The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0761 Friday, 22 April 2005
From: Gerald E. Downs <
Date: Thursday, 21 Apr 2005 19:55:00 EDT
Subject: Martin Green on 'Quondam'
In _The Labyrinth of Shakespeare's Sonnets_ (1974), Martin Green
suggests that Shakespeare puns on 'quondam / condom', yet the latter
word is not in evidence until the 18th century and its derivation is
O, you my Lord, by Mars his gauntlet thanks,
Mocke not, that I affect th'untraded Oath,
Your quondam wife swears still by Venus' Glove. (TC 4.5.177)
Ay, here's a deer whose skin's a keeper's fee.
This is the quondam king; let's seize upon him, (3H6 3.1.22)
No, to the spittle goe, and from the Poudring tub of infamy,
fetch forth the Lazar Kite of Cressids kinde, Doll Teare-sheete,
she by name, and her espouse. I haue, and I will hold the
Quondam Quickely for the onely shee: and Pauca, there's
enough to go to. (H5 2.1.75)
Mercutio. Thy wit is a very Bitter-sweeting,
It is a most sharpe sawce.
Romeo. And is it not well seru'd into a Sweet-Goose?
Mer. Oh here's a wit of Cheuerell, that stretches from
an ynch narrow, to an ell broad.
William E Kruck's _Looking For Dr. Condom_ (1981), dates 'condom' in
print to the pamphlet, _A Scot's Answer_ (1706), which included:
The sirenge and Condum
Come both in request,
While virtuous Quondam
Is treated in jest.
In these four lines, Belhaven was referring to John Campbell
(1680 - 1743), 2nd Duke of Argyll . . . who "brought along
with him a certaine instrument called a Quondam, qch.
occasioned ye debauching of a great number of ladies of
qualitie . . ." (2)
This quotation is from 1705. Sir Testy Dolt (in the 1701 play "The
Ladies Visiting-Day") hears from Lady Lovetoy:
buy all their silks at an India house,
their looking-glass at Gumby's, and all their Tea at Phillips's.
Sir Test. At Phillips's! why there's a great deal of plain dealing
in your Ladyship's Conversation!
Lov. O 'tis the new manner among us to make no secrets; our
Dressing, Painting, Gallantrys, are all publick, and now a Lady
wou'd no more have a Lover unknown, than she wou'd a Beauty.
Sir Test. (Aside.) A very modest Age, By-Gingo!
Mrs. Phillips, at her shop The Green Canister, was "London's leading
condom merchant of the day . . . The Mrs. Philipses [at least two] are
best remembered today for their vigorous production of acrimonious
advertisements. In one such handbill, which is undated, Mrs. Philips,
discussing herself in the third person, claims that 'she has had
thirty-five years experience, in the business of making and selling
machines, commonly called instruments of safety, which secures the
health of her customers: she has likewise great choice of skins and
If we relate the claim of 35 years in business with the 1701 reference,
these "machines" probably existed in the 17th century, and they probably
had a name. Yet Kruck refers to the 1705 citation as originating:
This, then, was the origination of a word not seen before, and a
word which, when lexicographers and doctors began searching
for its source, refused to yield a verifiable etymology.
A 'first use in print' is not necessarily originating. What Kruck means
to say is that the word 'condom' was coined near to 1705 when some
evidence should indicate its derivation. An inference not noted by Kruck
of the "Tea Shop" is the fact that Mrs Philips had more than one kind of
condom. Does this bespeak recent invention, or might the devices have
existed earlier, and with the same name?
In Kruck's opinion, the yet-to-be-named condom "certainly must predate
van Leeuwenhoek [the first sperm-counter], but only as a "preservative"
of a man's health." Kruck cites the ancient and renaissance evidence of
condoms. Since 1500, there existed a ready-made market for a product to
guard against venereal disease.
