9. Elder Gossip Who Never Spoke “Word That Might Be To The Prejudice of” Another

In Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey’s defensive claim that he has never slandered the Queen comes from a similar passage in North’s Dial of Princes. Both passages are referring to elderly, malicious gossipers, especially stressing their spleen, heart, and tongue/mouth. Both also include the same unique eight-word word-string:

North’s Dial of PrincesShakespeare’s Henry VIII
his breath stink, his spleen stopped, and his body faint and feeble with age, and all the parts thereof consumed save only the heart and tongue…What evil the wretched heart thinketh in that crooked and miserable age that doth that accursed tongue with all celerity utter. Truly sir I never uttered or devised word that might be to the prejudice of any.
Kath: You’re meek and humble-mouthed; … but your heart Is crammed with arrogancy, spleen, and pride…
Wolsey:           Most gracious sir
In humblest manner I require Your Highness
… to declare … whether ever I
Did broach this business to Your Highness, or
…  spake one the least word that might
Be to the prejudice of her present state
(2.4.105-8, 141-52  

The following shared word-strings confirm that the passages are connected:  

The Dial: Truly sir I never uttered or devised word that might be to the prejudice of any

Henry VIII: gracious sirever I … spake … word that might/ Be to the prejudice of her

If you search for “word that might be to the prejudice of” in the 130 trillion webpages of Google and the 25 million-plus texts of Google Books, you find no results other than Henry VIII or works quoting Henry VIII. North’s Dial does not appear as there is no searchable edition on Google with modernized spelling. If you look for that same line in EEBO, the only results are North’s Dial and the history play. As we write in Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare:

It is important to be clear here: it is very probable that no one else in the history of the English language has ever used the eight-word line “word that might be to the prejudice of” without quoting Henry VIII or The Dial of Princes. It occurs nowhere else in EEBO, Google, or Google Books, and indeed Grammarly plagiarism software will red-flag shared word-strings of eight words or longer. It is at about this length where most word-strings represent a unique utterance, originating only once in history. And then any recurrence of that same word-string descends from that original line. Someone has read or heard it before and is using it again.

Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare

We say in the prior example that North’s entries in his journal for June of 1555 on a cardinal procession and consistory in Rome were the inspiration for the similar scene in Henry VIII. And here we see a clear borrowing from North’s Dial, first published in 1557. Was Shakespeare, in 1613, really recalling these works of North written more than 50 years earlier? Or was he just adapting one of North’s old plays?

2 thoughts on “9. Elder Gossip Who Never Spoke “Word That Might Be To The Prejudice of” Another

  1. Or more precisely, the only searchable edition of Diall of Princes with modernized spelling is the much abridged Scholar’s Library edition published in 1919 (described by Colvile in his introduction as being “barely a tithe of the entire Diall”), which does not contain this particular passage. As an attentive spectator of your work, I’m curious as to which Book and Section number this passage occurs in, since the Scholar’s Library edition does include the unabridged table of contents.

    (I noticed that the previously discussed parallel between Diall and Arden is of words that are actually in this table itself, though generally, this will not be the case.)

    1. Hey Steve, the edition used for all quotes of “Dial of Princes” on this webpage is the 1619 edition: Antonio de Guevara, Archontorologion, or The Diall of Princes: Containing The Golden and Famous Booke of Marcus Aurelivs, Sometime Emperour of Rome. Declaring What Excellency consisteth in a Prince that is a good Christian: And what evils attend on him that is a cruell Tirant. Written By the Reverend Father in God, Don Antonio of Guevera, Lord Bishop of Guadix; Preacher and Chronicler to the late mighty Emperour Charles the fift. First translated out of French by Thomas North, Sonne to Sir Edward North, Lord North of Kirthling: And lately reperused, and corrected from many gross imperfections. With addition of a Fourth Booke, stiled by the Name of The fauoured Courtier (London: Bernard Alsop, 1619).

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