Marry, I will, let them play it. Is not a comonty a Christmas
gambold, or a tumbling-trick?

No my good lord, it is more pleasing stuff.

What, household stuff?

It is a kind of history.

Well, well see't. Come, madam wife, sit by my side, and let the
world slip, we shall ne'er be younger.

The Taming Of The Shrew Induction, scene 2, 137–144

When the tinker Christopher Sly passes out drunk, he's found by the local lord who whisks him home. This aristocrat, who's one real practical joker, comes up with the hilarious idea of convincing Sly that he's only dreamed he's a tinker, when he's in fact a nobleman. Employed in this deceit is the lord's page, who dresses up—just like boys in commercial theaters—as the noble Sly's attractive young wife. As part of Sly's "therapy," to aid in his recovery from a fifteen-year dream, traveling players are brought in to present a comedy: The Taming of the Shrew. Sly doesn't know what a "comonty" (his blunder for "comedy") is—perhaps, he guesses, a holiday gambol or an acrobatic trick. Assured that a comedy is a kind of "history" (narrative), Sly assents. "Let the world slip," he exclaims: let's forget the cares of everyday business, because we're not getting any younger and we ought to have our fun. (The play proves to be so much fun that Sly nods off now and again, before disappearing from the text altogether.)

"Let the world slip" echoes Sly's earlier "Let the world slide" (Induction, scene 1). Both are new variations on older phrases, which date back at least to the early fifteenth century. "Let the world pass" is the earliest recorded form, but the most popular before Shakespeare was "Let the world wag." As the similarly low-born plowman says in the 1529 play Gentleness and Nobility, "I will let the world wag and home will I go/ And drive my plough as I was wont to do." But where the plowman sees letting the world wag as a return to his routine, Sly sees letting the world slip as an escape from the everyday, and this is pretty much how we use the phrase today.

Themes: actors and acting

Speakers: Sly, Page