Monday, April 26, 2010

Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance: Shakespeare on raving

The search for the linguistic origins of 'rave' and 'raver' continues. Jon, who does the interesting Alsatia history site, has found the earliest use so far of 'raver' as a noun. As he observes in a comment to an earlier post, Aphra Behn's 'Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister' (1684) features the line 'Oh tell me in the agony of my soul, why must those charms that bring tranquility and peace to all, make me a wild, unseemly raver?'.

Going back a hundred years further, Shakespeare's work is the obvious place to look for the usage of words. Shakespeare doesn't use the term 'raver' but raving appears once in his work: the direction 'Enter CASSANDRA, raving' in Troilus and Cressida, 1602. He uses words 'rave' or 'raved' at least five times in his plays and poems, usually in the context of a verbal expression of madness.

Twelfth Night (1601-2) features this exchange about Malovolio:

MARIA: He's coming, madam; but in very strange manner. He is, sure, possessed, Mdam.
OLIVIA: Why, what's the matter? does he rave?
MARIA: No. madam, he does nothing but smile:

In Henry VI, Part Three (written in 1591), Queen Margaret's speech has a similar usage of the word:

I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.
(Act 1, Scene 4).

I got quite excited to find 'rave' and 'dance' in the same sentence, as so far I haven't found any connection between the two before the 1940s, but in fact they are being contrasted here. Margaret has had young Rutland killed in the Wars of the Roses and is taunting the enemy Yorkists - she wants them to show their suffering (to mourn, to cry, to rave) to give her satisfaction.

Shakespeare's poem The Rape of Lucrece (1594) includes the curse:

'Disturb his hours of rest with restless trances,
Afflict him in his bed with bedrid groans;
Let there bechance him pitiful mischances,
To make him moan; but pity not his moans:
Stone him with harden'd hearts harder than stones;
And let mild women to him lose their mildness,
Wilder to him than tigers in their wildness.

'Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time against himself to rave,
Let him have time of Time's help to despair,
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
Let him have time a beggar's orts to crave,
And time to see one that by alms doth live
Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.

In Cymbeline, it is madness itself that raves: 'not frenzy, not Absolute madness could so far have raved, To bring him here alone;'

Finally, in Titus Andronicus (written in the early 1590s), Lucius passes sentence on Aaron that he should be starved to death:

'Set him breast-deep in earth, and famish him;
There let him stand, and rave, and cry for food;
If any one relieves or pities him,
For the offence he dies'.

Two of these examples link raving with craving for food. The same scene of Titus Andronicus also includes the line 'Good uncle, take you in this barbarous Moor, This ravenous tiger, this accursed devil'. Another possible line of enquiry - rave and ravenous?

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