Shakespeare on pearls & other pearly quotes


Well-known member
Dec 11, 2004
Kunz on Shakespeare and pearls.
Kunz wrote a book called Shakespeare and Pearls which I just 1-clicked from Amazon for less than $8.00 (several left and amazon's own copies are less than $10.00)
Troilus and Cressida (Act i, sc. i) he writes:
"Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl;"
and Pliny's tales of the pearl's origin from dew are glanced at indirectly when he says:
The liquid drops of tears that you have shed Shall come again, transform'd to orient pearl.
Richard III, Act iv, sc. 4. First Folio, "Histories," p. 198, col. A, line 17. IS
In the poet's time pearls were not only worn as jewels, but were extensively used in embroidering rich garments and upholstery and for the adornment of harnesses. To this Shakespeare alludes in the following passages:
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl.
Henry V, Act iv, sc. I. First Folio,"Histories," p. 85 (page number repeated),
col. B, line 13.
Their harness studded all with gold and pearl.
Taming of the Shrew, Introd., sc. 2. "Comedies," p. 209, col. B, line 33.
Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearl.
Ibid., Act ii, sc. 1. "Comedies," p. 217, col. B, line 32. 16

Laced with silver, set with pearls.
Much Ado About Nothing, Act iii, sc. 4. "Comedies," p. 112, col. B, line 65.
Moreover, we have a simile which might almost make us suppose that Shakespeare knew something of the details of the pearl fisheries, when the oysters are piled up on shore and allowed to decompose, so as to render it easier to get at the pearls, for he makes one of his characters say, speaking of an honest man in a poor dwelling, that he was like a
"pearl in your foul oyster."
{As You Like It, Act v, sc. 4.)

In the strange transformation told of in Ariel's song, the bones of the drowned man have been turned to coral, and his eyes to pearls (Tempest, Act i, sc. 2). The strange and sometimes morbid attraction of opposites finds expression in a queer old English proverbial saying given in the Two Gentlemen of Verona:
"Black men are pearls in beauteous ladies' eyes."
The likeness to drops of dew appears where we read of the dew that it was
"Decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass"
{Midsummer Night's Dream, Act i, sc. 1), and a little later in the same play we read the following injunction:

I most go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear
Midsummer Night's Dream, Act ii, sc. 1. First Folio, "Comedies," p. 148, col. A, line 38. 2

" Heaps of Pearl, Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels, All scattered in the bottom of the sea."
—Richard III. Act I., Scene IV.
And later still we have the lines:
That same dew, which sometime on the buds Was wont to swell like round and orient pearls.
Midsummer Night's Dream, Act iv, sc. I. "Comedies," p. 157, col. B, line 10.
The pearl as a simile for great and transcendent
value, perhaps suggested by the Pearl of Great
Price of the Gospel, is used of Helen of Greece
in the lines (Troilus and Cressida, Act ii, sc. 2):
She is a pearl Whose price hath launch'd above a thousand ships
. At end of "Histories," page unnumbered (p. 596 of facsimile), Col. A, line 19.

This being an allusion to the Greek fleet sent out under Agamemnon and Menelaus to bring back the truant wife from Troy. The idea of a supremely valuable pearl is also apparent in the lines embraced in Othello's last words before his self-immolation as an expiation of the murder of Desdemona, where he says of himself:1
Whose hand Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away Richer than all his tribe

Othello, Act v, sc. 2. "Tragedies," p. 338, col. B, line 53.
1 For a Venetian tale that may have suggested these lines to Shakespeare, see the present writer's "The Magic of Jewels and Charms," Philadelphia and London, 1915, P- 393- The text of the First Folio gives "Iudean," instead of "Indian."

and here are a couple more
" Rich honesty dwells like a miser, Sir, in a poor house ; as your Pearl in your foul oyster.
—As You Like It, Act v. Scene iv.

Fool: " Canst tell how an oyster makes his shell ?"
—King Lear. Act I. Scene v.
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Here are some more quotes copied from the public domain book, Pearls and Pearling Life by Edwin Streeter:
" The floor is of sand like the mountain drift, And the Pearl-shells spangle the flinty snow; From coral-rock^ the sea-plants lift
Their boughs where 'the tides and? billows flow."
—James Percival (American Poet).

" Errors like straws upon the surface flow, He who would search for Pearls must dive below."

" The sea-born shell conceals the Unio round, Called by that name, as always single'found, One in one shell, for ne'er a larger race Within their pearly walls the valves embrace.

" And precious the tear as the rain from the sky, Which turns into Pear! as it falls in the sea."
—Thomas Moore.

Some asked how Pearls did grow and where ? Then spoke I to my girl : To part her lips, and showed them there— The quarelets of Pearl."
—Robert Herrick.

" Pearls and gems of lustre bright, All sleep beneath the wave."

