The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0544 Thursday, 8 June 2006
From: Tom Reedy <
Date: Thursday, 08 Jun 2006 01:03:23 -0500
Subject: Roast or Roost?
2H6 1.1.108 has Humphrey complaining of "Suffolk, the new-made duke that
rules the roast."
F has "rost," presumably following Halle, who says of Margaret, "Which
then ruled the rost and bare the whole rule."
In the First Part of the Contention, which is widely considered to be a
reported text of 2H6, the line is, "For Suffolke he, the new made Duke
that rules the roast."
I have been trying to learn how editors know Shakespeare (and Hall, for
that matter) meant "roast" instead of "roost?"
"Roast" instead of "roost" could be correct, since Suffolk sliced off
parts of France to give to Margaret's father, and the term would fit the
way Shakespeare used it. But it seems to me he more likely could have
meant "roost" from the meaning, and because the internal near-rhymes in
the line, "new," "duke," and "rules."
Thomas Heywood has "Her that ruled the rost in the kitchen," in the
History of Women, which could be taken either way, so again, how do
editors know Shakespeare meant "roast?"
Most of the sources I've looked at say the expression originated in the
15th century as (to quote one that pretty well sums them all up) "rule
the roast, which was either a corruption of rooster or alluded to the
person who was in charge of the roast and thus ran the kitchen," and
give Shakespeare's line as an example.
But as a term referring to the person who runs the kitchen doesn't
really make much sense to me. "Rule the table," perhaps, "rule the
kitchen," maybe, but "rule the roast" doesn't make very much sense at all.
1.b. Phr. to rule the roast, to have full sway or authority; to be
master. Hence ruler of the roast. In very common use from c 1530
onwards, but none of the early examples throw any light on the precise
origin of the expression.
(a) 14** Carpenter's Tools 176 in Hazl. E.P.P. I. 85 What so euer ye
brage ore boste, My mayster yet shall reule the roste.
(If we could be sure of the pronunciation of "boste." I suppose we would
have some evidence for "roast." And what about the Great Vowel Shift?
Wouldn't "boste" have been pronounced as "boost" sometime along there?)
1526 Skelton Magnyf. 805 Cra. Con. In fayth, I rule moche of the rost.
Clo. Col. Rule the roste! thou woldest, ye.
(It has been pointed out that here, "much of the roast" doesn't seem to
make nearly as much sense as "much of the roost.")
1559 T. Bryce in Farr S.P. Eliz. (1845) I. 175 When shall trew dealing
rule the roste With those that bye and sell?
1577-87 Holinshed Chron. II. 23/1 These were Irish potentates, and
before their discomfiture they ruled the rost.
1616 R. C. Times' Whistle (1871) 117 In cholerick bodies, fire doth
govern moste; In sanguine, aire doth chiefly rule the rost.
Again, if we were sure of the pronunciation of "moste," we would have
some evidence for "roast." But none of these examples clearly refer to a
roast, as in a cut of meat.
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