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Yellow Various terms for yellowish hues in Greek and Latin literature are applied to

hair, grain, sand, dawn, the sun, and gold. In modern literature it is

frequently the distinctive color of autumn or the harvest. Spensers personification

of Autumn is ‘‘all in yellow clad’’ (FQ 7.7.30). Shakespeare has ‘‘yellow

autumn’’ (Sonnets 104), Thomson ‘‘Autumns yellow lustre’’ (‘‘Autumn’’ 1322);

the grove is yellow in Popes ‘‘Autumn’’ (75). Related to this use is ‘‘the yellow

leaf’’ of age that Macbeth has fallen into (5.3.23); time will also affect ‘‘my

papers, yellowed with their age’’ (Sonnets 17).

Yellow may be a sign of disease as well as age, particularly jaundice (from

French jaune, ‘‘yellow’’), a disease affecting the yellow bile. Metaphorically

when one is jaundiced one is jealous, envious, or bilious (irascible) (see

Humor); speaking of fault-finding critics, Pope declares, ‘‘all looks yellow to

the Jaundicd Eye’’ (Essay on Criticism 559). At the climax of the Romance of the

Rose Jean plucks the rose despite ‘‘Jealousy with all its garland of marigolds’’

(21741--42); Chaucer imitates this with ‘‘Jalousye, / That wered of yelewe

gooldes a garland’’ (Knight’s Tale 1928--29). In his comic version of Oedipus,

Shelley has the usually saffron-robed Hymen ‘‘clothed in yellow jealousy’’

(1.283). Browning speaks of ‘‘making Envy yellow’’ (‘‘At the Mermaid’’’ 143).

In some countries during the Middle Ages traitors and heretics were made

to wear yellow; Jews wore a yellow star, a practice reimposed by the Nazi

regime. Paintings of Judas often had him in yellow clothing.

See Gold, Marigold.

Yew A ‘‘Cheerless, unsocial plant’’ (Blair, The Grave 22), the ‘‘dismal yew’’

(Shakespeare, Titus 2.3.107) is frequently found, like the cypress, in graveyards.

Gray puts one in his famous churchyard (Elegy 13); Verlaine sees ‘‘The little

yews of the cemetary / Tremble in the winter wind’’ (‘‘Sub Urbe’’); while Eliots

meditation on the grave in Part IV of ‘‘Burnt Norton’’ wonders if ‘‘Chill /

Fingers of yew be curled / Down on us?’’

It is presumably because yew berries and leaves are poisonous that the tree

acquired its deathly associations, and perhaps also because of its dark foliage.

It is not mentioned in the Bible, and it is not prominent in Greek literature;

words for it (milax, smilax, milos, etc.) often refer to other plants as well, such

as bryony. It was Latin writers who gave the yew (taxus) its distinctive meanings

and locations. A path sloping down to the underworld, according to Ovid,

is shaded by deadly yew trees (Metamorphoses 4.432); Seneca puts one by

Cocytus (Hercules 694); Lucans Erichtho in the underworld passes through a

wood shaded by ‘‘yews impervious to Phoebus’’ (6.654). Virgil calls the yew

‘‘harmful’’ (taxique nocentes, Georgics 2.257), Seneca ‘‘death-dealing’’ (mortifera . . .

taxus, Oedipus 555).

Another reason for its deadliness is its sturdy and flexible branches: as

Virgil notes, they make good bows (Georgics 2.448). In Chaucers catalog of trees

his epithet for the yew is ‘‘shetere’’ (shooter) (PF 180), while in Spensers similar

catalog he lists ‘‘The Eugh, obedient to the benders will’’ (FQ 1.1.9). Hence the

conceit in the report to King Richard that ‘‘Thy very beadsmen learn to bend

their bows / Of double-fatal yew against thy state’’ (R2 3.2.116--17).

