Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Forgive and Forget

In my search for not-by-shakespeares today I stumbled across something I thought was interesting.  We all know that many of today's popular cliches came from Shakespeare.  Turns out that "forgive and forget" is one of them.  Why's that interesting?  Because Mr. Shakespeare seems to have been quite fond of the expression, and used it at least four times:

King Richard II  (Act I, Scene 1)
  1. Wrath-kindled gentlemen, be ruled by
  2. Let's purge this choler without
    letting blood:
  3. This we prescribe,
    though no physician;
  4. Deep malice makes
    too deep incision;
  5. Forget,
    ; conclude and be agreed;
  6. Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.
  7. Good uncle, let this end where it begun;
  8. We'll calm the Duke of Norfolk, you your son.

King Lear (act IV, Scene 7)
  1. You must bear with me:
  2. Pray you now, forget and forgive: I
    am old and foolish.

Cleomenes  (The Winter's Tale, Act 5 Scene 1)
  1. Sir, you have done enough, and have perform'd
  2. A saint-like sorrow: no fault could you make,
  3. Which you have not redeem'd; indeed, paid down
  4. More penitence than done trespass: at the last,
  5. Do as the heavens have done, forget
    your evil;
  6. With them forgive

Queen Margaret (Henry VI Part 3, Act III Scene 3)
  1. Warwick, these words have turn'd my hate to love;
  2. And I forgive and quite forget old faults,
  3. And
    joy that thou becomest King Henry's friend.

Given how freely he uses the expression he likely didn't invent it, but was rather just repeating an expression that was in common usage at the time.  From the Bible, maybe?  Many people think so (it's certainly a logical Christian sentiment), but no one's able to point to a specific verse that could be the source.


Lia - not Juno said...

Interesting find! I like your blog very much. Shakespeare is my number one passion. Keep bringing out the good stuff!

catkins said...

Ahhh, you just need the right reference book! In this case, "A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," by Morris Palmer Tilley.

"Forgive and forget" was indeed common in the period. Tilley has 4 references predating Shakespeare's earliest use, and 6 contemporaneous or later. The earliest is from William Bonde in 1526 from his "A Devoute Treatise in English Called the Pilgrimage of Perfection": "God (not only) forgiveth all sins but also forgeteth them." This is about 65 years earlier than its first appearance in Shakespeare.

There are no references from the Bible.

Tilley missed your use in Winter's Tale, but adds this from All's Well That Ends Well (5.3.9): "I have forgiven and forgotten all."


Duane said...

Thanks for filling in the gap, Carl! It's funny how easily we slide into that mode where anything between X and Y years old must be Shakespeare ... and anything greater than X years old must therefore be the Bible, because everybody knows there was no other literature before Shakespeare. :)

Will said...

Actually, Bonde probably did get his saying from the Bible, from Jeremiah 31:34 --

"And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

Sounds like "forgive and forget" to me... but I agree with Carl that Shakespeare was probably referencing Bonde's less ponderous version.

catkins said...

Excellent find Will! You are anticipated by an eminent authority, Thomas Carter, who wrote "Shakespeare and Holy Scripture" in 1905, which I neglected to check. He concurs with your reference to Jeremiah in citing, interestingly, the lines from Winter's Tale that Tilley missed. Curiously, this reference did not occur to him on reading the lines from Lear (he keyed in on the old and infirm part) and he passed over the other "forgive and forgets" noted by Duane and Tilley.

The wording by Bonde is more typical of the adage, but the spirit is clearly that of Jeremiah.

I say, hats off to Will.

Ren du Braque said...

Not only is the expression commonly found, but it is often a major theme in his plays. The Winter's Tale and The Tempest are explorations about how one can forgive and forget. Hamlet, act III, scene 3, is about how neither Claudius nor Hamlet can. Well, the opposite of forgive and forget is vengence. That's present in spades in Shakespeare. And now for yet another tangent, it's not remarkable, in my opinion, that forgiving and forgetting is so frequently mentioned in Shakespeare. It's remarkably depressing that it is mentioned so little in our super wonderfully enlightened and look on the bright side times. Sorry, I hope you can overlook my flights of fancy. Please forgive and forget.

Duane said...

Worse, Ren, is that I've known more than one person who'll proudly state "I forgive, but I never forget" as if that's a good thing. It pretty much negates the whole idea, and they'd save words by simply saying "I'm a vengeful idiot."