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In act I, scene 2, of Measure for Measure, one of the gentlemen uses the word sheer:

Luc. I, why not? Grace, is Grace, despight of all con-,
trouersie: as for example; Thou thy selfe art a wicked
villaine, despight of all Grace.

First Gent. Well: there went but a paire of sheeres be-
tweene vs.
Luc. I grant: as there may betweene the Lists, and
the Veluet. Thou art the List.

From ShakespearesWords.com I gathered that sheers is used here as shears, but I still cannot make any sense out of it. Why would there be any shears between soldiers? Is sheers just a friendly term for bladed weapon such as sword?

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  • This version has more modern spelling, and has this line as "Well, there went but a pair of shears between us."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 20, 2023 at 11:13
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    From A. Leggatt, "Substitution in "Measure for Measure"", Shakespeare Quarterly 39(3) (1988), pp. 342-359: "This denial of apparent resemblance is repeated in incidental touches throughout the play. The First Gentleman's "Well, there went but a pair of shears between us" is countered by Lucio's "I grant: as there may between the lists and the velvet" (I.ii.27-2)."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 20, 2023 at 11:19
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    There went but a pair of shears between us is an earlier version of the idiom We are cut from the same cloth. And quite a bit of wordplay follows on the same theme with list and velvet.
    – Peter Shor
    Aug 20, 2023 at 14:23

1 Answer 1

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As Peter Shor has noted in the comments, the expression "There went but a pair of shears between us" means "We are cut from the same cloth". Lucio and the First Gentleman are humorously exchanging insults. Lucio calls the gentleman a wicked villain, and the gentleman counters by saying that Lucio too is cut from the same cloth: that is, Lucio is a villain as well. Lucio in turn says that there is as much difference between the gentleman and himself as there is between velvet and lists, i.e., between the unwoven bordering strips that surround the woven velvet. Those too would have had only a pair of shears between them, but velvet is valuable and the lists would have been worthless scraps of material.

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    And then the First Gentleman makes a pun on 3-piled velvet (i.e., thick velvet) with pilled/peeled (which is slang for bald), and calls Lucio bald. Then, as baldness is a symptom of syphilis, he brings syphilis (the "French disease" in). But Lucio implies that the First Gentleman, since he is so well acquainted with the symptoms of syphilis, must be familiar with them first-hand, to which the First Gentleman replies "I think I haue done my selfe wrong, haue I not". And after that, it keeps going!
    – Peter Shor
    Aug 21, 2023 at 2:12
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    @PeterShor Whoever wrote this stuff seems pretty clever.
    – Barmar
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:59

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