The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0513 Thursday, 21 February 2002
Date: Wednesday, 20 Feb 2002 17:33:18 -0000
Subject: 13.0489 Mercutio's Little Nasty Song
Comment: Re: SHK 13.0489 Mercutio's Little Nasty Song
An old hare hoar,
And an old hare hoar,
Is very good meat in Lent;
But a hare that is hoar
Is too much for a score
When it hoars ere it be spent.
Mercutio has cried "So ho!" just before this song, describing the Nurse
as a "bawd". "So ho!" is the hunter's cry given upon spotting a hare -
"bawd" is a dialect word for a hare, and "hare" is one of the numerous
slang terms for "whore", or "bawd", or prostitute. Soho also happens to
be where London's prostitutes ply their wares nowadays (not in WS's day
So, we have the old, hoary (gray-haired) hare, which would be wizened
and thin; and the old, grey-haired whore ("hare" & "hoar" as a homonym)
who would be wizened and ugly. Both are good meat for Lent, because
there is not much meat on the one, and no meat one would want to touch
on the other.
By the same token - I'm not sure why Mercutio says "But" here - a hare
that is old before you have paid your twenty ducats is over-priced, as
is the whore. A hare that goes "hoar" after you have bought it, however,
will mature nicely and take on a pleasantly gamey flavour.
I am stumped by the suggested "whores ere it be spent", though. One can
only go whoring ere one is spent, one would assume, both in terms of
money and, well...
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