Sailing Shakespeare


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The E-Library handles surprisingly varied enquiries, from the fairly frequent family history requests to the exact height of Isambard Kingdom Brunel at the time of the launch of the Great Eastern.PU4302.jpg However, those who turn to the National Maritime Museum for assistance with their research are still capable of raising queries that could not be anticipated. A researcher recently called to inquire about the influence of nautical terminology on Shakespeare's vocabulary, and specifically the origin of a song of spurned love from Measure for Measure: 

Take, O take those lips away,That so sweetly were forsworn;And those eyes, the break of day,Lights that do mislead the morn (Act IV Scene 1)

He was exploring whether the last line quoted may be punning on the system of 'leading lights' used to guide a vessel safely into port. The song is more usually a matter of debate as its authorship is by no means certain, and it also occurs in Fletcher and Beaumont's play Bloody Brother.However, while there certainly are many naval terms incorporated into Shakespeare's works, this promising suggestion proved to be unfounded. A quick referral to the Oxford English Dictionary, the full text of which is available online to all users in the E-library, confirmed that the phrase was not recorded until 1867, some three hundred years after Shakespeare's birth.The enquiry did turn up an interesting Shakespeare connection with Emma Hamilton however, who is depicted in the print by George Romney and Edwin Roffe (the engraver) shown above. The title of the work is 'Shakespeare nursed by Tragedy and Comedy (Lady Hamilton)'. Richard (Information Assistant)