Monday, July 23, 2012

`Pour This Oil Out of Your Language'

As a buffer against the always-turned-on television, I brought Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion to the garage to read while waiting for the guy to change the oil in my wife’s car. Naturally, I looked up oil, and the Crystals (David and Ben) did not disappoint. The first citation, “[vat of] boiling oil,” is from The Winter’s Tale, Paulina speaking to Leontes: 

“What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
What wheels? racks? fires? what flaying? boiling?
In leads or oils? what old or newer torture
Must I receive, whose every word deserves
To taste of thy most worst?” 

Besides having obvious pertinence to our world, the passage reminds me of this cartoon. The Crystals’ second reference, from The Two Noble Kinsmen, is likewise attuned to twenty-first-century realities. They define this usage of oil as “smoothness, glibness, ingratiating manner.”  Palamon says to Arcite: 

“Pray hold your promise;
And do the deed with a bent brow. Most certain
You love me not; be rough with me, and pour
This oil out of your language. By this air,
I could for each word give a cuff, my stomach
Not reconcil’d by reason.” 

The Crystals continue the theme of contemporary relevance with oily from Antony and Cleopatra, which they define as “moist, clammy, greasy.” Charmian says to Iras: 

“Nay, if an oily palm be not a fruitful
prognostication, I cannot scratch mine ear. Prithee,
tell her but a worky-day fortune.” 

Oil appears fourteen times in Shakespeare. In The Tempest, the word is spoken by Gonzalo, adviser to King Alonso. His speech reminds me of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” perhaps the most witless song ever written:

“I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty,
And use of service, none; contract, succession,
Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil;
No occupation; all men idle, all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty;—”


mike zim said...

Regarding "the always-turned-on television", we didn't have a "convenient" TV at our family reunion in the Michigan woods last week.
I shared Groucho's quote that "TV is very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I grab a book and go into another room."

Anonymous said...

Love your description of "Imagine." You probably remember William Buckley's essay on it. Here it is in case you haven't read it: