Morphosyntactic variation: Hamlet, Gertrude, Marshall, Bachmann

« previous post | next post »

Over the past few days, I've come across two attempts at antique English verb inflection in a modern political context. One of them is from Josh Marshall, "Godzilla vs. Mothra", TPM 4/29/2013:

This is wild. Bilious WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin lashes out at “jerk” Sen. Ted Cruz, says he must apologize to GOP colleagues.

And the popcorn shall passeth.

And the other is from Michele Bachmann, as described by Matt Wilstein, "Michele Bachmann Tries, Fails To Quote Shakespeare During House Debate…", Mediaite 4/26/2013:

Bachmann singled out House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for being “extremely passionate” about losses to programs like Head Start and others that benefit children under sequestration when it was President Obama who signed the sequestration bill, and may have even thought it up. “There were numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future. And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: ‘Thou protestest too much.’”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

So what's with the -eth and the -est? In the OED's discussion of "Grammar in Early Modern English", Edmund Weiner explains:

The second person singular inflection -est naturally declined in importance as the use of thou declined, giving rise to the current arrangement whereby in the present tense only the third singular is marked and all other persons take the base form.

At the start of the period, the normal third person singular ending in standard southern English was -eth. The form -(e)s, originally from Northern dialect, replaced -eth in most kinds of use during the seventeenth century. A few common short forms, chiefly doth, hath, continued often to be written, but it seems likely that these were merely graphic conventions.

Josh Marshall's (no doubt satirical) "passeth" is morphologically wrong, since -eth would only ever have been used in an inflected present tense form of the verb, not in construction with a modal like shall, where the base form would always have been used. Thus in the King James version of the bible, there are 44 instances of "passeth", all of them inflected present tense forms, e.g.

Man is like to vanity: his dayes are as a shadow that passeth away.
And the peace of God which passeth all vnderstanding, shall keepe your hearts & minds through Christ Iesus.
This is the reioycing citie that dwelt carelessely, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is shee become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie downe in! euery one that passeth by her, shall hisse and wagge his hand.
One generation passeth away, and another generation commeth: but the earth abideth for euer.

The sequence "shall pass" occurs 37 times in the KJV, while of course "shall passeth" doesn't occur at all:

No foot of man shal passe through it, nor foote of beast shall passe through it, neither shall it bee inhabited fourtie yeeres.
For ye shall passe ouer Iordan, to goe in to possesse the land which the Lord your God giueth you, and ye shall possesse it, and dwell therein.
Reioyce and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the lande of Uz, the cup also shall passe through vnto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thy selfe naked.
Heauen and earth shall passe away, but my wordes shall not passe away.

I'm not sure what sort of reference or joke Josh has in mind, but he's used the phrase before, so there's some resonance here. Maybe there's a pop culture reference that I'm missing (which would make this "the popcorn that passeth all understanding"), or maybe it just has a faux-pompous sound that fits the occasion.

What about Michele Bachmann's "Thou protestest too much"?

Well, to give credit where credit is due, Rep. Bachmann got the morphosyntax right. The problem is that she got the quotation wrong. The first level of wrongness is one that she shares with nearly everyone else who indulges in this quotation from Hamlet — misunderstanding what Shakespeare meant by protest. Wikipedia explains:

The quotation "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." comes from Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act III, scene II, where it is spoken by Queen Gertrude, Hamlet's mother. The phrase has come to mean that one can "insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what one is saying."[1] This usage of the phrase is based on a misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "protest" as it was used in Shakespeare's day, as the "protest" of the lady is not a protest in the modern sense of the word, but an affirmation or avowal.

The phrase's actual meaning is, "I think the lady is promising too much." In the play, Hamlet's father has died, and his father's ghost has told Hamlet that he has been murdered (by Claudius). Hamlet has arranged the play for his mother Gertude and his uncle/stepfather King Claudius to watch: "The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Hamlet wants to see if Claudius squirms or sweats at the point in the play where the woman's husband is murdered by her lover (or future lover). If so, he'll have some decent evidence that Claudius killed his father. Hamlet arranged for the woman in the play to promise ("protest") to her husband that if he dies she will never remarry. At this point, Hamlet asks his mother how she likes the play so far, and Gertude famously replies, "The lady protests too much, methinks." In other words, she's promising too much. Gertude is protecting her own conscience about having married Hamlet's uncle after his father died. Hamlet replies, "O, but she'll keep her word." He's rubbing it in that his mother hasn't lived up to the standard of the woman in the play.

