The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2033 Tuesday, 7 November 2000.
From: Ann Carrigan <
Date: Saturday, 4 Nov 2000 20:07:40 EST
Subject: 11.1992 Apes and Monkeys
Comment: Re: SHK 11.1992 Apes and Monkeys
>Some time back we had a fine discussion of Shylock's daughter Jessica
>and Renaissance monkeys. Working on a related matter, I find myself
>wondering if early moderns distinguished at all between apes and
>monkeys. Part of the issue is construing the mysterious proverb that old
>maids must "lead apes in hell." Can anyone help?
Frank, I've been mulling over this "proverbial fate of old maids" for a
long time. In fact, when I joined my first Shakespeare group online my
first inquiry was related to "apes into hell."
Unfortunately I've found few answers that satisfy me. Where did this
image come from? Why apes and why hell? Chastity was not a Christian
sin. Of course, the world of Shakespeare's comedies was pretty emphatic
about celibacy being against the nature of mankind and therefore bad.
The young men of LLL, Olivia of TN, and Isabella of MfM all declare
their allegiance to some cloister or other, and all those vows are
I looked through books of quotations once and could only find one other
contemporary reference to maidens and apes. I have no idea where that
note is, but if memory serves at all, it was printed in a newspaper of
sorts, a gazette, in 1600 and went something like this:
"For 'tis a saying old,
And you know it well,
That women dying maids
Lead apes in hell."
Of course, this group of scholars probably has much better resources
than I ever had...and better skills too.
I have been out of touch and am just catching up on this thread. I'm
interested in seeing where it does.