The introduction to the first folio has the phrase "make the Iacke go." The I is almost certainly a J, but I don't recognise the word/name Jacke. What could it mean?

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The text is given here (Section 'To the great variety of readers').

Then, how odde soever your braines be, or your wisedomes, make your licence the same, and spare not. Judge your six-pen'orth, your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, Buy. Censure will not drive a Trade, or make the Jacke go. And though you be a Magistrate of wit, and sit on the Stage at Black-Friers, or the Cock-pit, to arraigne Playes dailie, know, these Playes have had their triall alreadie, and stood out all Appeales ;…

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    Nov 4, 2023 at 15:09
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4 Answers 4


I think "Iacke" here most likely refers literally to a rotating mechanism used to turn a spit (or perform other work by moving in a circular motion), which is used metaphorically as a symbol of a useful or productive process. "Censure will not [...] make the Iacke go" basically means "Censure isn't productive/doesn't do useful work/doesn't keep things running".

Such devices existed and were called jacks at the time the first folio was published (in 1623), as explained by the following note from a modern edition of "Shakespeare's Comedy of The Comedy of Errors", edited with notes by William J. Rolfe, 1904, page 131:

Machines or jacks for turning the spit, moved by weights like a clock, had been invented in the time of S. We find them mentioned as early as 1585 in the Nomenclator of Adrianus Junius: "automatarius faber, a maker of devises and motions that goe and turne of themselves, as clocks, jacks to turne spits," etc. In the preface to the folio of 1623, we read: "Censure will not driue a Trade, or make the Iacke go." In Brome's Antipodes, 1640, mention is made of a project "for putting downe the infinite use of jacks, whereby the education of young children, in turning spits, is greatly hindered."

See also the notes on jacks in Ancient Inventories of Furniture, Pictures, Tapestry. Plate, etc.

Here are two relevant Oxford English Dictionary definitions of jack, and a quotation showing that this word was sometimes used in metaphors:

  • 1391– II.5. A device for turning a spit for roasting meat over an open fire; = roasting-jack n. Now historical.

  • 1564– II.7. Any of various devices consisting (solely or essentially) of a roller or winch; esp. a roller around which a towel is looped (English regional (midlands) in later use). Cf. sense II.11 and jack roller n. 1. Now rare.

    • 1623 You should finde some Iacks faulty, and some cogges missing, whereby the wheele of Iustice is hindered in his circular course. Thomas Scott, Projector 26

Douglas Bruster (2013) ("The Representation Market of Early Modern England" Renaissance Drama, 41(1/2), 1–23, https://doi.org/10.1086/673903) agrees that definition II.7 is being used in the introduction to Shakespeare's first folio, saying

By “drive a Trade,” Shakespeare’s colleagues-cum-editors mean something like push, encourage, or sustain buying and selling in a particular field; “the Jack” refers to a wind-up mechanism, or parts controlled by that mechanism, such as a spit that holds and turns roasting meat, or the still-familiar human figures that strike bells on the outside of clocks.

(for continuation of this quotation, see footnote 1 below.)

Here are other quotations I found on Google Books that seemed relevant to me:

  • The bridle governs the horse, the spur quickens, him; the weight upon the line makes the Jack go; the oil upon the wheel makes it go glib, and nimble: The sayls give the speed, the ballast steadiness to the motion of the shhip. And hereupon God weighs out to us our favours and crosses in an equall balance; and so tempers our sorrows, that they may not oppress; and our joys, that they may not transport us.

    (Richard Younge, 1655, A Christian Library; or, a pleasant and plentiful paradise of practical divinity..., London, pages 216-217)

    Based on the sense of the passage, we can infer that the "Jack" mentioned is something that has a line that can be weighted and a wheel that can be oiled.

  • Well good Landlady set on the pot, as they say; or make the Jack go; then I'll hear you.

    (The Wild Gallant, John Dryden, 1684, page 5)

By the way, this word originates from the name "Jack" and would have been pronounced the same way in Shakespeare's time, as one syllable, close to the modern pronunciation of "Jack" (i.e. like /dʒak/ or /dʒæk/): the letter I was used at the time as a spelling of the consonant sound /dʒ/, and the convention of using E as a "silent" letter at the end of words was already established (although in certain contexts, such as words ending in "-ed", a syllabic pronunciation of the letter E was more common than it is today).