And then, in a more specifically individual misquotation, Rep. Bachmann turned the play's third person form into a second person form.

I'm inclined to forgive that, because Shakespeare himself was not above loosely adapting plots and even lines from his predecessors. And in this particular case, he exhibits two interesting kinds of morphosyntactic variation across editions of the work. One form of variation is the -(e)s / -eth business, and the second illustrates the optional advent of "do-support". The first quarto (1603) and the first folio (1623) both have "The Lady protests too much", while only the second quarto (1604) has the usually-quoted version "The Lady doth protest too much". And whatever its form, this line is Gertrude's answer to a question in which Hamlet varies in his own do-support — the 1603 version is "Madam, how do you like this play?", while the 1604 and 1623 versions are "Madam, how like you this play?"

Quarto 1 (1603):

Ham. Madam, how do you like this play?
Queene The Lady protests too much.
Ham. O but shee'le keepe her word.

Quarto 2 (1604):

Ham. Madam, how like you this play?
Quee. The Lady doth protest too much mee thinks.
Ham. O but shee'le keepe her word.

First Folio (1623):

Ham. Madam, how like you this Play?
Qu. The Lady protests to much me thinkes.
Ham. Oh but shee'l keepe her word.

Has anyone done a systematic study of morphosyntactic variation across the various editions of Shakespeare's plays? If so, please tell us about it. If not, this would be a great term project.


  1. Eric P Smith said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 7:41 am

    "Thou protestest" may be morphosyntactically right, but it strikes me as clumsy. Given that Shakespeare wrote in the second quarto "The Lady doth protest", I suspect he would have preferred "Thou dost protest" to "Thou protestest".

    [(myl) LION has an example in an anonymous play of uncertain date, Charlemagne, or The Distracted Emperor:

    th'art a parasytte
    thou and thy fortunes wayte vppon my father
    & like an euyll aungell mak hym doe
    those fearfull thyng I tremble to delyuer
    therefore y e loue w c h thou protestest here
    can be at best but fayn'd & beares more shewe
    of treacherye then zeale

    And another in John Lyly's 1578 Certeine Letters writ by Euphues to his friendes:

    The euill ende of Lucilla should moue thee to begin a good lyfe, I haue often warned thee to shunne thy wonted trade? & if thou loue me as thou protestest in thy letters, then leaue all thy vices & shewe it in thy lyfe.

    EEBO has two instances, one in 1579 The exercise of a christian life. Written in Italian by the Reuerend Father Gaspar Loarte D. of Diuinitie, of the Societie of Iesus. And newly translated into Englishe. by I.S.:

    THE FIFT aduise is, that when thou supposest thy life to drawe fast awaye (yet before such time as thou losest the vse of reason) thou then craue the last Sacrament of Extreme Vnction, or anneling with holy oyle; and this thou must indeuour thy self to receaue with great faith and deuotion; and hauing once receaued it, then to make a protestation of the Catholike faith, if thou canst it by heart; if not, to let it be read vnto thee; wherin thou  protestest to liue and dye, beeleeuing and confessing al that our holy mother the Catho|like, Apostolike, and Roman Church confesseth and belecueth.

    And the other in The defence of death Contayning a moste excellent discourse of life and death, vvritten in Frenche by Philip de Mornaye Gentleman. And doone into English by E.A. (1576):

    Thou be wailest not the cause of the Widowe or of the Orphane, whome y^ hast left at the point of iudgement, neither the end of ye sonne, the fa|ther, or the fréend whiche thou  protestest to restore: The imbassage of the common welth whiche thou wert ready to take vppon thée, either els the seruice that thou desirest to doo to GOD, who knoweth much better what seruice to reap of thée, then thou doost thy self.

    This is enough to make me believe that Shakespeare might have used protestest, if he'd been in a slightly archaizing mood.]

  2. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 8:26 am

    Another recent example: a headline for a Washington Post op/ed column by Kathleen Parker apparently read “Whither the wife goest" in the print edition (the online headline is different). That prompted a letter to the editor from Gene Fellner:

    If one intends to dredge up the archaic grammar of Early Modern English for the sake of whimsy, as in the headline on Kathleen Parker’s April 21 op-ed column, “Whither the wife goest,” one should use that grammar correctly.

