Econlib

The Library

Other Sites

Front Page arrow Quotations arrow Other Quotes arrow Week of 13 November, 2006

Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Thanksgiving is upon us again and this time we have found a quotation from Shakespeare’s Pericles on fishing and the eating of fish. Far removed from the eating of turkeys, but eating nevertheless. This is another Erasmian example of a “philosopher of the kitchen” or, perhaps in this case, of a “philosopher of the fish nets”. Many of Shakespeare’s passages involving lesser or humorous characters read somewhat like parables. In this case, we have a quite serious discussion between “common” fishermen about the nature of survival in a dangerous marine environment and the nature of exploitation where the “big fish” (whales - people in Shakespeare’s day thought it was a fish not a mammal) eat up the “little fish”. Note that the reference here is to the “sexton” (a lowly official of the established church) who is a “drone” who feeds on the wealth of the labouring classes and who might be “purged” for “robbery” sometime in the future by the honest labouring fishermen; and the reference to the aristocratic pastime of tennis, where “the waters and the wind” turn men into tennis balls to play with (remember Henry’s taunting of the Dauphin in Henry V).

Other quotes about Literature & Music:

13 November, 2006

static/Shakespeare150.jpg

Shakespeare in Pericles on how the rich and powerful are like whales who eat up the hard working “little fish” (1608)

Read the full quote in context here.

In his later plays, William Shakespeare was very much concerned with the issue of good kingship. In this exchange from Pericles Prince of Tyre the ship-wrecked Prince Pericles overhears a conversation between some fishermen who discuss how rich and powerful men (“the drones”) exploit those who have to work for a living (the “honey bees”):

Third Fish. Nay, master, said not I as much when I saw the porpus how he bounced and tumbled? they say they’re half fish half flesh; a plague on them! they ne’er come but I look to be washed. Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.

First Fish. Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones; I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; a’ plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard on o’ the land, who never leave gaping till they’ve swallowed the whole parish, church, steeple, bells, and all.

Per. [Aside.] A pretty moral.

Third Fish. But master, if I had been the sexton, I would have been that day in the belfry.

Sec. Fish. Why, man?

Third Fish. Because he should have swallowed me too; and when I had been in his belly, I would have kept such a jangling of the bells, that he should never have left till he cast bells, steeple, church, and parish, up again. But if the good King Simonides were of my mind,—

Per. [Aside.] Simonides!

Third Fish. We would purge the land of these drones, that rob the bee of her honey.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Scene I.—

Pentapolis. An open Place by the Sea-side.

Enter Pericles, wet.

Per.

Yet cease your ire, you angry stars of heaven!
Wind, rain, and thunder, remember, earthly man
Is but a substance that must yield to you;
And I, as fits my nature, do obey you.
Alas! the sea hath cast me on the rocks,
Wash’d me from shore to shore, and left me breath
Nothing to think on but ensuing death:
Let it suffice the greatness of your powers
To have bereft a prince of all his fortunes;
And having thrown him from your watery grave,
Here to have death in peace is all he’ll crave.

Enter three Fishermen.

First Fish. What, ho, Pilch!

Sec. Fish. Ha! come and bring away the nets.

First Fish. What, Patch-breech, I say!

Third Fish. What say you, master?

First Fish. Look how thou stirrest now! come away, or I’ll fetch thee with a wannion.

Third Fish. Faith, master, I am thinking of the poor men that were cast away before us even now.

First Fish. Alas! poor souls; it grieved my heart to hear what pitiful cries they made to us to help them, when, well-a-day, we could scarce help ourselves

Third Fish. Nay, master, said not I as much when I saw the porpus how he bounced and tumbled? they say they’re half fish half flesh; a plague on them! they ne’er come but I look to be washed. Master, I marvel how the fishes live in the sea.

First Fish. Why, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones; I can compare our rich misers to nothing so fitly as to a whale; a’ plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard on o’ the land, who never leave gaping till they’ve swallowed the whole parish, church, steeple, bells, and all.

Per. [Aside.] A pretty moral.

Third Fish. But master, if I had been the sexton, I would have been that day in the belfry.

Sec. Fish. Why, man?

Third Fish. Because he should have swallowed me too; and when I had been in his belly, I would have kept such a jangling of the bells, that he should never have left till he cast bells, steeple, church, and parish, up again. But if the good King Simonides were of my mind,—

Per. [Aside.] Simonides!

Third Fish. We would purge the land of these drones, that rob the bee of her honey.

Per.[Aside.]

How from the finny subject of the sea
These fishers tell the infirmities of men;
And from their watery empire recollect
All that may men approve or men detect!
[Aloud.] Peace be at your labour, honest fishermen.

Sec. Fish. Honest! good fellow, what’s that? if it be a day fits you, search out of the calendar, and nobody look after it.

Per. Y’ may see the sea hath cast me on your coast.

Sec. Fish. What a drunken knave was the sea, to cast thee in our way!

Per.

A man whom both the waters and the wind,
In that vast tennis-court, have made the ball
For them to play upon, entreats you pity him;
He asks of you, that never us’d to beg.

First Fish. No, friend, cannot you beg? here’s them in our country of Greece gets more with begging than we can do with working.

Sec. Fish. Canst thou catch any fishes then?

Per. I never practised it.

Sec. Fish. Nay then thou wilt starve, sure; for here’s nothing to be got now-a-days unless thou canst fish for ’t.

[More works by William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)]