TRIVIAL PURSUITS: What Is the Origin of the Phrase ‘There’s the Rub’?

You may know the phrase “Ay, there’s the rub,” from Shakespeare’s "Hamlet."

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” when Hamlet was contemplating suicide, he said, ““To sleep; perchance to dream: ay there’s the rub: for in that sleep of death what dreams may come?”

But, what does “the rub” mean and from where did it originate?

“Rub” in this sense means drawback or impediment. Most sources say it comes from the ancient game of bowls—the ancestor of the game bocce ball—in which a ball (known as a bowl) is rolled toward a smaller stationary ball, called a jack. The object is to roll one’s bowls so that they come to rest nearer to the jack than those of an opponent. A rub is a flaw in the playing surface that interferes with the ball’s trajectory.

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