Yoke A yoke is a burden or a bond or both. The burdensome aspect of being under

a yoke is the more frequently found, especially in the Old Testament, where

‘‘yoke’’ (Hebrew ’ol) usually refers to social or political subservience, though it

might sometimes refer to any law or government. Isaac tells Esau,

‘‘thou . . . shalt serve thy brother [Jacob]; and it shall come to pass when thou

shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck’’

(Gen. 27.40). ‘‘Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God,’’ Moses warns his

people, ‘‘Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies,’’ and the Lord ‘‘shall put a

yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee’’ (Deut. 28.47--48). The

Lord tells Ezekiel, I shall break there the yokes of Egypt’’ (Ezek. 30.18). The

phrase ‘‘to break the yoke’’ occurs over a dozen times.

In the New Testament, Jesus says that to follow him is to assume a new and

lighter yoke. ‘‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and

lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. / For my yoke is easy,

and my burden is light’’ (Matt. 11.29--30).

A ‘‘yoke’’ of oxen or other beasts meant a pair, as in 1 Samuel 11.7 and Luke

14.19; Job had ‘‘five hundred yoke of oxen’’ (1.3). Hence it meant (once in the

New Testament) a bond between two people or groups. Paul addresses his

friend or friends as ‘‘true yokefellow’’ (suzuge) among his ‘‘fellowlabourers’’ at

Philippi (Phil. 4.3). The original Greek of Jesus famous saying ‘‘What therefore

God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’’ (Matt. 19.6) uses

sunezeuxen, ‘‘yoked together’’; in fact English ‘‘join’’ derives through French

from Latin iungere, ‘‘to yoke.’’

Classical Greek often uses ‘‘yoke’’ (zeugos) as a pair of anything. So Aeschylus

has the ‘‘yoke of the Atridae’’ in Agamemnon 44, the pair of brothers

Agamemnon and Menelaus. ‘‘To pull the same yoke’’ is the Greek equivalent of

‘‘to be in the same boat.’’ Odysseus, says Agamemnon, was my ‘‘zealous

yoke-fellow’’ at Troy (842).

To be ‘‘yoked in marriage’’ is commonplace, particularly in Sophocles and

Euripides, e.g., Oedipus Tyrannus 826, Bacchae 468. It is common in Latin, too, as

we read in Virgils Aeneid 4.28, where Dido still feels ‘‘joined’’ (iunxit) to her

dead husband. Horace reminds an impatient husband of a young girl that she

is not yet ready to submit to the yoke (Odes 2.5.1); here, surely, the sense of

‘‘burden’’ is also present, the duties of marriage. But ‘‘yoke’’ could mean

simply ‘‘mate’’ or ‘‘unite in sex,’’ as in Lucretius 5.962 and Ovid, Met. 14.762.

Sappho uses ‘‘yokemate’’ (syndugos) to mean ‘‘spouse’’ (frag. 213). Euripides

often uses ‘‘unyoked’’ (azux) to mean ‘‘unmarried’’ or ‘‘virgin,’’ as in Bacchae

694, ‘‘maidens still unyoked.’’ The chorus of the Hippolytus speaks of the ‘‘foal

[daughter] of Oechalia formerly unyoked (azuga) to a marriage bed’’ now

‘‘yoked’’ (zeuxas’) to Heracles by Aphrodite (545--48). Venus likes to place

incompatible bodies and minds, Horace writes, under her ‘‘yoke of bronze’’

(1.33.10--11). In Latin, coniunx is common for ‘‘spouse’’ (or ‘‘concubine’’).

Catullus wedding hymn, for example, concludes by blessing the ‘‘good wedded

couple’’ (boni coniuges) (61.225--26). The verb coniugo meant ‘‘unite in marriage’’;

from the adjective coniugalis comes English ‘‘conjugal,’’ meaning ‘‘marital.’’

Among the epithets of Juno, goddess of marriage, are Iuga and Iugalis.