This question is difficult since the word jack/Jack has so many senses. I'm not completely certain of my explanation, but it is supported explicitly by Rolfe (1904) and Bruster (2013), and I think the quotations from Thomas Scott (1623) and Richard Younge (1655) also support it by showing that mechanical jacks were familiar enough to be used as metaphors at the time when the First Folio was published. So this definition currently makes more sense to me than interpreting "Iacke" as a person in this context (an intepretation that can clearly be ruled out in the case of the similarly worded quotation from Younge).

Bolding in quotations was added by me.

  1. Bruster 2013's explanation is as follows:

See Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “drive,” verb, def. IV.19, and “Jack” noun1, def. II.7, quoting Thomas Dekker, who, in The Seven Deadly Sins (1606), deploys it alongside reference to a clock mechanism: “It stood altogether like a Germane clock, or an English Iack or Turne-spit, vpon skrewes and vices.” Also relevant is sense 6, here, reflected in Richard III’s memorable censure of Buckingham: “like a Jack, thou keep’st the stroke / Betwixt thy begging and my meditation” (4.2.117). The implication of these phrases is clear: in any trade, things “drive” (are driven) and “go” only when customers buy.

Sense 6 in the OED refers to another kind of mechanical device:

1498– II.6. (A name for) a mechanical figure of a man which strikes a bell on a clock or clock tower at certain times; = Jack of the clock n. at Phrases P.3. Now chiefly historical.

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    I think your reference to "keeping the wheels turning" is anachronistic. For that reason, I don't believe it makes more sense to consider Jack a mechanical device rather than the hired man who expects to be paid for his work.
    – TimR
    Nov 5, 2023 at 12:05
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    @TimR: Can you explain where the anachronism lies? Per Ancient Inventories: "Wilkins, in his Mathematical Magic, 1648, says that 'the ordinary jacks, used for roasting of meat, commonly consist but of three wheels'". A wheel is also mentioned in connection to a jack in the quotations I cited from Thomas Scott (1623) and Richard Younge (1655). Mechanical devices with wheels certainly had existed for some time when the First Folio was published in 1623.
    – herisson
    Nov 5, 2023 at 12:09
  • What is the connection to money and censure?
    – TimR
    Nov 5, 2023 at 12:09
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    From Francis Beaumont, "A Sonnet": "The graffed Stock doth beare best fruit, / There's musick in the fingered Lute: / The weight doth make the Jack go ready, / The fraught doth make the Barque go steady; / The Key the Lock doth open right, / The Candle's usefull in the night." Beaumont died in 1616, so this instance is older than the one (from 1623) in the posted question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 6, 2023 at 6:56
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    I'm going with the automatic roasting jack here (not turned by dogs, children, or other unfortunate creatures). Buy. [Criticism] will not drive a Trade, or [turn the wheel of commerce]. Here's a video of a clock-style jack (it's newer but you get the idea). Here's an illustration from 1661 (this one might depict a smoke jack). For an interesting read, see if you can access "The Clockwork Roasting Jack, or How Technology Entered the Kitchen" at doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2004.4.1.33 or elsewhere. Nov 8, 2023 at 0:35

The preface is encouraging all readers to buy the book. Complaining about the plays is no good for business, and anyway these have all been successful on the stage.

Jack may be a reference to a (working) man, perhaps a printer's employee, or to some kind of simple machine (the printing press?). Oxford Languages, referring to the history of jack, says The word also denoted various devices saving human labour, as though one had a helper (like the modern jack for raising a car wheel).

  • How does "money" make the labor-saving device go?
    – TimR
    Nov 4, 2023 at 17:51
  • You might as well add that it could be the jack (the device in the shape of a man) who rings the clock bell.
    – TimR
    Nov 4, 2023 at 17:53
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    @TimR - I'm not sure - that's why I originally posted the suggestion as a comment, until it got deleted. It keeps the business going, I suppose. Nov 4, 2023 at 18:50
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    @TimR: Think how today a business might speak of needing its revenue to “keep the wheels turning”. It’s a clear and familiar metaphor — it doesn’t matter whether there are any literal wheels or how exactly the money connects to their turning.
    – PLL
    Nov 5, 2023 at 10:47
  • @PLL It is a modern metaphor from the industrial age. We can't just plop it down into the Elizabethan era.
    – TimR
    Nov 5, 2023 at 11:08

Jacke – printed early often as Iacke (see last paragraph), because for one it was not originally spoken like the actual Jack (EN) or its origin Jaques (FR), but became a term once it was incorporated from Middle-/Middle High German into Middle English – referring to the usual clothing (DE:Jacke/EN:Jacket) of "The Jaques" and idiomatically to the "Handlanger" or simplified: "poorest peasant".

