Curious And Surprising Backstory To “There’s The Rub”

“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

Photo by Swapnil Sharma from Pexels
Photo by Swapnil Sharma from Pexels

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…

Golf? Really?

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!
Comments welcome!  Please subscribe.

I am a former air traffic controller, pilot, Aircoupe owner, married 42 years to a great guy. We live in a 125+ year old historic Victorian, enjoy cats, vintage anything, precious friends. My passion is Giving Lost Stories A Voice – Giving Found Materials Fresh Form and Purpose!

4 thoughts on “Curious And Surprising Backstory To “There’s The Rub”

  1. Nancy, I am writing a lecture for my students and Hamlet’s line popped into my mind. Not wanting to misquote him, I sought Mr. Google and ran across your piece. Then, I read your brief bio and noticed you were an air traffic controller, pilot, etc. I thought you might find it interesting that I just got my private certificate last August at age 72, bought my first plane at 73, and am hoping to have an IFR rating by age 74! I LOVE FLYING! Just wish I’d done this in my 20s as I desired. Oh, well, better late than never. BTW, my wife teaches English and I’ll share your insight on the origin of “rub” with her.

    1. Timothy! That is so encouraging and exciting! Welcome to the aviation world of piloting. Since I turn 67 next month, I am pleased to see those in my age group jumping on board rather than off!. What kind of airplane did you acquire? You may have noticed from other posts, I own a 1961 Aircoupe I inherited from my father. I am also finishing the EAA Biplane project he started with the help of my local EAA Chapter. Got my tail wheel endorsement this past summer.

      Flying is my form of therapy. Whenever the world seems out of kilter (which seems to be most of the time lately) I can go for a flight and find myself recalibrated inside out. My dad was the same way.

      I found the “here’s the rub” quote intriguing so had to add my 2 cents to the opinions out there. I am please it popped up. So you teach Shakespeare? A daunting subject but oh so elegant.

      I hope you subscribed to my BLOG – if not, may I add you to my list?

      In any case, thanks so much for dropping by. Truly. It’s nice to know folks are reading.

      1. Yes, I did subscribe. Actually, I do not teach Shakespeare. My lecture was for a New Testament Biblical Theology course I teach at African Bible University in Kampala, Uganda. The Shakespeare thing was just an aside to make a point. My wife, Cheri, does teach English Literature there as well, so she touches on Shakespeare as part of her course.

        As a new private pilot, I do find talking to ATC intimidating, so corresponding with a former ATC is quite a treat! I find ATC sometimes talks faster than I can listen (haha). Any tips would be great.

        Until we return to Uganda to teach in person, we are in Lubbock, Texas (Charlie airspace airport = KLBB). I flew a short cross country (55 miles one way) to Tulia (I06) today. Wind at 5500 MSL was pretty gusty for part of the flight. Wind was about 15 mph at landing, but runway had only a slight crosswind. If you can’t fly in wind you pretty much don’t fly in West Texas!!! Am trying to fly everyday that I can because when we return to Uganda for the spring semester I probably won’t fly much for 4.5 months. I fear losing what I’ve learned! I try to fly with a buddy as much as I can, but today I flew alone. One landing I aborted and did a go around because of too much cross wind. The other two landings were fair and pretty good — in that order. Tomorrow I may just do touch and goes at our airport to practice my pattern work and landings.

        Oh, if you respond to this and have any hints on how to spot an airport from the air, I’m all ears. I struggle to actually see the runway until I’m pretty close and that’s frustrating. In non-towered airports its not too much of an issue since they have so little traffic, but in a towered one with lots of traffic it is more of an issue. Anyhow, that’s another area I’m trying to improve.

        The plane I just bought is a 1964 Piper Cherokee and is, of all things, bright yellow! I named it Tweety Bird.

        1. I’ve been to Lubbock! In my life as an FAA Air Traffic Evaluator (where we showed up to check on how a facility is doing) I got to visit LBB. A great place to learn to fly. Class C is just enough to be demanding but not so crazy to discourage (Like class B). I learned at Wichita KS. also a Class C. I was supervisor at the Tower/tracon, which one would think would make it easier, But every taxi, take-off and landing was rated with cards from the guys in the tower! I rarely got a 10 (:>). It is different on that side of the microphone.

          Spotting airports – a hint. I will take flights to practice just that. Plan out 4-6 airports to find and practice. You are right though, it is not as easy as one would think. You can google them ahead of time, or check out photos on or, but the time of year cam make things look quite different. Practice is what does it for me.

          It’s the same with talking to ATC. we do this 6-7 hours a day, five days a week, so have a lot of practice. You do the same, practice. And dont let us intimidate you! we can be good at that too!

          I your time in Uganda, every run across Mission Aviation Fellowship? They fly there – I am an advocate for them here in the US:

          Thanks for subscribing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *