David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s “The Two Noble Kinsmen”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 4

— 3.4 —

The jailor’s daughter, whose mind was no longer sound, said to herself, “I am very cold, and all the stars are out, too, the little stars and all, that look like spangles or little jewels. The Sun has seen my folly.”

She shouted, “Palamon!”

Then, remembering that she thought he was dead, she said, “Alas, no; he’s in Heaven.

“Where am I now? Yonder’s the sea, and there’s a ship. How it tumbles! And there’s a rock that lies in hiding under the water. Now, now, the ship beats upon the rock; now, now, now, there’s a leak sprung, a sound — a big — one! How they cry!”

She may have been thinking about sex. A “leaky wench” was a woman who had lost her virginity.

She then said, “Open her sails and let her run before the wind, else you’ll lose all. Up with a course or two of sail, and tack about and change direction, boys!

“Good night, good night; you’re gone.

“I am very hungry.

“I could find a fine frog; he would tell me news from all parts of the world.”

She may have possibly thought first of eating the frog and then remembered that animals are often fine helpers in fairy tales.

She continued, “Then would I make a carrack — a large merchant ship — out of a cockleshell, and sail by east and northeast to the King of the pygmies, for he tells fortunes rarely.

“Now my father, twenty to one, will be trussed up in a trice tomorrow morning.”

She meant that the odds were twenty to one that her father would be tied up and hanged in the morning. Birds are trussed — their wings and legs are tied to prevent the meat from drying out — before cooking. The word “truss” originally meant a pulley; “in a trice” meant “at a single pull,” aka instantly.

She continued, “I’ll say never a word.”

She then sang this song:

For I’ll cut my green coat a foot above my knee,

And I’ll clip my yellow locks an inch below mine [my] eye.

Hey nonny, nonny, nonny.

He’s [He’ll] buy me a white cut [horse, either with a docked tail, or gelded], forth for to ride,

And I’ll go seek him through the world that is so wide.

Hey nonny, nonny, nonny.

She then said, “Oh, for a prick now, like a nightingale, to put my breast against. I shall sleep like a top else.”

Again, she may have been thinking about sex when she said the word “prick.” The nightingale was said to press its breast against a thorn in order to stay awake and sing all night. In mythology, the mortal woman Philomela was turned into a nightingale after being raped by her sister’s husband, Tereus.

“To sleep like a top” means to sleep soundly. A spinning top is said to “sleep” when it spins in one place and does not move or “walk” from that position.

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