    For example, “-st” is the second-person singular inflection: “Whither thou goest.” The third-person singular inflection is “-th”: “Whither the wife goeth.”

    The Post cannot blame this lapse on the difficulty of finding an authoritative guide to Renaissance-era English. Every professional writer and editor in the Anglophone world has a copy of the King James Bible on his or her bookshelf, and it’s chock-full of these grammatical curiosities.

    ("Whither thou goest" is from the King James version of Ruth 1:16, and it also served as the title of a song recorded by Les Paul and Mary Ford, among others.)

  3. Brett said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:13 am

    What I remember learning about the meaning of "protest" in Hamlet was that both meanings were part of the picture. Gertrude may intend only the "proclaim" meaning, but her choice of word is ironic for the audience.

  4. Q. Pheevr said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    To be fair to Bachmann, we might note that she didn't actually claim to be making a direct quotation. If you punctuate her remarks the way Wilstein does, then it certainly looks as if she is:

    And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line: ‘Thou protestest too much.’

    But we could also write it like this:

    And so it reminds me of the Shakespeare line—thou protestest too much.

    So I'd call it a successful (if trite) allusion, rather than a failed quotation, and give her full credit for getting the morphosyntax right. It's nice to see someone using archaic agreement suffixes as archaic agreement suffixes, rather than as archaizing suffixes devoid of grammatical significance (to be cast into a sentence at random to make it sound all old-timey, hitting a verb if you're lucky).

  5. Rohan F said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    @Eric P Smith:

    Given that Shakespeare wrote in the second quarto "The Lady doth protest", I suspect he would have preferred "Thou dost protest" to "Thou protestest"

    Depends on the stress environment. "Thou dost protest" is naturally iambic, whereas "thou protestest" is trochaic. If the Bard had wanted to start a line with "if", then "thou protestest" would be a more natural choice, similarly to:

    "If thou engrossest all the griefs are thine…" (All's Well that Ends Well, III.2
    "If thou rememb'rest not the slightest folly…" (As You Like It, II.4)

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    @myl, @Rohan F: Thanks, I stand corrected.

  7. Robert Coren said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 9:55 am

    It's my impression that approximately 99.73% of modern attempts to imitate archaic English in this manner get the morphology wrong. I've given up doing anything about it other than privately wincing and moving on.

  8. Chris J 0 said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    The next thing I looked at after this post. (I know, BBC)
    "Amanda Knox protests innocence in ABC TV interview"
    link to earlier story:

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    My vague impression (subject to perhaps checking actual evidence once Mark Davies makes it easier for us amateurs to do corpus searches in the centuries prior to 1800 . . .) is that do-support and related phenomena have become much more common than they were 400 years ago, and that modern writers attempting an archaic KJVish register accordingly tend to use "dost/didst VERB" as against "VERBest/VERBedst" a noticeably higher percentage of the time than Shakespeare-era writers did when choosing among those alternatives. But obviously it's a fair point that the alternatives typically scan differently, which might drive the choice in a particular metrical context.

    Perhaps if Josh Marshall had spent more of his life attending the sort of scary Bible-thumper churches he probably associates with Mrs. Bachmann he would have a better intuitive sense of KJVish morphosyntax, although to be fair one can find howlers of the "we giveth and you taketh away" variety at least back to the early 20th century. (I've actually seen one carved on a gravestone of a child who died quite young, which was a particularly poignant/distressing place for a typo . . .) And the other way around, Mrs. Bachmann is young enough that the odds that she has spent a lot of time in churches using the KJVish register are not necessarily overwhelmingly high, as KJV use trends "conservative," but since at least circa 1970 "conservative" is no longer a strong predictor of KJV use at Sunday services. I know nothing about the actual usage of the specific congregations she may have attended over the years.

  10. Theophylact said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    But it would have been nice if Joe Wilson had shouted "Thou liest!" and raised rudeness to a somewhat higher level.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    Note also that "popcorn" can't at least standardly be the subject of an active-voice construction with "pass" as the verb, since popcorn does not pass, but rather is passed. So (unless it's an obscure joke or allusion or weird anthomorphicization or something) Marshall has also generated an ungrammatical result as a result of a perhaps superstitious/clueless desire to AVOID THE PASSIVE VOICE AT ALL COSTS. I mean, really. Why is he being Vague About Agency like some Orwell-condemned bureaucratic weasel? Don't we deserve to know just who is going to be passing the popcorn to whom?

