Shakespeare’s Con Game


A group of friends and I have been recently reading Shakespeare’s delightful comedy, Love’s Labours Lost. My antenna immediately pricked up at the following lines:


Villain, thou shalt fast for thy offenses ere thou be pardoned.


Well, sir, I hope when I do it I shall do it on a full stomach.


Thou shalt be heavily punished.


I am more bound to you than your fellows, for they are but lightly rewarded.


Take away this villain, shut him up.


Come, you transgressing slave, away.


Let me not be pent up, sir; I will fast, being loose.


No, sir, that were fast and loose; thou shalt to prison.

Shakespeare cleverly packs in multiple puns here. First Armando declares that the clown Costard shall have to fast in prison. But Costard replies that, “I will fast, being loose”—that is, he’ll be able to run more quickly, if only he were free. And Moth tops both of them, saying that Costard’s scheme is “fast and loose”: that is, a scam, akin to a contemporaneous con game, commonly called “Fast and Loose.” He’s saying Costard’s proposal is a scam. But with even more complexity, simultaneously, there’s an additional pun on the phrase “fast and loose,” because it also means “in an irresponsible manner,” as in the phrase, “playing fast and loose with the truth.” And indeed, Costard plays fast and loose with the truth.

But what is of interest right now to this blog is the con game. Fast and Loose is a scam that’s been around for a very long time in one form or another. I had the strange pleasure a few weeks ago of seeing one of my immigrant high school students trying to extract money from his classmates using this ruse. I had to intervene and warn the student that I knew exactly what he was up to.

It’s always best to learn from an expert cheat, so you can click on the video above and watch the expert magician and historian of confidence games, Ricky Jay, demonstrate just what the scam looks like to its pigeons.

Thanks to YouTuber trancehi

2 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Con Game

  1. This commentary was so enlightening, Jack!

    look forward to reading your posts everyday, in fact!!

    As always your biggest fan,
    Donna Elliott

Leave a Reply