...Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday.

— Shakespeare, Othello III.iii

I really can't find any clear definition of this word, here.
From context, all I can assume is that it means to ingest or consume?

  • 1
    I'd guess it's an archaic past tense of "to owe", i.e. "Which you owed yesterday"? Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 14:45
  • Well, he says Not poppy, nor mandragora. He has another quote about mandragora: Give me to drink mandragora... that I might sleep out this great gap of time -- Antony and Cleopatra I.v Commented Aug 31, 2010 at 15:13
  • I know Shakespearian English is considered "modern", but I guess I'm young enough that it always looks to me like another language with some of the same words.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 25, 2012 at 13:17

4 Answers 4


This is a second person past tense form of "to owe." To give a parse of the morphology:

owe - d   -  st
owe - past - 2sg

The "-d" or "-ed" is the usual past tense (and participle) marking we know and love today. The "-st" is the second person singular agreement morpheme, which we no longer have in Modern English.

As for its meaning, "owed" sort of makes sense, but this might be a more archaic use for it.

Edit: Here is the advanced search page for Open Search Shakespeare: http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/search/search-advanced.php

If you select Regular Expression and search .*edst, you'll find a lot more examples with more easily recognizable verbs.

  • As this is the accepted answer, it would be good to explicitly include the apparently-more-appropriate archaic meaning which you allude to (see cindi's answer).
    – Benjol
    Commented Sep 29, 2010 at 8:01

Apparently there is an archaic sense of 'owe' meaning to possess or to own: owe in merriam-webster. The object of 'Owedst' is the sleep, which the subject enjoyed (or 'owned'), not the concoctions that he could have ingested.


The "-st" is a verb ending that indicates second person singular. It is still present in contemporary German, for example.

Etymonline says:

O.E. agan (pt. ahte) "to have, own," from P.Gmc. *aiganan "to possess" [...]. Sense of "to have to repay" began in late O.E. with the phrase agan to geldanne lit. "to own to yield," which was used to translate L. debere (earlier in O.E. this would have been sceal "shall"); by late 12c. the phrase had been shortened to simply agan, and own (v.) took over this word's original sense. An original Germanic preterite-present verb (cf. can, dare, may, etc.). New past tense form owed arose 15c. to replace oughte, which developed into ought.


Here is the text http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/othello/T33.html#sd329

and nicely enough here is the explanation


Re-enter Othello: As Iago speaks of the corrosive effect of jealousy, Othello appears with such a haunted look on his face that Iago comments, "I did say so. / Look where he comes!" (3.3.329-330). Iago means that Othello's state is proof of what Iago has just been saying. It's as though he is inviting us admire his handiwork; just a glance at Othello should be enough to prove that the poison of jealousy has taken hold. As Othello approaches, Iago says to him, though not so Othello can hear, "Not poppy, nor mandragora, / Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, / Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep / Which thou owedst yesterday" (3.3.330-333). Both "poppy" and "mandragora" are opiates, very powerful sleeping potions, but even they won't do Othello any good. Now that Iago has poisoned his mind, Othello will never sleep again.

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