, F1). It seems that the ‘i’ is the Elizabethan consonantal ‘j’, but apart from that nobody knows anything for sure about it. There are many theories: the OED says it may be a variant of “patchcock” or “patchock”, an apparently pejorative word only ever used by Spenser, or a corruption of “peacock”, though adding that there are five correct spellings of that in F1. Theobald, in 1726, suggests “meacock”, “paddock” or “puttock”. Morehead suggests “baiocco”, an Italian value of roughly three farthings. Warwick, in 1860, suggests “pataikoi”, a base god, or “patacco”, a base coin. Latham, 1869, says “polack”, a Polish person. Tschischwitz in the same year says that it’s from the Polish “pajuk”, “pajok” meaning a doorman. We can go on and on… “padgehawk” is another good suggestion. Wesley was dismissive of the whole thing already by 1790 when he said that the “matter is of no vast importance”.

It is from material surrounding Hamlet, and possibly from Hamlet itself, that I recently found another similar word that has briefly perplexed me. Richard Savage, secretary and librarian of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, published a book in 1910 entitled Shakespearean Extracts from “Edward Pudsey’s Booke” Temp. Q. Elizabeth & K. James I. It was a transcription of manuscript quotes made by Pudsey from various Elizajacobean plays, including one called Irus which Savage thought was a lost Shakespeare play; it’s actually George Chapman’s The Blind Beggar of Alexandria.

One of the plays that Pudsey saw was Hamlet, quoting from it 51 times. Generally the quotes follow Q2 very closely, but there are enough variations to inform us that it was an actual performance that he saw. Perhaps the most striking and informative is “The sunne breedes mag Beautifyed Ladye ‘gotes in a dead dog beeing a good kissing carion ergo &c.”, which follows the textus receptus except for the interpolation of the words “Beautified Ladye” inside the word maggotes. ‘Beautified’ was one of the words that Robert Greene taunted Shakespeare with in his Groatsworth of Wit in 1591, and Shakespeare has Polonius call it a vile word earlier in Hamlet; it’s interesting that the actor, probably Burbage himself, seems to have perhaps ad libbed it here. It may even reflect a more fervid (feigned?) madness in Hamlet.

Another of the variations forms the title of this essay. When Hamlet comes across the wit of the gravedigger, he says, according to Q2 “By the Lord Horatio, this three yeeres I haue tooke note of it, the age is growne so picked, that the toe of the pesant coms so neere the heele of the Courtier he galls his kybe.” But Pudsey records “this age is grown so witty worded”, which I prefer, and which sounds as though it may be from Shakespeare.

The word which so perplexed me also comes from Pudsey’s notes. Rosencrantz says to Hamlet, “My Lord, you once did loue me.” and Hamlet replies “And doe still by these pickers and stealers.” Pudsey notes “by these pickers and stealers scilt hands”. My first thought was that scilt meant “skilled”, with an unvoiced ending, and so stealers would actually be the possessive plural stealers’. But I also felt it possible that it was an annotation by Pudsey to explain to himself that Hamlet meant hands; the line is referring to a piece in the catechism.

The only English contemporary counterpart I found of the word is in the Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court, in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (Cunningham, 1842). The entry for Book II, 1573, starts: “The Booke of Charges growen wtin Thoffice of the Queenes Mats Revells aforesaide in One whole yeare scilt.” It was coming up in lots of Latin texts, however, and that was the breakthrough: it’s an abbreviation of the Latin scilicet, meaning “that is”. It seems likely that Pudsey was indeed just jotting a note to himself on this matter. Interpretation of Elizabethan writing can be difficult: it wasn’t until 1968 that ‘dornackes’ and ‘colysenes’ in Philip Henslowe’s diary were deciphered as corruptions of dornick and cullisance, from cognizance or badge, respectively. And where Pudsey gives one puzzle, he solves another: his quote “a moth it is to trouble the mind’s eye” shows that the later modernisation of that word, mote, now almost universally adopted by editors should perhaps be avoided not only for its punless qualities but also for its lack of contemporary stage authority.

My copy of Savage’s book contains a little mystery which is less resolvable. On the inside cover is a faded pencil dedication apparently by the author himself which reads: “Mr W. Jaggard / with the kind regards of / Richard Savage / 26 May 1910”. When I first saw it, the magnitude of the puzzle didn’t sink in because I didn’t absorb the name of the dedicatee; it’s only when I went to research it that it became obvious. W. Jaggard is the name of the printer of the First Folio and other works by Shakespeare. I can’t find any other reference to a W. Jaggard in Savage’s time, though it’s possible that he had a friend by that name that I can’t find a mention of. The person from whom I purchased the book, for £5, mistranscribed the dedication as to “Dr W. Jaggard”, and I don’t believe in any case he would have forged it; it was an absolute bargain even without the dedication, so there was nothing to gain.

Another interesting feature of the book is that the pages are very often fused together, sometimes on the top and the sides together. That makes it very, very difficult to read, though not impossible. If there was a Mr. Jaggard, he seems not to have read it… which means that either it was a rather strange and almost ritualistic dedication by Savage to the well-known printer, an in-joke that we’re missing the details of, or really was added later by a bafflingly inept forger. It seems most likely that it was a touching tribute from Savage to Jaggard for having preserved for us so many of Shakespeare’s words.

by Sean B. Palmer, 2007-04-22

For older articles, please see the site contents. To submit material to Lo and Behold! please read the submission guidelines and details. When it becomes available, you may purchase a paper counterpart; see the publications page for more information.

© 2007 Sean B. Palmer, inamidst.com