After the two 16th century Italian citations, a century elapsed before
the play "L'Escole des filles" in 1655 has Susanne tell Franchon, among
precautions against pregnancy, of "use by the man of 'a small cloth' "
No mention in the preceding 100 years, but an advance in the purpose of
Because early 17th century references attribute the word 'condom' to the
name of its inventor, Dr. Condom or Colonel Condon, Kruck devotes much
of his work to a documentary and literary search for the reputed source.
First mentioned in the 1708 "Almonds for Parrots," in a poem addressed
to "the Worthy Gentlemen at Will's," Dr. Condom has proved elusive.
"Will's Coffee House," though a real place, was a literary section of
"the Tatler," which repeated the identity of invention and name in 1709,
though neither was specifically mentioned. All other references seem to
stem from these beginnings.
Because Kruck's aim was to investigate this myth, he leaves the
etymology of 'condom' undiscovered. Other searches had preceded his (by
language and medical scholars). Kruck felt initially that a Latin
derivation held the best chance. However, the candidate root 'condus' he
shows to have been a nonce-word of long ago that got its last surviving
use in a 500 AD list of obsolete words.
In 1911 Paul Richter offered a Persian etymology, whereby "a scholar
acquainted with medieval Latin" named the sheath as a play on its
function as a contraceptive. This notion presupposes an anachronistic
knowledge of contraception and ignores the primary function of condoms
to shield against disease. Further, Kruck says Richter was wrong to
equate the suggested Persian source-word 'kondu' or 'kendu,' "an earthen
vessel for storing corn or grain," with the Greek 'Kondy' or 'Kondom,'
"a seed storage pot."
Yet a condom is a seed storage pot, whether or not that is its intended
purpose. Kruck acknowledges that Richter's Greek pair correctly derived
from Greek 'cup,' and "was right in saying that because the Greek term
was neuter, it takes a final "m" in Latin.
There needn't be a Persian connection for there to be a Greek
connection, and the wag proposed for naming the condom needn't have had
birth control in mind. Thus Kruck's objections to Richter are minimized.
Kruck follows up with some work of his own:
The Latin dictionary entries 'condy', "cup, dish" . . . and
'condum', "a cup or pot", have been overlooked by those
seeking a Latin origin for 'condom', and thus warrant only
brief remarks here . . . . No one used Thomas Thomas'
'condum', and that is just as well, for Thomas' _Dictionarium_
(4th edition, 1594) would not do as a primary source of Latin
etymologies. The . . . entry,
Condum, di, n.g. Gloss. A cuppe or pot.
tells us that a glossary, or perhaps several, had been the
source, but "what glossaries were used or who gathered
these words, we do not know."
This last seems to quote Starnes, _Renaissance Dictionaries:
English-Latin and Latin-English_ (1954). Here Kruck let the matter drop,
apparently for two reasons. First, he was bent on examining the work of
others; second, he discounted an obscure 16th century secondary source,
assuming it would not have been consulted when the word 'condom'
originated in the early 18th century.
Kruck also consulted the glossaries used by Thomas and his successor
Legatt without finding the word, but was unable to see either
Hutton-Morelius or Philemon Holland. Nevertheless, we learn that the
word 'condum', meaning 'cup' or 'pot,' was in a dictionary that ran to
four editions in seven years. The spelling is the same as the 1706
citation. Further, William Pattison's "Kundumogenia." (pub. 1728, the
title in Greek) may support a Greek derivation. I haven't seen the poem.
If we resort to the Shakespeare lines adduced by Martin Green, we find
the term 'quondam' (also used in 1705 to mean 'condom') used in very
suggestive fashion at the same time that the Latin term for a cup or
pot, possibly derived from Greek 'seed pot', appears in a widely sold
Can it be that Shakespeare was aware of the word and its metaphorical
beginnings? Might the punning use of a homonym actually serve to
discover the etymology of a word otherwise lost in mystery, describing a
device only mentioned once in a hundred years, and even now condemned by
spam-controls? I believe these things are possible & that Martin Green
shows remarkable intuition by these suggestions.
Gerald E. Downs
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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