barrel of monkeys

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM
Fri May 21 23:22:19 UTC 2010

> One phrase for an aggregate of monkeys with a long literary history is
> "a wilderness of monkeys". Here is an example that emphasizes the
> connection to "fun", the term typically associated with barrels of
> monkeys:
> The phrase can be traced back to the pen of William Shakespeare.
> Shylock uses it when discussing a turquoise ring, "I would not have
> given it for a wilderness of monkeys" in Merchant of Venice. (Monkeys
> is sometimes spelled "monkies".)
> Garson

If we're tracing this back, it's probably rooted in, "leading monkeys
through hell."

In the English Middle Ages, this came to be associated, as an image of
futility, with the idea of spinsters leading monkeys through hell on a

This at least in part behind Shylock's anguished cry that Jessica, his
daughter, traded the ring he had from Leah for a monkey.


        (for the advert for Andrex that's cuter than a barrel of labrador

The monkeys/monkies issue is prolly a Quarto (1600) / Folio (1623) spelling
variant, but bugger me if I can be bothered to look this up.  <g>

"Oh my daughter, oh my ducats!" (or as Marlowe had Barrabas say earlier in
_The Jew of Malta_, "Oh my girl, oh my gold.")

Take it from me, daughters are *much more expensive than sons.  I have this
on good authority.


The American Dialect Society -

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