Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Ovt of the Frying Pan, Vnto the (Mvse of) Fire.

Well, I've been quibbling over small points of language all day. It happens when you're surrounded by Shakespeare in class and at rehearsal.

I had a lovely argument with a friend over MSN Messenger as to whether you could use "quote" as a noun. I say yes. I know quotation is the correct word, but quote is in common usage, all right? Even, the OED accepts it!

I'm a reasonable man. Get off my case.

The next quibble was about the Henry V quotation/quote which I used in my last On the Fence. It came from my Great-Uncle Jack, who sent me an email saying:

"On checking your quotation I find:

"Henry V urged his lords and soldiers 'Once more into the breach * * * Or close the wall up with our English dead.'

"The closing words suggest to me that Henry would have been on the side of today’s hawks!"

Of course, I immediately become very defensive when someone calls me on something like that. I hate to be wrong.
This time, at least, I wasn't.

My reply:

"I have no doubt that Henry would be the biggest hawk of them all... Henry V is the ultimate pro-war propaganda play. It was Winston Churchill who asked Lawrence Olivier to make his film version of Henry V during World War II , in order to boost British morale.

"As to your quote quibble, Henry is oft misquoted as 'Once more into the breach', but in the original Folio version (1623) the famous speech begins with 'Once more vnto the Breach / Deare friends, once more; / Or close the Wall vp with our English dead.' (I have no idea when we switched 'v's and 'u's...)

"There is an earlier version of Henry V, the Quarto text (1600), but Henry's famous speech is nowhere to be found in it.

"I'm not sure what edition you checked, but I imagine some editors have changed the line from "unto" to "into" to facilitate comprehension. You aren't alone in believing 'into' to be correct; a quick check on the Internet showed about 16,000 instances of 'into the breach', but only 4,000 instances of 'unto the breach.'"

I knew my English degree would pay off someday!

**For those who really care, a Google search for "into the breach" turned up 27,600 sites, while "unto the breach" resulted in 4750 webpages.

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