19 Wild-goose chase 徒劳无果

19 Wild-goose chase 徒劳无果




It was early in the evening. William Shakespeare is at home. He's expecting a visit from his actor friend Robert Harley.

Robert Harley: Good evening, Mr Shakespeare.

Will: Welcome, welcome Robert! Come in.

Daughter: Good evening Mister Harley…

Robert Harley: Miss Shakespeare… I'm sorry I’m late - I was out horse riding. It was wonderful - so fast, so exciting!

Will: Ahhh, the wild-goose chase! Take care when you race that way young Robert, we don't want to spoil those good looks of yours…

Daughter: Why is it called a wild-goose chase? It's a horse race! They're not chasing geese!

Will: Dear daughter, a wild-goose chase is indeed a kind of horse race. The riders have to follow one horse, keeping up with him wherever he goes, just as wild geese follow the leader when they fly.

Daughter: Ohhh… I expect you kept up with him very well, Robert…!

Will: Thank you, daughter. Now to the play: Romeo and Juliet. Robert, you are playing Mercutio, Romeo's best friend. In this scene, there is a different kind of wild-goose chase. This chase is all about words and jokes. Mercutio and Romeo are competing with each other: each of them trying to tell the cleverest and funniest jokes.

Robert: A competition of intelligence, of wits and quick thinking!

Daughter: Mercutio will win, won't he!? He is handsome - and clever!

Will: Mercutio is indeed quick-witted, but Romeo is better - much better, and Mercutio knows it - so he gives up this wild-goose chase before it even starts, saying: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase…

Robert as Mercutio: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.


We'll leave them there for now. Romeo and Juliet is a play about young love, but it also has lots of fighting, with both weapons and words. Here, Shakespeare compares Romeo and Mercutio's duelling with words to a wild and dangerous horse race, called a wild-goose chase. In modern English, a wild-goose chase isn't about horses, or geese: it describes a situation where you foolishly chase after something that is impossible to get - or doesn't exist at all. Take US writer Bryant McGill, who said:

Clip 1

Endless consumerism sends us on a wild-goose chase for happiness through materialism.

Clip 2

We looked for the restaurant for hours, but it was a wild-goose chase: turned out that it closed down years ago!

Robert: So, no wild-goose chase for Mercutio.

Daughter: You could chase me, though Robert…

Robert: Oh dear… to chase, or not to chase: that really isn't a question.