When I was a child and my sisters were teens one of my sisters used to play an LP – possibly an album of cover versions or maybe probably an album of cover versions and traditional songs I forget; and have no interest in researching. An album recorded by the successful recording celebrity and acting celebrity: Sting. The song I remember being played is called “Gabriel’s Message” a translation of an old Basque hymn. The refrain which caught my ear (and which caught the ear of the Bishop of Oxford Richard Harris according to Wikepedia) was that of ‘most highly favoured lady’. I didn’t hear ‘most highly favoured lady’ which would have made no sense. I heard ‘highly flavoured gravy’ which held a great deal more interest to my youthful cognizance and, frankly, that still holds true today; thirty years on. A spiritual composed to venerate gravy.
Clown. Why, masters, have your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i’ the nose thus?
First Musician. How, sir, how?
Clo. Are these, I pray you, wind-instruments?
First Mus. Ay, marry, are they, sir.
Clo. O! thereby hangs a tail.
First Mus. Whereby hangs a tale, sir?
Clo. Marry, sir, by many a wind-instrument that I know. But, masters, here’s money for you; and the general so likes your music, that he desires you, for love’s sake, to make no more noise with it.
First Mus. Well, sir, we will not.
Clo. If you have any music that may not be heard, to ’t again; but, as they say, to hear music the general does not greatly care.
First Mus. We have none such, sir.
Clo. Then put up your pipes in your bag, for I’ll away. Go; vanish into air; away! [Exeunt Musicians.]
CASSIO: Dost thou hear, mine honest friend?
Clo. No, I hear not your honest friend; I hear you.
CASSIO: Prithee, keep up thy quillets. There’s a poor piece of gold for thee. If the gentlewoman that attends the general’s wife be stirring, tell her there’s one Cassio entreats her a little favour of speech: wilt thou do this?
Clo. She is stirring, sir: if she will stir hither, I shall seem to notify unto her.
CASSIO: Do, good my friend. [Exit Clown.]
Othello, William Shakespeare. Quillets mean much the same as quibbles; as described in the text I read – The New Penguin Shakespeare 1970.
I picked up my copy of Othello, Othello being a play I had previously found little that has excited me; relative to the other late tragedies. The passage above seems pedestrian (by Shakespeare’s own standards) and while there are excellent reasons for a pedestrian passage (fitting the humour of the time) quibbling runs through the play and features highly in Iago’s arsenal. The clown quibbles to drive off the musicians, musicians disturbing Othello’s opportunity of love making, only for the musicians to be replaced by Cassio in turn. Iago is machinating and designing interruptions for the beginnings of Othello and Desdemona’s married life.
Othello is trapped by petty reasoning, the small becomes large and actions are imbued with meaning where there were none. Quibbles become fatal, quibbles drown out sense and interrupt attempts at higher purpose
& this, this is gorgeous:
Fit the Seventh.
THE BANKER’S FATE.
They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.
And the Banker, inspired with a courage so new
It was matter for general remark,
Rushed madly ahead and was lost to their view
In his zeal to discover the Snark.
But while he was seeking with thimbles and care,
A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh
And grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair,
For he knew it was useless to fly.
He offered large discount—he offered a check
(Drawn “to bearer”) for seven-pounds-ten:
But the Bandersnatch merely extended its neck
And grabbed at the Banker again.
Without rest or pause—while those frumious jaws
Went savagely snapping around—
He skipped and he hopped, and he floundered and flopped,
Till fainting he fell to the ground.
The Bandersnatch fled as the others appeared
Led on by that fear-stricken yell:
And the Bellman remarked “It is just as I feared!”
And solemnly tolled on his bell.
He was black in the face, and they scarcely could trace
The least likeness to what he had been:
While so great was his fright that his waistcoat turned white—
A wonderful thing to be seen!
To the horror of all who were present that day.
He uprose in full evening dress,
And with senseless grimaces endeavored to say
What his tongue could no longer express.
Down he sank in a chair—ran his hands through his hair—
And chanted in mimsiest tones
Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity,
While he rattled a couple of bones.
“Leave him here to his fate—it is getting so late!”
The Bellman exclaimed in a fright.
“We have lost half the day. Any further delay,
And we sha’n’t catch a Snark before night!”