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'Cry "havoc" and let...line?'

12/13/07 | by Adam | Categories: Potpourri

Recently I was asked to proof some well-known literary quotes, amongst which were some Shakespearean ones that had to be identified as such.

One threw me:

Cry “havoc!” and let loose the dogs of war

It didn't sound quite right so I popped over to the handy internet and looked up the phrase. Lots of responses, but I still thought it was "let slip" so Googled that too. Lots of responses as well, and nothing on the first couple of pages of either that I would consider as canonical.

Finally I gave up and did the research the old way: I dug out my Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. The correct quote:

Cry, "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war.

"Julius Caesar", Act 3, scene 1, line 273.

I'm a little annoyed with myself; that shouldn't have been something I even had to look up to get right. I should probably dump the complete works onto my PDA and read them again one of these days.

Now what's really quite peculiar is what I found when I checked with the quiz master who'd written it. She gave me the original cite from Bartleby.com which in turn cited the quote as from being from "The Columbia World of Quotations" which isn't a two-bit operation. Also on the Bartleby site is a copy of the complete text of "Julius Caesar" and there the quote uses the expected "slip." So why are they different?

One option is simply that the folios used as a source differ. There were a fair number of manuscripts from Shakespeare's time with different text or transcription errors and this may be one of them. Another possibility is simply that this was a sloppy mistake by Columbia or Bartleby.

However, I'm inclined to go for an alternate explanation: it's a mountweazel.


1 comment

Comment from: Adam [Member]  

There’s definitely some standardization going on. From the OED again:

1601 SHAKES. Jul. C. III. i. 273 Caesars Spirit ranging for Reuenge, With Ate by his side..Shall in these Confines..Cry hauocke, and let slip the Dogges of Warre.


12/13/07 @ 12:43
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