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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
Identify This Quote?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1625  Thursday, 2 September 2004

From:           Nancy Charlton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 01 Sep 2004 09:27:10 -0700
Subject:        Identify This Quote?

Dear SHAKSPERians,

A friend who is a private investigator called me yesterday to ask my
help in identifying a passage someone had used with the intent of
vilifying a client of my friend:

         O what a tangled web we weave
         When first we practice to deceive.

My friend had looked it up and found it attributed to Sir Walter Scott,
yet she felt sure it was from Shakespeare, maybe R&J or Hamlet. I looked
through all my anthologies and used two search engines.  I was certain
it was not Shakespeare, and indeed I could not find it. Best I could
come up with was a passage I thought might provide a good riposte to the
would-be vilifier:

They say this town is full of cozenage; 100
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks, 104
And many such-like liberties of sin:
If it prove so, I will be gone the sooner.              --King John

(Or perhaps this should be added to the list of political passages from
another thread.)

Anyway, RPO turned up nothing, and Bartleby attributed the lines to one
J.R. Pope. Bartleby quoted Pope's next line: "And when we've practiced
for awhile" and no more. This suggests that the poem itself quotes
something very familiar to an audience of c. 1930, and then running with it.

Does anyone know where this snippet came from originally, and/or what
the rest of Pope's poem is?

Nancy Charlton

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