  12. Walter Burley said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:41 am

    Shakespeare's meaning for "protest" seems to have hung around for a couple of centuries before being swept away by a sea of protest marches, protest demonstrations, protests, and the like (stanza reformatting courtesy of WordPress):

    He had bought a large map representing the sea,
    Without the least vestige of land:
    And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
    A map they could all understand.

    “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
    Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
    So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
    “They are merely conventional signs!

    “Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
    But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
    (So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best–
    A perfect and absolute blank!”

  13. Cameron said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:51 am

    Perhaps Michelle Bachmann's memory of "the Shakespeare line" is colored by her recollection of an allusion to it in a script of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. If I recall correctly, in that context it was rephrased in the second person.

  14. joe said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    @ J.W. Brewer,

    I think the answer about who is passing popcorn to whom is answered here:

    "Hear the sighs of the unrighteous. Between the hands of the normal and the righteous, shall there passeth much popcorn. And yet amongst the unrighteous and the wicked, the cruel, the foolish, the racist, the lovers of power and worshippers of gold and weapons and the haters of women, shall there arise much wailing, and much gnashing of teeth, and much rending of garments and other lamentations. . ."

  15. Dan Lufkin said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    This gloss on protest probably applies as well to Protestantism. It was more about nailing up the theses than objecting to the Pope.

    [Sidebar] Did everyone see Pres. Obama's talk to the WH press association? Talking about job creation, he claimed that since his re-election, the number of Popes has doubled.

  16. JS said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    The popular "popcorn" meme evokes the slightly transgressive pleasure felt by the safely-removed onlooker to strife (particularly strife among the onlooker's sworn enemies):

    Michael Jaskon enjoys popcorn

    In Chinese this is to kan4 re4nao… can't come up with an idiom as such in English, though something like "enjoying the fireworks" does the job.

    Not that this makes the above any more grammatical…

  17. Bill W said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:18 am

    "make a protestation of the Catholike faith,"

    Isn't that a kind of oxymoron?

  18. Belial said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:45 am

    Getting Elizabethan-era verb endings straight is substantially less difficult than learning, say, what wine goes with what entree. I have little doubt that Josh Marshall, who can't be arsed to learn what grammatical function -eth performed in English, is one of the crowd who enjoys a good frisson every time an NPR reporter giving a report in the English language goes out of their way to pronounce the name of a Mexican individual or town with full-metal Spanish authenticity. Or, Sylvia Poggioli.

  19. Belial said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 11:50 am

    ("The popcorn passeth" is a perfectly good ergative construction, though, so we would regretfully have to give Josh a, um, pass on that one if he had put two more seconds' thought into it.)

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    joe's link also includes gems like "And watcheth they not the Fox News Channel?" OUCH OUCH OUCH

    It's like when pundits try to complain about declining standards in education by writing an op-ed column in fake AAVE pastiche but use constructions that are blatantly ungrammatical in AAVE, figuring that more or less anything that's ungrammatical in SAE ought to work well enough. (I think there have been LL posts on this phenomenon?)

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

    I guess I would semi-grudgingly accept the grammaticality of an "ergative" construction in an example like "the popcorn passes from hand to hand." It just doesn't work for me if the sentence comes to a full stop after the verb, although I guess there would be an exception for poetic inversions like "from hand to hand the popcorn passes."

    [(myl) There are a number of similarly intransitive instances of "passeth" in the KJV, e.g.

    Job 37.21 And nowe men see not the bright light which is in the clouds: but the wind passeth and cleanseth them.
    Proverbs 10/25 As the whirlewinde passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an euerlasting foundation.

    It's true that whirlewindes are more self-motivating than popcorns, but still…]

  22. Belial said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    Can't resist…

    He left the gang, he voted Nay,
    He sneered at those who joined the fray,
    He caused the columnist to bay,
    That his approach was not okay,
    That Ted Cruz was such a jerk.

    And when Jen Rubin took her stand
    And cried out loud, "Cruz is no Rand!"
    The popcorn pass'd from hand to hand
    Josh Marshall got to work.

