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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: May ::
Q: Iachimo in a Box
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0476.  Monday, 30 May 1994.
 
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 30 May 1994 02:25:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Iachimo in a Box
 
In CYMBELINE, Iachimo gains entrance to Imogen's room in a truck, and after she
falls asleep Iachimo emerges from the trunk (Folio: Iachimo from the Trunke
[TLN 917]). I would like to claim that this is a visual pun to Jack in a Box, a
pun that's obscured by the Oxford Shakespeare's "Giacomo."
 
The OED, s.v. Jack-in-the-box, Jack-in-a-box, gives the first definition as "A
name for a sharper or cheat; spec. 'a thief who decived tradesmen by
substituting empty boxes for others full of money' (Nares)." One of the
examples is Dekker, CRYER OF LANTHORNE (1612), and the earliest is dated 1570.
Of course, Iachimo is exactly this kind of sharper. He tells Imogen that the
trunk is full of plate and jewels. And he substitutes himself for the valuables
in order to get into her room. He substitutes one kind of jack for another.
 
The OED's sixth definition is "a toy consisting of a box containing a figure
with a spring, which leaps up when the lid is raise." The first example is
dated 1702. J. S. Farmer and W. E. Henley, SLANG AND ITS ANALOGUES, find
references to the toy in 1570 and 1600. And so when Iachimo pops up from the
trunk he approximates the action of the children's toy.
 
Farmer and Henley, s.v. CREAM-STICK, also suggest that Jack-in-a-box is slang
for penis. Given Iachimno's mission -- to seduce Imogen -- that pun may be
available, too. Unfortunately, Farmer and Henley give no date for the "penis"
reference.
 
In a brief search that included Henry Jacobs's bibliography and the most recent
editions that I could find, I have found no reference to these possible puns.
 
A few months ago, I asked Linda Woodbridge what she thought of
Iachimo-in-a-box. She look at me skeptically, and then said that she was
skeptical. Nevertheless, what do you all think?
 
Bill Godshalk
 

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