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Home :: Archive :: 1994 :: October ::
Re: Sharp as a Pen
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0863.  Friday, 28 October 1994.
 
(1)     From:   Jeff Nyhoff <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 10:28:26 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0857 Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
(2)     From:   Judy Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 15:55:58 AST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
(3)     From:   Christine Mack Gordon <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 94 10:34:29 -0500
        Subj:   Sharp as a pen
 
(4)     From:   Cliff Ronan <
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        Date:   Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 17:47:47 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jeff Nyhoff <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 10:28:26 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 5.0857 Q: Sharp as a Pen
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0857 Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
> ' sharp as a pen '.
 
Quill pens had to be kept sharp, I seem to remember hearing. Hence the origin
of the "pen knife"...?
 
Jeff Nyhoff
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judy Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 15:55:58 AST
Subject: 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
Personal experience recently illuminated that phrase for me. Shakespeare is
most accurately describing one of the physiological changes of the moment of
death.
 
<Probably the implied pun on nib/neb should be glossed.>
 
 
 Judy Kennedy
 St.Thomas University
 Fredericton, N.B., Canada
 Email 
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Christine Mack Gordon <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 94 10:34:29 -0500
Subject:        Sharp as a pen
 
The Arden edition has a fairly extensive gloss on lines 14-17 of Henry V, 2.3:
 
"Shakespeare's version of a portion of the famous Hippocratic 'facies'
contained in the *Prognostics" where Hippocrates describes the signs of
approaching death. Editions of the *Prognostics* were available in Greek, in
Latin, French and possibly English translations accompanied by the commentaries
of Galen and others. Christopher a Vega's Latin text (1552) has the following:
'De manuum vero latione haec nosse oportet quibuscunque in acutis febribus . .
. ante faciem feruntur vel venantur frsutra, aut colligunt festucas, aut
stamina de vestibus euellunt, vel stipules de pariete carpunt, omnes malas esse
atque lethales' (*Liber Prognosticon,* p. 76) and earlier, 'Erit autem talis
nasus gracilis in extremis' (p. 30).
 
Peter Lowe's translation of the latter runs, 'hee shall esteeme it in perill
and danger of death when the nose and the nostrils are extenuated and sharpened
by the same Malady" (*The Presages of Diuine Hippocrates, 1611, Sig. A4v.)
Dover Wilson cites Lupton, *Thousand Notable Things,* 1578, Bk. IX, '. . . and
his nose waxe sharpe--if he pull strawes, or the cloathes of his bedde . . . '.
One wonders whether Galen's comment that the nose becomes 'aquillinus' may have
suggested a 'quill' and thus inspired the immortal 'sharp as a pen' as the
Hostess' muddled version." (The editor of this edition is J. H. Walter) Hope
this helps. --Chris Gordon
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cliff Ronan <
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Date:           Thursday, 27 Oct 1994 17:47:47 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
Comment:        Re: SHK 5.0857  Q: Sharp as a Pen
 
Mitchell Brown wonders what is on Mistress Quickly's mind when she "very
movingly" describes Falstaff's death and adds the detail that his nose was
"sharp as a pen." Quill pens, of course, had to be continually sharpened.  As
for the similarity to a nose, perhaps she is comparing the hollow side of the
cut quill to a flared nostril struggling for air, while the nose tip of the
dying man looks thin, cartilaginous, and drained of blood.
 
But beyond this, Shakespeare could be undercutting Quickly by a trick analogous
to her witless allusion to "Arthur's bosom."  This less-than-respectable and
less- than-intelligent character seems now to have stumbled on another body
part, the penis.  Bawdy pin/pen quibbling is everywhere in the early comedies.
Besides, in a moment she will tell of feeling her way up Falstaff's lower
extremities.  She will record that all is "cold as any stone." Don't all three
`organic' details seem designed to preserve the old knight's reported death
from too slow, melancholy, and sentimental a treatment?
 
Equivocally yours,
Cliff Ronan, Southwest Texas SU
 

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