  23. Lazar said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

    I'm constantly disappointed by most people's attempts at using Early Modern English – it's really rare to see it done correctly, even though it's a pretty simple business. People seem to think that "-eth" can be appended to any verb, and that "you" can be replaced with "thou" or "ye" at random. And don't get me started on all those people who think "wherefore" means "where".

  24. dw said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 1:45 pm


    My vague impression (subject to perhaps checking actual evidence once Mark Davies makes it easier for us amateurs to do corpus searches in the centuries prior to 1800 . . .) is that do-support and related phenomena have become much more common than they were 400 years ago

    It's a little more complicated that that. This graph (hope it works for you) shows that in affirmative declarative sentences, "do"-support was actually more common in 1550 or 1600 than it is now.

  25. Richard Bell said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

    Yes I have done a count of the number of verbs ending in -eth in the plays.
    I list them here in order of frequency. The most interesting thing is how closely this list approximates the date of composition. 36 instances in 1 Henry VI; zero in Two Noble Kinsmen, Winters Tale, Timon.
    Play number lines % of lines
    1H6 36 2820 0.013
    2H6 13 3049 0.004
    3H6 18 3028 0.006
    R III 22 3788 0.006
    CofE 5 1751 0.003
    Titus 13 2725 0.005
    SHREW 20 2547 0.008
    2GV 11 2154 0.005
    LLL 24 2495 0.010
    John 10 2709 0.004
    R II 13 2881 0.005
    R&J 9 3148 0.003
    MSND 7 2086 0.003
    MofV 13 2580 0.005
    1H4 14 2754 0.005
    2H4 8 2731 0.003
    MWW 2 1956 0.001
    Ado 4 2065 0.002
    H5 3 2848 0.001
    JC 7 2590 0.003
    AYLI 6 2263 0.003
    Ham 4 3889 0.001
    12N 6 2138 0.003
    T&C 4 3326 0.001
    AWEW 0 2584 0.000
    MforM 1 2639 0.000
    Oth 4 3560 0.001
    Lear 3 3555 0.001
    A&C 6 3605 0.002
    Macb 1 2558 0.000
    Cor 1 3570 0.000
    Timon 0 2390 0.000
    Peri 6 2529 0.002
    Cym 4 3659 0.001
    WT 0 3089 0.000
    Tempest 1 2086 0.000
    H8 4 3315 0.001
    2NK 0 3220 0.000

    [(myl) Neat!

    Though different editions also show some relevant differences. Thus Hamlet in the 1603 Q1 edition has 12 -eth forms, while the 1604 Q2 edition has 5, and the 1623 F1 edition has 4.]

  26. Chris said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

    Yes, nearly everyone gets it wrong. I used to teach workshops on Elizabethan English, which means I'm one of the chronic wincers when people do it wrong.

    Another factor is that the meaning, or at least the nuances, of "do" have also changed since Shakespeare's time. I don't have my books to hand, but I'm told it was legitimate to say, for instance, "The Mayor doth bring firewood to the hall," meaning not that he staggered in with his arms full of cut wood, but that he *caused it to happen* that wood was brought (presumably by someone of a lower class).

    I rather suspect that the incidence of "do" in unmarked, simple declarative sentences has declined in recent years, since we no longer hear as much "I do go to the market" — that's almost exclusively used when the "DO" is marked, as if it were an answer to "You never go to the market".

    OTOH, that's not necessarily a common construction in 16th century English either. Quick-and-dirty guides on "how to talk like an Elizabethan" tend to use the mantra "do-be-do-be-do" (I wince when I hear this) to encourage people to insert "do" and "be" into random sentences so as to sound "quaynte" — "I do go to the market" or "I be herding my geese upon the common today". The real situation in 16th century English is far more complex, not least because "be" in various parts of England could instead be "bin", "am", or "is" in this context.

  27. Lazar said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

    @Chris: The simple declarative use of "do" may have faded away, but nonetheless wouldn't the total number of "do"s in Elizabethan English be less than today, since it tends to form negatives with a simple "not", and questions with a simple inversion? Today's English seems saturated with interrogative and negatory uses of "do".

