Monday, April 11, 2005
"Screw your courage to the sticking place"
An etymological query on the phrase “screw your courage to the sticking place” on Sneexe’s blog has invited me to prod into a little literature: as I suspected, it came from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, though made popular by The Mob Song in Beauty and the Beast:
Act I, Sc. V
Lady M. …I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have to this.
Macb. If we should fail?
Lady M. We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.
More interesting is that according to the Arden Shakespeare, the term coined here could be musical in nature: “Murry… describes the significance of this image, derived perhaps from the screwing up of the strings on a viol.” The viol is the ancestor of modern bowed strings – the double bass being the last modern instrument to maintain the viol shape. Others have suggested that the term refers to “a soldier screwing up the cord of the cross-bow to the ‘sticking place’.”
Actually, come to think of it, the use of the phrase in The Mob Song is rather fitting in a historical perspective.