Word of the Day: Shark

March 12, 2010 in Texts, Word of the Day

Admittedly, ‘shark’ is not the first word one associates with Shakespeare, but both the noun and the now obsolete verb were used by the Bard. The noun crops up as one of the ingredients for the witches’ potion in Macbeth:

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf,
Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark.  (4i)

To be specific and to use the OED, it is the mouth (maw) and throat (gulf) of a shark glutted with prey (ravin’d) that the witches specifically require.

As for the verb, it is Horatio in Hamlet who uses the word to describe Fortinbras’ rabble-rousing efforts:

Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark’d up a list of lawless resolutes… (1i)

He goes on to  emphasise the voracious qualities of the animal and, by extension, of Fortinbras’ soldiers. The only other use of the word as a verb similarly plays upon the sense of man giving in to his animal cravings, as Thomas More tells a crowd that if they give in to such cravings they will only become victims of more violent men.

For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another…

Thomas More is a collaborative work, and one in which critics believe Shakespeare participated, contributing this speech. The evidence? Amongst other things, his use of the word ‘shark’.

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