Thursday, October 14, 2021

'Under Such a Fardel'

A curious word that shows up six times in The Winter’s Tale and, more famously, once in Hamlet, launched me on a pleasantly time-wasting afternoon detour. The word is fardel. You know it from Shakespeare’s greatest hit: “Who would fardels bear, / To grunt and sweat under a weary life, / But that the dread of something after death . . .” Here it means a burden or load, as with a heavy backpack or overweight child. 

I’m reading The Winter’s Tale again, and fardel appears four times in Act IV, Scene 4, and twice elsewhere, starting with the Old Shepherd speaking to Autoclytus: “Well, let us to the king: there is that in this fardel will make him scratch his beard.” Autoclytus is a peddler and thief. The fardel contains gold, and the Old Shepherd says: “Sir, there lies such secrets in this fardel and box, which none must know but the king; and which he shall know within this hour, if I may come to the speech of him.” The OED defines this sense of the word as “a bundle, a little pack; a parcel,” and labels it “archaic.”


Fardel entered English from the Old French around 1300. Etymologists speculate that the word may originate in the Arabic fardah, meaning half a camel load. Then I found that Sterne had used the word in Book II, Chap. 9, of Tristram Shandy in a nice example of his meandering way with a narrative:


“Imagine to yourself a little, squat, uncourtly figure of a Doctor Slop, of about four feet and a half perpendicular height, with a breadth of back, and a sesquipedality of belly, which might have done honour to a serjeant in the horse-guards. Such were the outlines of Dr. Slop’s figure, which,—if you have read Hogarth’s analysis of beauty, and if you have not, I wish you would;you must know, may as certainly be caracatur’d, and convey’d to the mind by three strokes as three hundred. Imagine such a one,—for such, I say, were the out-lines of Dr. Slop’s figure, coming slowly along, foot by foot, waddling thro’ the dirt upon the vertebrae of a little diminutive pony,—of a pretty colour;—but of strength,—alack!—scarce able to have made an amble of it, under such a fardel, had the roads been in an ambling condition.”


This is a good example of why I love Sterne’s prose.


Yet another meaning of fardel comes as a knock-me-down non sequitur: “the omasum, or third stomach, of ruminants.” In case you wondered, the omasum comes after the rumen and reticulum and before the abomasum. And, yes: people eat it. Think of it as high-toned tripe. This recipe sounds like a Chinese variation on menudo.

1 comment:

Busyantine said...

This reminds me of a wonderfully funny and literate radio comedy series Ed Reardon's Week.
As the BBC put it: "Ed Reardon, author, pipe smoker, consummate fare-dodger and master of the abusive email, trying to survive in a world where the media seems to be run by idiots and charlatans."
Ed's only published novel is "Who Would Fardels Bear".