I find it a bit hard to understand this epitaph of the deer 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),

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.

  • 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

"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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