“To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!” – Hamlet
Do you ever hear a phrase you think you know, but then think, “what does that really mean”? or “I wonder where that came from?” My husband and I watch a fair amount of TV from the UK and Europe. Thus, it is no surprise to hear expressions or phrases that you know the words, but think, “huh”?
Thanks to Mr. Google and the pause button on our ROKU we frequently stop and check it out. This justifies our TV time by expanding our word usage while getting a giggle to go with!
A phrase came up as we watched Hamlet on YouTube in preparation for attending a local live performance: “There’s the rub.” I have heard it used and generally knew its’ meaning from context, but it must have been hearing it in a late 1500’s Shakespearean play that made it stand out. “What an odd expression”, “it’s that old?” and “huh’? all came to mind. Press pause, consult Mr. Google.
There’s The Rub Origins
According to World Wide Words, “It is contained in Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy:
To die — to sleep.
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
By rub, Hamlet means a difficulty, obstacle or objection — in this case to his committing suicide.” Oh my…
But wait! Shakespeare did not coin the phrase, but rather, he took it from its use in lawn bowling, called back then: bowls. (As an aside, versions of this game are played today in France as boules or pétanque and in Italy as Bocce. We own sets for all versions.) The expression referred to a fault in the green that either diverted or stopped the ball from its intended course.
The expression continues today in the game of golf as the “rub of the green”. Since golf originated in the British Isles, this comes as no great surprise. However, in this context it generally refers to an accident that stops a ball in play — hitting an obstacle or a bystander perhaps — and for which no relief is allowed under the rules. I wonder how many golfers think about Hamlet when dealing with “the rub”?
In today’s world and in this context, a rub is a difficulty or impediment, an obstacle. So there you have it, an expression we all know, connecting golf to Hamlet!
This is an example of how seemingly unrelated realms, i.e. golf and Shakespeare, intersect. Not unlike unrelated events, people, geography, talents, skills and beliefs converging to make up who we are: A Stonebridge of life.
Now that you have this piece of important history, what will you do with it?
Ay, there’s the rub!
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