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Shakespeare and Horology

From The American Horologist and Jeweler magazine, April, 1942

Shakespeare and Horology


All men since his day have marveled at the genius of Shakespeare. His knowledge of men and of things was well nigh universal, but now and then he would nod, even as the great poet Homer was now and then caught napping.

The reader can find in Shakespeare's Plays numerous references to clocks and watches - an off-hand guess might be fifty or more - and for the mast part they are accurate but he seems to have made one or two horological blunders in his tragedy, "Julius Caesar." In Act II, scene 1. about line 193, the conspirators are platting and planning until the early morning when Brutus remarks:

Peace! Count the Clack.
Cassius - the clack hath stricken three.
Trebanius - 'Tis time to part.

Now, of course, there were no striking clocks in Rome in Caesar's day, so Shakespeare makes another anachronism. Later in the same play near the end of Act II, scene 2, Caesar asks Brutus:

What is 't o'clack?
Brutus - Caesar, 't is stricken eight.

A passage near the close of Act III, scene I in "Love's Labor's Lost" reveals the fact that Shakespeare did not think very much of German clocks which he seems to have regarded defective in mechanical construction as well as in operation. A character, Biron, is discoursing on lave and women, and hints at the frailty of both women and German clocks in the following mast amusing and punning passage:

Biron -  What! I love! I sue! I seek a wife!
A woman, that is like a German clock, 
Still a-repairing, ever out of frame, 
And never going aright, being a watch.
But being watch'd that it may still go right!

So Shakespeare believed that women should be "watched" that they be sure to go "aright" even as a "watch!" What an inveterate punnster was the famous Bard of Avon!

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