A Cock and Bull Story?

(Feb 4th – G9)

 

The final moments of Sterne’s novel define the entire text. When asked the meaning of an anecdote Yorick replies that the story is about “a cock and bull […] and one of the best of its kind, I ever heard,” (588). It’s a funny and disarming line. As evidenced in its usage as the title on the back of the Penguin Classics edition and as the subtitle for Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, it’s also quite essential to understanding the text.

The terms “Cock” and “Bull” can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. The expression “cock and bull” was widely used before Sterne’s novel, and as the Oxford English Dictionary online illustrates was first used in 1660, and its definition was derived from a variety of sources. The OED defines “cock and bull” as  “(to tell) a long rambling, idle story; tedious, disconnected, or misleading talk.”  This is an important definition, and partially sums up the entirety of Sterne’s text. Tristram Shandy is extremely long for it’s subject matter, sometimes infuriating, and goes of on wild, unnecessary tangents and digressions. The use of this line gives credence to the idea that The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is just one massive “cock and bull story.” However, there is more to the text.

In telling an amusing anecdote about a bull, Yorick is also summing up the life of Tristram. The bull “went through [his] business with a grave face, my father had a high opinion of him,” (588). This can be seen as suggesting Tristram’s father is much like the bull. Earlier, Tristram’s father states that “philosophy speaks free of everything,” (586). In taking these two statements, it is evident that, while Tristram’s life story may be somewhat of a cock and bull story, (with the final anecdote of the bull as a kind of metaphor for Sterne’s entire text), it doesn’t make it meaningless, and everything deserves to be philosophized, even if it be something as silly as a cock and bull story. In the case of Sterne, he wasn’t so much as telling a story, but making the proverbial statement that has been echoed by authors even into the twentieth century; no life, no matter how small, or inconsequential, is meaningless.

 

 

 

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/35359?redirectedFrom=cock+and+bull#eid

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One Response to A Cock and Bull Story?

  1. marianela33 says:

    “The expression “cock and bull” was widely used before Sterne’s novel, and as the Oxford English Dictionary online illustrates was first used in 1660, and its definition was derived from a variety of sources”
    I disagree, read: http://ecf.humanities.mcmaster.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2015/09/loveridge.pdf
    Friendly, Marianela

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