Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Bard Leads Me on a Little Vocab Adventure, 2

Okay, the other day I posted a piece about memorizing Shakespeare's Sonnet 111, a sonnet I'd chosen because it has in it the noun phrase "the dyer's hand." (Gotta learn a sonnet with my name in it! Yes, the Dyer name has an occupational history--like Carpenter and Smith and Cook and Brewer, etc.) (Link to that earlier post.)

I also mentioned that I remembered my parents' bookshelf held a volume of W. H. Auden's essays called The Dyer's Hand (1962), a title he'd patently borrowed from the Bard. I said in that post that I was going to delay continuing until I acquired and read The Dyer's Hand.

Well, it arrived the other day, and "The Dyer's Hand" is a subsection of three essays in the larger book; none of the three essays has "Dyer's" in the title, but all deal with the art and nature of poetry. And none of the three essays mentions the Shakespeare allusion--I guess he thought we just damn well ought to know it?

Auden does say many interesting/provocative things about poetry--but I think I'll reserve them for another post. Let's keep focused!

First things first: I have memorized that sonnet now (it took some doing, for some reason), and I now have stashed in my mind--how tenuously?--exactly 150 literary passages (mostly poems--though there are a few in prose, e.g., the opening sentence of Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times ....").

(I've put the entire sonnet at the bottom of this post for your perusal.)

Okay, so I'm reading through the sonnet, preparing to memorize it, trying to get the sense of it (always easier to memorize when you know what something means!). And I see it can be read as a personal poem--the speaker (let's assume it's Shakespeare!) complaining to a friend that his "public" occupation (playwright, actor) has given him a "public" reputation that's not all that flattering.

This makes sense: We know that players in Shakespeare's day were not Brad Pittian celebrities (I know: I'm dating myself) but were viewed more as lowlifes. Naughty boys. (No girls.) So the speaker in the sonnet begs his friend to pity him--and that very pity will "cure" him (from his insecurities).

Okay, so I'm reading along in the sonnet (as I said), and I come upon the word eisel, a word I've put in all caps in the sonnet so that you can easily find it. Eisel stopped me cold. I didn't recall ever having seen the word before. I should have: I later discovered it's in Hamlet, which I taught for ten years!

Anyway, I was in a coffee shop, so I fired up dictionary.com and several of the other online dictionaries I have. No eisel.


So I went to the site where I should have started: the Oxford English Dictionary. And here's what I found (as you can see, it's had various spellings):

† ˈeisell, n.  Obs. [NO KIDDING!]

Forms:  ME aisille, ME eisil, ME aysel(l-il-ylle, (ME aycelayzell), ME–15 aiselaisilaisylle, (ME aissil, ME ascillass-asell(e), ME–16eisel(l-illeysell(e-seel-sil-syl-zell, ME esylleezyl, (ME heysyl, 15 esile), 15 ysell.
Etymology:  < Old French aisilaissil < late Latin *acētillum, diminutive of acētum vinegar.


c1160   Hatton Gosp. Mark xv. 36   Fylde ane spunge mid eisile.
c1160   Hatton Gosp. John xix. 29   Ða stod an fet full aisiles.
?c1225  (?a1200)    Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 296   Þis eisil..þurch fulleð mi Pine.
a1240   Wohunge in Cott. Hom. 283   Nu beden ha mi leof..aisille.
a1300   E.E. Psalter lxviii. 22 [lxix. 21]   In mi thriste with aysile dranke þai me.
138.   Antecrist in Todd 3 Treat. Wyclif 133   Crist tasted eysel; and þei nolden non but goode wynes.
c1420   Pallad. on Husb. viii. 134   In this moone is made Aisel squillyne.
c1450   J. Myrc Instr. to Par. Priests 1884   Loke thy wyn be not eysel.
1528   T. Paynell tr. Arnaldus de Villa Nova in Joannes de Mediolano Regimen Sanitatis Salerni sig. Liiijv,   Sommer sauce shulde be verieuse, eysell, or vineger.
1552   R. Huloet Abcedarium Anglico Latinum   Ysell, acetum.
1557   Primer, XV Oos F iv,   I beseche thee for the bitternesse of the Aisell and Galle.
1604   Shakespeare Hamlet v. i. 273   Woo't drinke vp Esill, eate a Crocadile?
1620   T. Venner Via Recta vi. 94   Eisell..is also a good sauce.

Yes, it's an old word for vinegar. I did some further research and learned that drinking vinegar was putatively a help/prevention for plague. (We all know how that worked out!) It also, of course, could mean something like a cup of bitterness (for all you non-drinkers of vinegar: It's not sweet). Or it could mean just plain old vinegar--a cooking ingredient.

Shakespeare, we see, used it in Hamlet to mean a cup of bitterness, in the sonnet to mean a medicine. Crafty guy, that Bard.

Oh, and you see that the OED does not have any citations after 1620--about four years after the death of Shakespeare. So the word, in a way, died with him.

But Sonnet 111--which now has a residence (permanent? transitory?) in my brain--brought it back to life.

Sonnet 111

O, for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then and wish I were renew'd;
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of EISEL 'gainst my strong infection
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.

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