When Shakespeare wrote: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions", why didn't he put an "as" before "single spies"?

  • 5
    Because that's how he wanted it. – Hot Licks Aug 3 '18 at 12:49
  • It's a much better title now. Why not tell us where the line is from? – Mari-Lou A Aug 3 '18 at 21:40
  • it's for the syllable count, a nice 466 – JMP Aug 7 '18 at 12:10
  • @HotLicks - don't bother commenting if you've nothing useful to say. – Peter4075 Aug 8 '18 at 15:15

In this sort of context, where the nominal is a secondary subject complement, EME did not require as with nominals, just as we still don't require it with adjectivals:

He came galumphing back.
He came home defeated.

Here's a non-Shakespearean example:

Firſt, [God] comes a Little-One : to ſshew, that hee is food for Little-Ones ; [...] A little One hee comes, from the leaſt of the cities ; Little, of Accompt : Little, in Appearance ; that we might not be afraid to come neere him. [...] And laſtly, he comes a Little-One to us, to ſhew, we muſt come, as Little-Ones, to him. —Austin, Devotionis Augustinianae Flamma, 1635

So Shakespeare might include as or omit it; and the meter here calls for omission.

  • 1
    " ... where the nominal is a secondary subject complement" - what does that mean? And what is EME? – Peter4075 Aug 3 '18 at 14:13
  • EME = Early Modern English – user888379 Aug 3 '18 at 14:41
  • @Peter4075 A "secondary complement" is a non-obligatory complement to the verb. An object complement describes the object of the clause--He drinks his coffee black, where black describes coffee--and a subject complement describes the subject of the clause--He drinks his coffee naked, where naked describes He. – StoneyB Aug 3 '18 at 23:31

Mainly to maintain metre, but perhaps also to make it a metaphor rather than a simile. The metaphor sounds more arrogant, more assertive, which matches Claudius' character.

  • I can't agree with this. (1) As in this context would not make this a simile--it plays the same role as in in in battalions; (2) metaphors are not inherently more "arrogant" or "assertive" than similes; (3) Claudius is not particularly "arrogant" or "assertive" in this passage: he is rather shaken by recent events and the current atmosphere. – StoneyB Aug 3 '18 at 13:29
  • I did say 'perhaps' indicating what follows is my interpretation. (1) I do understand that 'as' is a preposition too, but my understanding is C is comparing 'sorrows' to 'spies' in an analogy. Regarding (2) I made no such generalisation. (3) Open to interpretation. At least we agree that this is for metrical purposes - which is the correct answer. +1 on your response for staying on topic: I've clearly muddied the waters! – Inoutguttiwutts Aug 3 '18 at 16:11

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