What is Shakespeare’s fascination with three hours? I was at Romeo and Juliet this weekend and this stood out to me:
Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?
Because I thought, “Hmm, that’s interesting because clearly they’ve been married more than three hours so it’s like she’s using that as just a generic term for some length of time. Kind of like how Hamlet does it, doesn’t he?” Actually, I was off on that one:
how cheerfully my mother looks, and father died within these two hours.
Then I thought about that one about, “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” from Merry Wives of Windsor. So I got to wondering just how often he used this expression. As it turns out, quite a lot. Some of them could even be literal (such as “the length of time after supper and before bedtime”) but surely not all of them.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Ten o’clock: within these three hours ’twill be
time enough to go home.
Love’s Labour’s Lost
And then, to sleep but three hours in the night,
And not be seen to wink of all the day—
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
what dances shall we have,
To wear away this long age of three hours
Between our after-supper and bed-time?
Ay, madam, well; for I was bred and born
Not three hours‘ travel from this very place.
Within these three hours, Tullus,
Alone I fought in your Corioli walls,
And made what work I pleased:
Romeo and Juliet (again)
Now must I to the monument alone;
Within three hours will fair Juliet wake:
Henry VI Part 1
More than three hours the fight continued;
Where valiant Talbot above human thought
Enacted wonders with his sword and lance:
I have read three hours then: mine eyes are weak:
Is hard at study; pray now, rest yourself;
He’s safe for these three hours.
How thou hast met us here, who three hours since
Were wreck’d upon this shore;
What is this maid with whom thou wast at play?
Your eld’st acquaintance cannot be three hours: