Will's word

26th May 2006 at 01:00
The modern meaning has been around since Anglo-Saxon times, and so has the Shakespearian meaning of "wise saying, platitude, maxim". Indeed, this second sense is still heard today, but rarely - so the temptation is always to think of the tool. Usually, the context makes it unlikely that there could be any confusion. This would be the case when Jaques talks about "wise saws" (As You Like It, II.vii.157) or Hamlet talks of "All saws of books" (Hamlet, I.v.100) or the Queen talks of "holy saws" (Henry VI Part 2, I.iii.56). But there is always a risk of semantic interference when we hear Hiems sing "coughing drowns the parson's saw" (Love's Labour's Lost, V.ii.911) or when Phebe says "now I find thy saw of might" (As You Like It, III.v.81): she means that the saying is powerfully true. And Tarquin is another who raises the possibility of a false interpretation, in The Rape of Lucrece (line 244): "Who fears a sentence or an old man's saw Shall by a painted cloth be kept in awe".

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