The Greeks were fond of the ‘‘yoke of necessity’’ image. Prometheus feels

such a yoke on the rock in Aeschylus, Prometheus 108, where it is almost literal;

Hermes later calls him a colt newly yoked (1009); Io asks Zeus why she too is

yoked in her sufferings (578). Sometimes ‘‘yoke’’ might be translated ‘‘harness,’’

as in the passage about the colt; in the Choephorae the colt (Orestes) is yoked or

harnessed to a chariot of distress (if the text is correct at 795). Sometimes

‘‘harness’’ or ‘‘strap’’ serves the same meaning, as when Agamemnon ‘‘donned

the harness of necessity’’ (Aeschylus, Agamemnon 218). In that play Cassandra

has taken on the ‘‘yoke of slavery’’ (953) and then is told again by the chorus

to yield to necessity and ‘‘take on this new yoke’’ (1071). Men are ‘‘yoked to

fate’’ in Pindar, Nem. 7.6.

The ‘‘yoke of slavery’’ is found in Sophocles, Ajax 944, and several other

places in Greek and Latin. The herald in the Agamemnon reports that his king

has ‘‘cast a yoke on the neck of Troy’’ (529). ‘‘To send under the yoke’’ (sub

iugum mittere) was a standard phrase in Latin for formally defeating an enemy,

and indeed there was a ceremony, described in Livy 9.6.1ff., in which an army

was made to pass under a yoke, which may have been an arrangement of

three spears. Latin subiungo (or subiugo) is the origin of English ‘‘subjugate’’;

see Virgil, Aeneid 8.502.

In deploying the ‘‘yoke of marriage’’ image Chaucer explicitly wards off the

suggestion of subservience, where he has one of the subjects of a lord advise

him: ‘‘Boweth your nekke under that blisful yok / Of soveraynetee, noght of

servyse, / Which that men clepe spousaille or wedlok’’ (Clerk’s Tale 113--15).

Spenser, on the other hand, gives a brief catalog of ‘‘Proud wemen, vaine,

forgetfull of their yoke’’ (FQ 1.5.50); he also has ‘‘Cupids yoke’’ (Colin Clout 566).

When Shakespeares Hermia refuses to wed the man her father chooses, she

says she would rather live as a nun than ‘‘yield my virgin patent up / Unto his

lordship whose unwished yoke / My soul consents not to give sovereignty’’

(MND 1.1.80--82). Though it is not yet a question of marriage, Racines Aricie

says her pride ‘‘has never bent under the amorous yoke’’ until now (Phиdre


The yoke of political subjugation is often used by Shakespeare in his

historical plays. Northumberland is ready to ‘‘shake off our slavish yoke’’ under

Richard II (R2 2.1.291), Richmond rallies his friends ‘‘Bruised underneath the

yoke of tyranny’’ of Richard III (R3 5.2.2), and Malcolm tells Macduff, ‘‘I think

our country sinks beneath the yoke’’ of Macbeth (Macbeth 4.3.39).

To Miltons Satan Gods government is a yoke to be cast off (PL 4.975, 5.786);

and Mammon unwittingly evokes the yoke of Christ when he declares he

prefers ‘‘Hard liberty before the easy yoke / Of servile pomp’’ (2.256--57). But

after the fall Adam acknowledges the sin of rebellion ‘‘against God and his

just yoke / Laid on our necks’’ (10.1045--46).

Part of the ideology of English political reformers in the seventeenth

century and afterward was the notion of the ‘‘Norman Yoke’’ forced upon

England by William the Conqueror in 1066. Similar phrases turn up in the

literature of many countries with a history of foreign subjugation. As the

Swiss contemplate revolting against Austrian rule, one of them, according to

Schiller, draws a parallel: ‘‘The docile and domesticated ox, / That friend of

man, who bends his burdened neck / So patiently beneath the yoke, will leap /

When he is angered, whet his mighty horns, / And throw his enemy up

toward the clouds’’ (Wilhelm Tell 1.651--55, trans. Jordan).