Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Voices from the Past: A Shakespearean Fishing Joke (1899)

I thought I'd start this week off with an old angling joke, courtesy of Shakespeare (the bard, not the reelsmith). It comes from an 1899 edition of The American Angler.

Cleopatra's Fishing Joke.

Shakespeare didn't invent it, for Plutarch gives it in full detail, rather spoiling it in the telling. It appears that one day Antony went out with his best girl, Cleopatra, and got so mad because he couldn't catch anything—she all the time making uncalled-for remarks, as women will— that at last he gave secret orders to a diver to put a dead fresh fish on the hook. This was done several times, till the lady saw through it —for Cleopatra was not easily to be fooled, according to all accounts. However, she didn't let on, and invited a lot of friends to come and see her and her " feller " fish on a future day. When all were assembled she chartered a diver to put a salted fish on Antony's hook—one that had been brought, as Plutarch naively says, " from the Euxine Sea." This is Shakespeare's version :

Cleo. Give me mine angle, we'll to the river, there; My music playing far off I will betray
Tawny-flnned fishes, my bended hook shall pierce
Their slimy jaws and as I draw them up
I'll think them every one an Antony
And say, " Ah, ah, you're caught! "

Char. Twas merry when
You wagered on your angler, when your diver
Did hang a salt ttsh on your hook which he
With fervency drew up.

Cleo. That time! Oh, times
I laughed him out of patience.

Notwithstanding this joke is evergreen no matter where it is played off, it is curious to reflect how often it is repeated in some form in the experience of every angler. Who does not recollect the same thing gotten up for the English candidate for an Irish parliamentary seat in Lover's inimitable "Handy Andy"?

Who indeed.

-- Dr. Todd

No comments: