Will's word

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Wake. (noun) watching beside the body of a dead person, or associated observances.

In modern English, wakes are festive events, especially associated with Irish custom, which take place following a death.

They were also held on the eve preceding a religious festival, and in this meaning the usage is now dialectal.

These senses date from the 15th-century, and it was not long before the revelry became the dominant notion.

Shakespeare uses the word three times, and in none of them does it have an association with death or religion, as can be deduced from the associated nouns. In King Lear (III.vi.72), Edgar as Poor Tom invites everyone to "march to wakes and fairs and market-towns", In Love's Labour's Lost (V.ii.318), Berowne describes Boyet as "wits' pedlar" who "retails his waresAt wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs".

And in The Winter's Tale (IV.iii.99), the Clown describes Autolycus as someone who "haunts wakes, fairs, and bear-baitings".

Fairs is the common collocation. Wakes evidently meant festivals, revels, or fetes.

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