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I find it a bit hard to understand this epitaph of the deer in Act 4, scene 2 in Love's Labour's Lost:

The preyful princess pierced and prick'd a pretty pleasing pricket;

Some say a sore; but not a sore, till now made sore with shooting.

The dogs did yell: put L to sore, then sorel jumps from thicket;

Or pricket sore, or else sorel; the people fall a-hooting.

If sore be sore, then L to sore makes fifty sores one sorel.

Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L.

I get only the following wordplay but not enough for the whole thing:

sorel = young deer

pricket = young deer

L (in the last line) = roman numeral for fifty.

What do the following mean?

  • sore (second line first half),
  • L to sore (third line),
  • whole fifth line
  • sore (last line),
2

Below is the text as given in the First Folio:

The prayfull Princesse pearst and prickt
a prettie pleasing Pricket,
Some say a Sore, but not a sore,
till now made sore with shooting.
The Dogges did yell, put ell to Sore,
then Sorell iumps from thicket:
Or Pricket-sore, or else Sorell,
the people fall a hooting.
If Sore be sore, then ell to Sore,
makes fiftie sores O sorell:
Of one sore I an hundred make
by adding but one more L.

Pricket, as already mentioned in the question, means "male deer in its second year, whose antlers have not yet branched" (Wiktionary).

Some say a Sore, but not a sore, till now made sore with shooting.

These lines contain a play on two meanings of "sore": (1) a buck in its fourth year (which may be an allusion to "haud credo" at the beginning of the scene) and (2) the buck being made "sore" (having pain) by the princess's arrow.

The Dogges did yell, put ell to Sore, then Sorell iumps from thicket:

"L" (or "ell" in the Folio) was "pronounc[ed] with a prosthetic 'y' by the Elizabethans, so that it sounded like 'yell'" (Kerrigan, page 191). Hence, "ell" is involved in two word plays: (1) with the dogs' "yell" (i.e. bay) and (2) adding "ell" to "sore" gives "sorell", i.e. a buck in its third year (see Hibbard, page 155).

Or Pricket-sore, or else Sorell, the people fall a hooting.

"Regardless whether it was a sore/wounded sore or a sorel(l), the people started shouting. (Kerrigan mentions that they might have shouted, "Sola, sola", without explaining why that is relevant here.) Kerrigan thinks that "Pricket-sore" and "Sorell" may be bawdy without explaining how. Eric Partridge's Shakespeare's Bawdy has no entries for "sore", "sorel" or "pricket"; it has an entry for prick, which does not require an explanation.

If Sore be sore, then ell to Sore, makes fiftie sores O sorell:

If it is a sore (a buck in its fourth year) that is sore (wounded), then adding L (Roman numeral 50)/ell to sore, makes (both) fifty sores and sorell.

Of one sore I an hundred make by adding but one more L.

Adding one more L (50) to L gives a hundred; but "more L" may also be a play on "moral" (i.e. the story's moral).


Sources (other than Wiktionary):

  • Love's Labour's Lost. Edited by G. R. Hibbard. The Oxford Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • Love's Labour's Lost. Edited by John Kerrigan. The New Penguin Shakespeare. [1982] Reprinted with revised Further Reading. London: Penguin, 1996.
  • Partridge, Eric: Shakespeare's Bawdy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.
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  • Of one sore I an hundred make / by adding but one more L is also a typographic pun, since the majuscule I looks like minuscule l. – verbose Apr 15 at 5:28
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It's entirely possible that Thomas Nashe wrote this passage, which would account for its dated references.

Hunting deer was a sport for the upper class in Shakespeare's England, with its own terminology. A one-year-old deer was a buck, at two a pricket, at three a sorrell, at four a soare. The passage has a little fun by confusing sore and soare, then soare and sorrell.

In the second line, then, only the third "sore" should be "sore," the others are "soare." In the third line, he adds the letter L to soare to get sorrell (in some versions it's ell, not L, playing on yell).

In the fifth line, the letter ell becomes the number L. The difference between soare and sorrell becomes fifty, so Holofernes (naturally) multiplies. Thus sorrell = soare * 50. Some versions use O instead of one.

The last line extends the previous "calculation" by adding another L to get 50 + 50, or 100. There could be a play here on the soft S, which looked like f (or 1), but I doubt it.

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  • Thank you! Now that I do get it, I think it's a bit tedious w.r.t. the wordplays. What's L in the third line "put L to sore" and what does the yelling of the dogs have to do with the putting of an ell to sore? – Yogesch Aug 13 '17 at 2:34
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    By "put" he means put another letter on the end of the word. The correspondence between "yell" and "ell" is just that, a coincidence of sounds, a type of wordplay. Audiences loved that kind of thing. – Ralph Crown Aug 13 '17 at 4:18
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    The tediousness is part of the point. That they find such word play worth spending so much time on is a characterization. – Mary Nov 30 '20 at 2:09
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"Sore" also means "deer". From "Sport on Dartmoor", 1895, reprinted in Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art:

The Fallow-deer, now a much more favourite animal for the table, but seldom hunted except in the New Forest, was a Fawn the first year,
Pricket the second year,
Sorel the third year,
Sore the fourth year,
Buck of the first head, the fifth year, and a Buck, or a Great Buck, the sixth year and afterwards

So, they're arguing about just how old the deer was. It was a "sore" (deer) made "sore" (painful) by shooting at it. But adding an "L" to "sore" makes "sorel" or "sore L", either a younger deer or 50 of them.

I can't quite parse how he's supposed to make 100 out of that, except perhaps by adding "one more L" as in "fifty more". (I don't think the wordplay quite works.)

(A red deer, by contrast, was a calf, brocket, spayad, staggard, stag, and a hart, respectively.)

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    The OED says that in the 16th century, sorel could also be spelled sorell (as well as a bunch more spellings). So two L's make 100. – Peter Shor Sep 15 '20 at 0:32

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