Here’s looking at you, lunch


I think it’s actually a slow worm, but here’s Thomas Decker’s Honest whore anyway:

Lord Hippolito. Scarce can I read the stories on your brow,
Which age hath writ there: you look youthful still.
Orlando Friscobaldo. I eat snakes, my Lord, I eat snakes. My heart shall never have a wrinkle in it, so long as I can cry Hem! with a clear voice.

I wonder about the last bit. Conventionally it is part of the “ahem” family, an “exclamation to attract attention to the speaker, or to give him time to consider what he is to say” etc etc (OED). However, if you’re hunting snakes the last thing you want is to give them time to consider. I think it’s actually a conflation of “have him”, and that Shakespeare plays with this in As you like it:

Rosalind. … O, how full of
briers is this working-day world!
Celia. They are but burs, cousin, thrown upon thee in holiday
foolery; if we walk not in the trodden paths, our very petticoats
will catch them.
Rosalind. I could shake them off my coat: these burs are in my
Celia. Hem them away.
Rosalind. I would try, if I could cry ‘hem’ and have him.
Celia. Come, come, wrestle with thy affections.

Older readers may recall this popular country song:

HEM! Mmmmmm HEM!
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together hunting cheek to cheek.

Oh I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek
But I don’t enjoy it half as much
As hunting cheek to cheek.

William Hazlitt writes:

Let any one who has never known cruel disappointment, nor comfortable hopes, read the first scene between Orlando and Hippolito, in Deckar’s play of the Honest Whore, and he will see nothing in it. But I think few persons will be entirely proof against such passages…

Seen on this walk. Here’s video of its full body length:


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