In English a relatively positive equivalent would be "handyman" but Handlanger has a very very bad connotation in German, same as the original Jacques – literally the one getting paid to do the job no one wants to do, be it assisting in henching, on the battlefield doing bonepicking to feed animals with human cadaver/corpses, or just the dirty work even the dirtiest do not want to do.

"Handlanger" is also synonymical for "what" the actual "Hand" "longs" for. Be it a "lever" (in the sense of an oversimplified/dumbed-down "helper" that depicts the assumed intelligence of the "Iacke"/"Jacques"–leading to the later use of "Jack" for simplest-tools/assistive-appliances in English. Or be it even more abstracted as a person being the simplest possible tool to "use".

In that era German was basically a refinement stage of the established French word-portfolio that drove aristocracy and self-entitled landlords and was not that fancy anymore in the coming centuries due to political and/or religious differences. German became a "neutral" lingua franca from the 15-/16- -hundreds onwards that was often used as an alternative to French to straightforward express the same but absolutely making clear that French was not welcome for the aforementioned reasons. Not much has changed, hasn't it?

"Jacke" (DE) is spoken like Ya-ke–short vowels: "Ya" like "Yakuza" and "Ke" like "Ken") and came to its spelling/pronunciation along the lines of the nowadays benelux-states into the North Rhine areas and from there spread east and southwards and once the political climate changed towards Britain.

Reason why it looks like "I" in many printing-presses was due to the former focus on Latin texts and how the German scripts at that time (13-/14- -hundreds ongoing) still used the "I" to refer to the sound that nowadays is "Y" as a consonant in English/"J" in German, due to its origin. Compare the common Latin phrase "Alea iacta est" and the "I"s Greek origin "Iota" or Hebrew "yodh". It is not as if printing-presses were an instant success or even "allowed" to be used, following history in that regard helps understanding, especially once you intermingle all the aforementioned notions.

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    So what do you think is the use in the Folio context? Nov 5, 2023 at 1:11
  • I wouldn't dare to give my personal "expertise" (for lack of a better word) on this basis - if i had the whole source right before me, i might be able to spout something i can stand for, but just to make a few guesses: For one it all sounds to me like an .. advertisment? up to a pamphlet. And this happens all the time when a higher degree of automation was reached. In these split areas there seems often to be a kind of almost a marketing-strategy attached to it. Sorry, i just write down what i think. So a precise location of the author and the obviously real pro/an-tagonists depicted ...Helps. Nov 5, 2023 at 18:49
  • But as a random variant: Automaton-sub-era : Seed/Kernel-spender, Elevators, Lifts, motor-technologies, joints/swivels, machinery - in that context it sounds like a frivolesque wordplay, explicitly using the Iacke not only as the already established meaning of "lowest class worker module"(man or machine) and definition of "basic" - but also because german production-lines, constant-iteration, mass-layoffs, army - at such a time diffamation in its sense but already accepted by those that actually bought products - so in turn it was also used in the polemic, the dictate, the identifying context. Nov 5, 2023 at 19:12
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    I provided the link to the complete preface to the First Folio in my edit of the question. Nov 5, 2023 at 20:03
  • “ if i had the whole source right before me” You do, it's in the question itself, embedded in a link.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2023 at 19:24

A tentative answer.

The premise of the Intro is the notion of incentive.

Judge your six-pen'orth, your shillings worth, your five shillings worth at a time, or higher, so you rise to the just rates, and welcome. But, whatever you do, Buy. Censure will not drive a Trade, or make the Jacke go.

While there's certainly reason to believe the roasting spit may be involved (see the answer by @herisson), it could be the "old-fashioned" kind of jack that required someone to turn it, the "turnspit", not the newfangled kind that was driven by weights, that is being referred to in the Intro to the First Folio.

The Brome quote cited by herisson refers to children being put out of work by the newfangled variety: you don't have to pay anyone to turn them. With the old kind, it was the child's salary (though only a pittance) that gave the child incentive to "make the jack go". It could well be the notion about incentive being necessary to make the jack go predated the new self-turning type of jack, which needed no incentive.

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