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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: April ::
Martin Green on 'Quondam
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0776  Sunday, 24 April 2005

[1]     From:   Steve Sohmer <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 13:05:19 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0761 Martin Green on 'Quondam'

[2]     From:   Martin Green <
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        Date:   Friday, 22 Apr 2005 23:03:24 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0761 'Quondam'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Sohmer <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 13:05:19 EDT
Subject: 16.0761 Martin Green on 'Quondam'
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0761 Martin Green on 'Quondam'

Dear Friends,

I, for one, found this argument utterly convincing.

Steve

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Green <
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Date:           Friday, 22 Apr 2005 23:03:24 +0000
Subject: 16.0761 'Quondam'
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0761 'Quondam'

I very much appreciate Gerald Downs' kind words about my suggestion in
1974 that Shakespeare might have punned (as I believe he did), on
quondam and condom. Mr. Downs asks whether the word condom might be
derived from condum, a Latin word meaning cup or pot.

In 1994, in my book. Wriothesley's Roses in Shakespeares Sonnets, Poems,
and Plays, I noted (on page 271) that when Thomas Wriothesley, upon the
dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, was able to acquire the
Premonstratension Monastery in Titchfield for his country manor, one of
his agents notified him that the monastery was burdened with debts,
including a pension "granted to the old quondam." which Wriothesley was
obliged to pay. In a footnote to the word "quondam" (footnote 15 on
pages 389-90), I wrote the following:

[Beginning of quoted footnote:] This appearance of the word "quondam,"
used as a noun, to designate a former member of a monastic order - of
whom there must have been thousands in England after 1539 - may provide
the solution to the mystery of the origin of the word "condom." In
TheLabyrinth of Shakespeare's Sonnets, pp. 22-24, I showed that
"quondam," in Shakespeare's time, was pronounced "condom," and I
suggested that a number of Shakespearean lines, such as

Your quondam wife swears still by Venus Glove [Troilus and Cressida, IV,
v, 179, following typography in First Folio] have a mordant wit about
them, if the word "quondam" is understood to be a punning reference to
"condom." This observation was made in aid of an interpretation of
Sonnet 34 to the effect that the "cloak" therein referred to was a
protective device like a "condom"; I pointed out that any article of
clothing is an apt metaphor for "condom," and noted that common French
terms for that device are articles of clothing: "la redingote anglaise"
(English coat or cloak) - and "la capote anglaise" (English cloak). But
I was unable to offer any explanation for the origin of the word. (Nor
has anyone else explained the word; see William E. Kruck's Looking for
Dr. Condom (University of Alabama Press, 1981).) Now, however. I venture
to suggest that the quondams of England, going about the countryside in
their monastic garb, often wearing hoods or cowls, were the inspiration
for the term. The quondams persisted in wearing their habits, out of
habit: [an entry in the] DNB. s. v. Cromwell, Thomas, relates that
Cromwell, "happening to meet one Friar Bartley near St. Paul's still
wearing his cowl after the suppression, 'Yea.' said Cromwell, 'will not
that cowl of yours be left off yet? And if I hear by one o'clock that
this apparel be not changed, thou shalt be hanged immediately, for
example to all others.'" Cromwell could not police all of England,
however, and we may suppose that many cowl-wearing quondams in the
provinces escaped his notice, and were a striking enough part of the
landscape to give their name to the then newly-devised disease
prevention sheathe, which physically and functionally resembled their
cowls, hoods and capes. (The use of the word "quondam" in the quoted
letter as a noun is not unique; other examples in the [volumes of the
Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, cited as L & P] are VII,
No. 1658, p. 613; XII, Part 2, No. 822, p. 289; XIII, Part I. No. 19, p.
6, and No. 847, p. 314.)

I also speculated that Shakespeare had a special connection with
condoms, and that his father, who was a glover, may have been in the
business of making them (for they were then made of soft animal skins).
It has since occurred to me that Robert Greene's famous attack upon "
those Gentlemen of his Quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits in
making plaies, "may be an allusion to that connection;  if we remember
the meaning of "spend" (to ejaculate), and are aware of Herbert A.
Ellis' discovery that "wit" to Elizabethans meant the sexual organs of
either sex (Ellis, Shakespeare's Lusty Punning in Love's Labour's Lost,
1973), pp. 103-110), then Greene's line becomes especially apposite and
sarcastic. [End of quoted footnote.]

So, my answer to Mr. Downs' question is, "I don't know, but maybe"  -
and since most of the quondams wandering around England after the
dissolution of the monasteries probably knew some Latin, I suppose it is
not impossible that they perceived, and communicated to others, a sense
of the possibility of punning on quondam, quandom, and condum, (The
quondams were, of course, not wholly innocent of sexual matters: the
pseudo-justification for King Henry's seizure of the monasteries was the
finding, perhaps exaggerated, by his special investigative task force,
that sexual activities of all kinds were going on in most of them.)

M. Green

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