“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
I was all prepared to use that famous quote as an opening for a new catty blog post I was writing about community volunteers and hockey parents. Shakespeare’s famous quote seemed the perfect launching point for my rant with hockey parents, especially, being regularly associated with fury and scorn. I had even devised a witty little paraphrase of my own to add. A stickler for accuracy, though, I felt inclined to confirm the exact wording of this quote on the ever reliable internet just in case it has been modernized from a fancier, formal original. Sure, it has a “hath” in it but I worried that perhaps a “doth” or “thee” had been dropped or perhaps “woman” had replaced “strumpet” or “harlot”.
A funny thing happened when I conducted this fact verification search. I learned something. Well, actually, I learned a few things. Knowledge snowballs like that. First of all, that famous line wasn’t written by Shakespeare. It was actually written by William Congreve some 80 years after ole Will’s death. Secondly, I’ve never heard of William Congreve, which is weird considering he wrote two of the most recognizable quotes in the English language; the one above and the equally famous “Music has charms to soothe the savage beast.” Thirdly, and this is the most shocking part of this entire learning experience, both of these legendary quotes are actually misquotes!
So, for those keeping score, not only has poor Mr. Congreve been shafted by centuries of laymen attributing his fine work to someone else but they’re not even quoting him properly to begin with. That’s like getting an open hand slap across your face and then again by the other hand coming the other way.
Here, then, for your enrichment, are the proper, original quotes, both taken from The Mourning Bride a play I am equally ignorant of but feel must be the most underrated theatrical creation in history considering the impact it has had on the idiom industry.
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
What I find most interesting about this quote is that the first half could just as easily have become the quote remembered, albeit slightly altered, throughout history. “Heaven hath no rage like love turned to hatred,” has a similar cachet to the scorned woman bit we all know and love. Yet further insult to Mr. Congreve! Here he gives us a brilliant two for one deal and we only immortalize half of it. More evidence of the galling bias our patriarchal society has continually imparted on history. Of course men would focus on the mad woman part. Had we embraced a more matriarchal civilization, you can well bet the souring love part would be the one we regularly quote.
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.”
Okay, so we’ve basically misremembered one word and only done so by dropping a single letter. There’s also the swap of “the” for “a”, but that’s hardly a big deal. All in all, not an overly egregious bastardization of the quote and yet that single dropped letter changes the entire context. And in this case, I have to say I think we laymen have improved things. What the hell is a savage breast? I’m quite familiar with the supple, ample, or heaving breast, albeit mostly in theory more so than practice, but savage breast? I know not what such a thing is nor have I any confidence that music of any sort would sooth it.
I guess history and William Congreve are even, then. We short-shrifted him on his double whammy woman scorned quote but we made up for it by inadvertently improving his savage breast peculiarity. I’d like to say we could shake hands like gentlemen and walk away, reluctantly contented with our draw but that wily William Congreve had an ace slipped up his pillowy sleeve the whole time. For you see, folks, Ole Congreve also authored another exceptionally famous quote, again slightly altered, and again its provenance completely forgotten. You’ll recognize it immediately.
“O fie, miss, you must not kiss and tell.”
Bravo Congreve, bravo. And shame on us for ceasing to use the word “fie”! William Congreve, and giants atop magic beanstalks, deserved better.