Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0087. Monday, 20 January 1997.
From: W. L. Godshalk <
Date: Saturday, 18 Jan 1997 21:13:27 -0500
Subject: 8.0084 Q: Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Comment: Re: SHK 8.0084 Q: Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
I was reading the letters of Abelard and Heloise last week, and noticed (again)
her reference to fortune's arrows: "O fortune unfortunate, which has already so
spent all the arrows of its whole strength on me . . . ; it has emptied its
full quivers on me" (trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff, New York, 1933, p. 77).
(Betty Radice's 1974 translation is essentially the same.) And I again thought
of Hamlet's "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (3.1.58 Arden ed.).
But this time I got up and pulled down Harold Jenkins's Arden edition and
checked his footnotes. Although Jenkins suspects that the line should read
"stings and arrows of outrageous fortune," he cites no examples of the arrows
of fortune. (Neither does the Furness variorum.)
I checked the OED1 under "slings," and found example after example of the union
of "slingers and archers, slings and bows"--the light artillery of
pre-gunpowder warfare. Jenkins found only one example in Golding's translation
of Caesar's <italic>Gallic Wars</italic>. I see no need for an emendation of
"slings" to "stings." Under "fortune," I found no reference to "fortune's
I checked the Shakespeare concordance and found no other reference to the
arrows of fortune in Shakespeare's plays. I checked STC1 (the copy I have at
hand) and found nothing s.v. Abelard. D. W. Robertson, Jr., in his book on
Abelard and Heloise (1972) notes some parallels between Shakespeare's plays and
Abelard's thought, but sees no reason to believe that Shakespeare read Abelard;
the ideas are generally Patristic--according to Robertson.
That's as far as I've got. I have not yet looked in Patch. I imagine there must
be other references to the arrows of fortune--references that I have not yet
found, but which you have at your finger tips.
Yours, Bill Godshalk
Both "slings" and "arrows" had a figurative use by Shakespeare's time (and
probably much earlier), indicating the "power" of certain abstractions. So, one
could talk about, say, the slings of conscience. Perhaps there was no
tradition in which Fortune was pictured as an archer.