  28. Rod Johnson said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    Chris, do have a reference on that "causative" use of do? What you say doesn't ring true to me, as least as regards sentences like "the lady doth protest too much," in which the lady doesn't cause the protesting, she is simply the agent of it. But I don't doubt there's *some* nuance being expressed there, and I'd be interested to learn what.

  29. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

    The wind bloweth where it listeth and perhaps accordingly passeth where it listeth. The popcorn, not so much. (Although it poppeth where it listeth, if the lid be not secure.) That interesting chart dw linked to on various forms of do-support shows the incidence of them mostly spiking up from 1390 through 1710, but am I supposed to look somewhere else to see how the trendlines went from 1710 through the present?

  30. AntC said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    Mark, thank you for a fascinating and deeply researched piece. You presumably knocked this together in between scanning LL's spam logs.
    I'm left wondering (not for the first time) how you fit in your day job? You must be one of those people who don't need sleep.

  31. Christopher said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

    Has anyone considered that Bill might have selected "doth protest" over "protestest" to better preserve the stress pattern of the line as iambic pentameter?

    [(myl) Yes, an earlier commenter made this suggestion. It's quite plausible, but it would be more persuasive if the surrounding lines scanned as pentameters:

    Ham. Madam, how like you this play?
    Quee. The Lady doth protest too much mee thinks.
    Ham. O but shee'le keepe her word.
    King. Haue you heard the argument? is there no offence in't?
    Ham. No, no, they do but iest, poyson in iest, no offence i'th world.
    King. What doe you call the play?
    Ham. The Mousetrap, mary how tropically, this play is the Image of a murther doone in Vienna, Gonzago is the Dukes name, his wife Baptista, you shall see anon, tis a knauish peece of worke, but what of that? your Maiestie, and wee that haue free soules, it touches vs not, let the gauled Iade winch, our withers are vnwrong. This is one Lucianus, Nephew to the King.
    Enter Lucianus.
    Oph. You are as good as a Chorus my Lord.
    Ham. I could interpret betweene you and your loue
    If I could see the puppets dallying.
    Oph. You are keene my lord, you are keene.
    Ham. It would cost you a groning to take off mine edge.
    Oph. Still better and worse.
    Ham. So you mistake your husbands. Beginne murtherer, leaue thy damnable faces and begin, come, the croking Rauen doth bellow for reuenge.


  32. David Morris said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

    @joe: I searched online before I read your post and found the same reference, and also followed your link, but the web filter on my computer at work won't let me open the page. Could you give a brief precis of the context of that quotation?

  33. mollymooly said,

    April 30, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

    Flaunting one's poor-quality Elizabethan English can be funny, like putting on a very bad foreign accent. Neither the imitator nor the audience even needs to have a clear idea of what the real thing would sound like, as long as they recognise what the putative target is and how distant the approximation is. It's impressively meta for something so lowbrow.

  34. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    The bigram "Popcorn passes" can't be found at all in either COCA or COHA and there are only four hits in google books, of which one appears garbled and two others involve what I would consider rather different senses of "pass" (passing inspection and passing through a particular stage of a production line). So I think I'm sticking to my theory that nervous-clueless desire to avoid the passive "be passed" (which is easy enough to deploy in fake-KJVish pastiche – e.g. "Lo, the popcorn shall verily be passed from one end of the couch even unto the other.") was one factor probably influencing Marshall's blunder.

    [(myl) I'm still in favor of "The popcorn that passeth all understanding", myself.]

  35. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    @JW Brewer: We could ask Josh, of course, but the fact that his language was very nearly a verbatim copy of text at joe's link ("and then shall the popcorn passeth anew"), suggests that he was merely quoting.

  36. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 1, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

    OK, then a factor influencing the blunder of Marshall's source and *possibly* more subtly influencing in turn Marshall's willingness to quote it. But maybe mollymooly is right and quoting laughably wrong KJVish pastiche (while knowing that it's wrong) is some sort of new ironic hipster fad, or something.

  37. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    May 3, 2013 @ 1:58 am

    As has been suggested, perhaps it IS some kind of fad. I don't know, it beateth me…

  38. Chris said,

    May 7, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    This is really fascinating and really well supported. It has always bothered me how people try to use 'est' and 'eth' to try and sound Shakespearean, and think that 'est' and 'eth' are the same and that you can just stick it at the end of any word…It's a weird peeve of mine, but it still bothers me.

RSS feed for comments on this post