Friday, August 14, 2009

Rachel Hedman: So I sat in class and thought of Shakespeare one day. . .

David Novak wondered about the background of the phrase "I won't stand for that!" during our class on Wednesday, July 29, 2009 at about 8:10pm.

Today we tend to say this phrase to mean "I won't endure any nonsense!"

David guessed that it might relate to Shakespeare times when the "cheap seats" of theater were not seats at all but a place to stand. If the show was not even worth standing for, then why stand at all?

So I did some sleuthing and discovered. . .there is defiantly an English connection but not directly connected to the theater.

First, I looked up the "stand for" of the phrase to see when that specific phrase came about. The year would make a difference.

"Stand for" came about in 1567 to mean "represent, be in place of" and then turned into a verb to mean "endure, undergo" in 1606.

Though consider what happened in 1626. Suddenly, "stand for" connected to tolerance.

In addition, the word "won't", which is a contraction of "will not", was first recorded in the mid-1500s as "wynnot" and then to "wonnot" in 1584 and finally to the modern version of "won't" in 1667.

Hmmm. Interesting.

Though, the years 1625-1649 will illuminate understanding.

Charles I was crowned the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland on March 27, 1625. It was not long before he disbanded the English Parliament on June 15, 1626.


The Parliament kept insisting that the people should have certain rights. They wanted it to be clear that a monarch could not do anything that he wished.

Despite being disbanded, the Parliament then submitted a Petition of Rights in 1628. Part of this document declared that the King could not create any new taxes without the consent of the Parliament. People also could not be imprisoned without cause. And so on. And so on.

Did King Charles I like this Petition? What do you think?

The struggle intensified.

Some people saw this as a time to flee to the Americas.

They certainly were not finding tolerance in England.

Colonies formed. An ocean-long distance from England sounded nice.

On June 12, 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony landed in Salem mostly comprised of English Puritans. They appointed John Winthrop as governor.

Other religious groups followed.

Back in England of 1640, the English Parliament met for the first time in 11 years and developed the Triennal Act. King Charles I had asked for this gathering due to his need for financial support.

The Parliament refused to grant any money and instead listed all their complaints within the Triennal Act. Part of the Act demanded that the Parliament meet at least once every three years. The Act passed and the king was unable to dissolve the Parliament without its agreement.

Then the English Civil War began in 1642.

Yes, they had a Civil War, too. Strange to think that!

Eventually, King Charles I became a prisoner of the Parliamentarians, supporters of the Parliament.

They attempted to negotiate with King Charles I, but the king committed to his belief of leading England by Divine Right. The Parliamentarians knew that the king could raise an army against them. They reluctantly concluded that they must have the king killed.

In order to vote to have the king killed, the people had to stand to make it known. Fifty-nine commissioners rose to their feet on January 27, 1649 and signed the death warrant.

However, the House of Commons did not pass this death warrant.

After King Charles I was beheaded, the people who had stood during that fateful date on January 27, 1649 were pursued for punishment.

At least 19 of these people were hung, drawn, or quartered. Many were imprisoned for life.

And the people who "won't stand for that"? They lived.

Today you can see the original death warrant of King Charles I at the Parliamentary Archives in the Palace of Westminster, London.

This may be a long way to discover the meaning of "I won't stand for that!", though it can be amazing the story that a few words hold in history.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
(801) 870-5799

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