"I'll Put A Spoke Among Your Wheels"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Memnon, a rough soldier, general of the King of Paphos's armies, arrives home after a long absence; he sees the king's sister, Calis, and falls so completely in love with her that he offers his heart to her, an offer she sportively assumes to be literal. Nothing daunted, Memnon makes preparations for delivering it to her. Syphax, also a soldier, sees the princess and also falls madly in love with her; he enlists the aid of Cleanthe, his sister, in the furtherance of his love. She bribes the priestess of Venus to tell the princess on her next visit to the shrine that, to cure the lovesickness that she had contracted for Polydorus, she is to love a man she describes; the man is to be Syphax. Chilax, a merry old soldier, from a position in hiding, hears Cleanthe giving her directions to the priestess and vows to foil the plot; he says that he will put a spoke among her wheels: the imagery is that of thrusting a tough, strong spoke through a pair of wheels and so bringing the vehicle to a halt. This version of the saying gives a clearer picture of what is meant than does the common modern version: "I'll put a spoke in your wheel." Many people in modern times construe this to mean adding a spoke to the construction of a wheel to strengthen it, a meaning not borne out by Fletcher's version.

Charge her take the next man she shall meet with,
When she comes out;–you understand me?–
Which shall be he attending. This is all,
And easily without suspicion ended;
Nor none dare disobey, 'tis Heaven that does it,
And who dares cross it then, or once suspect it?
The venture is most easy.
I will do it.
As ye shall prosper?
As I shall prosper!
Take this too, and farewell; but, first, hark hither.
[aside.] What a young whore's this to betray her mistress!
A thousand cuckolds shall that husband be
That marries thee, thou art so mischievous.
I'll put a spoke among your wheels.