I'm annotating a late 16th or early 17th century English play for publication, and I'm having trouble making sense of a certain incident that takes place. I'm hoping someone familiar with Elizabethan nautical terms can help.
Here's the situation. Two pirate ships are grappled together as their captains fight in single combat for the booty plundered from a French merchantman. As they fight, a group of impressed sailors plan to escape by stealing the merchantman. To prevent the pirates from pursuing them, one says:
"We'll cut their hawsers."
The plan goes off, and the pirate captain orders a pursuit, but is told:
"They have cut our hawsers, we cannot budge a foot."
Here's my question. I always understood--and the sources I've looked at so far back me up--that the term "hawser" usually referred to the rope that moored the ship to a dock or to an anchor. In other words, if the pirate ship was moored or anchored, cutting the hawser would set them adrift. It wouldn't stop them from moving, it would do the opposite.
So what am I missing? How is it that cutting the hawser prevents you from pulling in the anchor, but leaves the ship still held by the anchor? Or is it the playwright who's confused--always a possibility?
If anyone is interested, the play is Robert Daborne's A Christian Turn'd Turk, published in London in 1612.