The diamond sleeps within the mine, the pearl beneath the water
“Ocean’s gem the purest of nature’s works! What days of weary journeyings, what sleepless nights, what toils on land and sea Are born by men to gain thee!
These spoils of Neptune, th’Indian oceanboasts”

" The floor is of sand like the mountain drift, And the Pearl-shells spangle the flinty snow; From coral-rock^ the sea-plants lift
Their boughs where 'the tides and? billows flow."
—James Percival (American Poet

" She meets with Conway first, which lyeth next at hand Whose precious orient Pearle that breedeth in her sand, Above the other floods of Britalne doth her grace."
—Drayton's Polyolbion

Brighter the offspring of the morning dew, The evening yields a duskier birth to view ; The younger shells produce a whiter race, We greater age in darker colours trace."

" The fair Pearl Necklace of the Queen,
That burst in dancing, and the Pearls were spilt ;
Some lost, some stolen, some as relics kept,
But nevermore the same two Sister Pearls,
Ran down the silken thread to kiss each other
On her white neck."
— Tennyson's " Merlin and Vivien."

Fresh from the merchant, diamonds convey no sentiment but wealth;

To thee as thy loadstars resplendently burn.
In their clear depths of blue, with devotion I turn. Bright Cross of the South! and beholding thee shine, Scarce regret the loved land of the olive and vine."
—Mrs. Hemans

“So pray you add my diamonds to her pearls”
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That Shakespeare. He was a tricky bard. I've always been suspicious of his use of the words "pearl" and "jewel" among others. Lots of it is intimate wordplay. He had a weird sense of humour, what with all his ribald meanings and double entendres. There's always a subtext in almost every one of his plays. I can't read Shakespeare anymore without cracking up.

I love him more as the years roll on.

This is a little off topic, but is one of my favorite quotes. It has been perennially true during my adulthood.......
God quit you in his mercy! Hear your sentence
You have conspir'd against our nation,
Join'd with the enemy of truth, and from his coffers
Received the golden earnest of our death;
Wherein you have sold your citizens to slaughter,
Their representatives to servitude,
The citizens to oppression and contempt,
And the whole nation into desolation.
Touching our person seek we no revenge;
But we our nation’s safety must so tender,
Whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws
We do deliver you. Get you therefore hence,
Poor miserable wretches, to your prisons,
The territory whereof God of his mercy give
You patience to endure, and true repentance
Of all your dear offences! Bear them hence.
Henry V
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"contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of ten thousand desires makes a wise and happy purchase." John Balguy
That Shakespeare. He was a tricky bard. I've always been suspicious of his use of the words "pearl" and "jewel" among others. Lots of it is intimate wordplay.

Shakespeare was a very popular playwright. The Globe held over a 1000 people, a good percentage of them standing on the floor in what must have been a very rowdy group, given the locale of all in the theatres in the pub & red light district of Bankside London. I like to ask my students where do you think all those people went to the bathroom during, say Hamlet which is a 3.5 hour play? And when? - no intermissions. Mr. S. used the same devices that modern producers do to draw the crowds - action, love and lots of dirty jokes, with a little of the supernatural thrown in. His audience was such a cross section of the population, from highly educated to the guy that paid his penny and stumbled in from the bear-baiting that also took place in the area. He appealed to everyone, I believe, because in the end he was just an incredible play-crafter, his plays spoke to a truth in everyone. Luckily his company had enough sense to gather and publish his incredible words after his death, or we'd be a much poorer people. I wonder if he sometimes replaced that gold hoop earring for a lovely pearl drop????
What? No pearls in Hamlet? I'll read this later tonight. Great thread.
This is such a fun thread, glad you brought it forward!
Lots of it is intimate wordplay.
HHUMMM, is that just a nice way of saying he was a dirty old man??? ;)
Dear Caitlin:
Thank you for taking the time to share all this poetry and philosophy.
Romeo & Juliet? All I could find is she braided her hair with rainbow colored pearls. **Sigh**
"I studied poety in college to seduce women." Tommy Lee Jones. More **sighs**
Ok it isn't Shakespeare but two I like
"The rarest things in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds and pearls." Jean de la Bruyere
"This pearl has become my soul. If I give it up I shall lose my soul. Go thou also with God." John Steinbeck "The Pearl"
General George Patton's "Pearl-Handled" Revolvers

This might not be the best place but the quote is too good to pass up.

General George Patton, one of America's best and most colorful generals, always carried distinctive sidearms. The most famous of these was a Colt .45 Peacemaker with light colored handles, often described as a "pearl-handled revolver."

"Patton took violent offense at any reference to his pistols being pearl handled. He said, "Only a pimp in a New Orleans *****house or a tin-horn gambler would carry a pearl-handled pistol." In no uncertain terms he would have the offender know that his revolver was indeed "IVORY-GOD-****ING-DAMN-HANDLED" and with that he would turn on his heel and leave."

(Research by my Eli, who also wants everyone to know that Patton personally saved Eli's father's life during the Battle of the Bulge.)
A pearl quote I came across yesterday while flipping through A Guide to Elegance, one of those charming and inspiring vintage volumes about how to dress attractively and well:

"There is just one piece of jewelry that is equally becoming to everybody, lovely with almost every ensemble, appropriate for almost any occasion, and indispensable in every woman's wardrobe...long live the pearl necklace, true or false, from our first date until our last breath!"

~Genevieve Antoine Dariaux