Shakespeare Quotes

Budge an inch

Hostess:
You will not pay for the glasses you have burst?

Sly:
No, not a denier. Go by, Saint Jeronimy! go to thy cold bed, and
warm thee.

Hostess:
I know my remedy; I must go fetch the thirdborough. [Exit]

Sly:
Third, or fourth, or fifth borough, I'll answer him by law. I'll not
budge an inch, boy; let him come and kindly. [Falls asleep]

The Taming Of The Shrew Induction, scene 1, 7–15

"I'll not budge an inch" is the greatest contribution the tinker Christopher Sly has made to everyday English. A version of the phrase—"I'll not yield an inch"—had entered the language not long before the composition of The Taming of the Shrew, but Sly's particular spin has endured. The use of "budge" as a verb, meaning "stir, move," was also very new; the earliest example we have is from 1590, about three years before Shakespeare's play.

As the OED points out, the verb has always been used almost exclusively in negative phrases—you will always "not budge" from somewhere; to say "Oh, sure, I'll budge if you like" sounds absurd. In another comedy written not long after Shrew, however, Launcelot Gobbo reports a contest between his good and bad consciences, the former saying "Launcelot, bouge not," while the latter urges him to "bouge" (The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, scene 2).

As The Taming of the Shrew opens, Sly stumbles drunkenly out of an alehouse, where he's been a rowdy fellow. When he spurns the hostess's demand that he pay for the glasses he's broken, she goes to fetch the law—the "thirdborough," or constable. His nonsensical response—"Go by, Saint Jeronimy!", etc.—mangles a famous line from Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy ("Go by, Hieronymo!"). Sly is one of those playgoing apprentices who, as London magistrates often complained, indulged in the corruptions of the theater and drunken carousing when they ought to have been tinkering at the shop.

Themes: expressions and idioms

Speakers: Hostess, Sly