Safire error (May 7, 2006)? "fraught" in "Lear"

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 9 02:56:50 UTC 2006

"Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET> wrote:

Has Safire erred?

He writes "Shakespeare used it [fraught] in "King Lear" without the _with_."

But in the quotation from "King Lear," Shakespeare did not use
"fraught" alone; he used it with the preposition "of": "make use of
that good wisdom, Whereof I know you are fraught."

In any case, of course, in this quotation from "Lear" "fraught of"
means "supplied with"--that is, "weighted, freighted with"--rather
than "distressed," as he should have observed from the sense in the
OED to which the quotation is attached. And I wonder--the OED does
not define "fraught with" as "distressed by", but only as the more
general "attended with", often in a positive sense.

I wrote to his email address as follows:

Goneril's "fraught" is not absolute

Although Shakespeare has Goneril use "fraught" without "with", she does not
use the word, as you imply, as an adjective standing on its own. Since
"whereof" is equivalent to "of which", Goneril, in saying "that good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught", is describing her father as "fraught with [
i.e., heavy with, full of] wisdom". Lear is certainly full of emotional
distress and tension, but this line does not refer to it.

Or does it, at least obliquely? The king's simile in the same scene (I.iv),
"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child!", is
sharper far than it would be if the serpent's tooth had been a needle.  Are
there earlier or contemporary uses of "fraught" with the sense it has today,
to which Shakespeare could have been alluding? Or does the modern sense,
perhaps, grow partly out of a misreading of this very line?

m a m

The American Dialect Society -

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