"Rob Peter To Pay Paul"

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 188

Context: Gargantua, the gigantic son of Grangosier and Gargamelle, was physically precocious as a youth, although his actions differed more in degree than kind from those of other youngsters. Rabelais has him engage in almost every kind of activity. He experiments with and apparently believes in all the superstitions of his day. Also, he breathes the cliches and commonplaces. The proverb about robbing Peter to pay Paul was widespread. It was used by John Heywood in Proverbes (1546), Part I, chapter 11, by Robert Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy (1621-1561), Democritus to the Reader, and by many other writers. The expression apparently got its origin in the reign of Edward VI, when the lands of St. Peter at Westminster were taken in order that money might be raised for the repair of St. Paul's in London. Rabelais uses the expression thus, speaking about Gargantua:

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By robbing Peter he paid Paul, he kept the moon from the wolves, and hoped to catch larks if ever the heavens should fall. He did make of necessity virtue, of such bread such pottage, and cared as little for the peeled as for the shaven.

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