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Must Love Puns

Monday, March 1, 2010

I went to see The Tempest last night, so it seemed only appropriate that I blog about an ad with a Shakespearean reference - although from a different play altogether.

A young gentleman, who has seen twenty-four springs and nearly as many falls, wishes to correspond with a young lady not under 17 years of age, whose piano is not her only forte, who will make the winter of his discontent seem glorious summer. She must possess a genial disposition, an appreciative sense of fun, be free from "Miss Nancyism" and write a plain hand. Address J.O.M., Herald office.

So! Adorable! I want to meet J.O.M.! Granted, he's a little bit young for me, or, I guess more accurately, a lot too old for me since he's probably been dead for the last hundred years. But isn't he charming? He reminds me of Harry Vernon or a younger and more carefree version of my dear Christopher Leighton. And of course, he's not my first advertiser to quote Shakespeare.

Speaking of, the Shakespearean line to which I refer is the "winter of discontent" part, which is a slightly altered version of "Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this sun of York," which is the first line of Richard III. Of course in the play it has nothing whatsoever to do with romance or loneliness, but I'm sure J.O.M. is neither the first nor last person to quote that line way out of context. Whatevs, it's sweet.

But, J.O.M.'s charms don't stop with his ability to adapt Shakespeare. There's the little pun about the piano not being her only forte, which is kind of amusing. Get it? Get it? There's "forte" as in a skill or talent, and then "forte" as in a pianoforte. And I especially like the part where he says she must have "an appreciative sense of fun." How often do you see that? I'll answer: rarely. Today it's like a personal ad isn't complete if somewhere or other the person doesn't mention the importance of a sense of humor (which, of course, because that's super important). But back then, that's definitely not very common. I have without a doubt seen other ads that hint at it (like the jolly young sea captain), but it's just very infrequent. And that ties in to the part about being free of "Miss Nancyism," which meant a person who was prim and fussy. Obviously this is a man who wants a wife who also makes silly puns about pianos.

The part about writing with a plain hand - that I'm not so sure about what he means. Does he want a woman whose handwriting is very neat, or whose style of writing is simple? And why is this characteristic so crucial? He doesn't care about money, he doesn't even care about looks (because he's awesome), but he cares about having a "plain hand"? Maybe that means something broader - like having a plain hand implies you're satisfied with a simple life or something. I don't know. Anyone with thoughts on this, feel free to chime in.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


Unknown March 1, 2010 at 8:55 AM  

I think he probably means he wants someone with readable handwriting--he's looking to correspond with her, after all!

Bea March 1, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

Could "plain hand" mean truthful/without hidden meaning? Someone who doesn't fill her reply letter with lots of fluff stuff that makes her sound "better" and writes in a way that the meaning is easily taken?

Pam March 1, 2010 at 9:50 AM  

I agree with both of you! I don't know which is right - maybe all of the above.

Unknown March 1, 2010 at 10:07 AM  

Hmmm... in terms of plain hand, I wonder if it is a comment about education. Presumably, if she can write in a plain hand, she's been reasonably educated, so can understand things like the Shakespeare reference and any intellectual silly puns he may feel inclined to make. I have no idea whether women of society with normal levels of education were known for their dreadful handwriting, but I can't help but suspect it from this.

Janefan March 1, 2010 at 11:32 AM  

I'm pretty sure that at that time it really just meant nice, neat, easily readable handwriting (without a bunch of flourishes, etc).

You may be reading too much into it to think otherwise. Then again, handwriting analysis was very popular in the 19th cent - a person's writing was believed to show their personality - so I assume woman with a plain hand would be honest and sensible, not vain, etc. (I don't know how handwriting was interpreted back then but I think overly ornate handwriting would be a way of showing off of trying to seem to be of higher status.)

Pam March 1, 2010 at 11:46 AM  

Janefan - Me, reading too much into one of these ads? That could never, ever happen!! =)

drwende March 1, 2010 at 5:14 PM  

Part of the post-Civil War etiquette/self-improvement movement involved fancy "elegant" handwriting that wasn't necessarily legible. A "plain hand" was readable and relatively unembellished, more what a man's (then-male) secretary would write. So the request for a plain hand seems to be another variation on wanting a girl who's relatively down-to-earth and unpretentious.

If you think in terms of Little Women (a useful cultural touchstone), he wants Jo rather than Meg or Amy. You just know Meg and Amy would have written notes awash in curlicues, Meg because her fancy friends did and Amy because it was "artistic."

Pam March 1, 2010 at 7:30 PM  

drwende - ITA

Unknown March 1, 2010 at 8:32 PM  

I agree with what a few other people have said. I'm pretty sure that a "plain hand" would be today's equivalent of noncursive writing.

Bianca C March 1, 2010 at 11:51 PM  

I literally snorted out loud when I read the pianoforte comment. When I read plain hand, I though it was like - speak plainly - (say what you mean), and not a commentary on the handwriting. But after reading the all comments IDK - shrugs.

Unknown March 6, 2010 at 8:02 AM  

Maybe "plain hand" was meant to be another punning reference: he wants her to speak plainly AND write clearly/legibly as was the current pedagogical trend?

Pam March 6, 2010 at 9:02 AM  

You know, I'm starting to think he meant all these things combined. Clever man!!

Thanks for all the thoughts on this one!

Laura V April 29, 2010 at 10:27 AM  

"forte" is not so much skill or talent, but "strength". It's also used in musical notation to indicate playing loudly and strongly. So it's not necessarily a reference to a pianoforte, but simply using the "strength" meaning in both its musical and other realms.

Anonymous December 5, 2010 at 6:38 AM  

I loved the pianoforte pun. My favorite part of this ad, definitely. :)

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