A plague upon them

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Senior Member
Hello. I am reading Tales from the Alhambra, by W. Irving, and I am afraid I do not know what to make of this paragraph: "A plague upon them," he would say to
himself, " they '11 betray all. Did ever mortal hear of such a way to guard a secret?"
He is talking about the statues, which I think are the object/subject, but I do not see how he wished a plague to fall on them. Is he casting a spell on them, sort of thing, just because he is unable to unveil the secret? Is it because the statues refuse to turn their heads? "... they'll betray all" meaning no one will ever discover the secret, I guess.
Thanks in advance for your kind cooperation.
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    He is cursing them. It appears to be an allusion to "A plague on both your houses" from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, where Mercutio curses both the Montague and Capulet families ("houses"). He does, as you say, wish a plague to fall on them, although what effect a plague would have on statues I could not say.

    By "a plague", we usually think of the plagues of Egypt in the Bible, rather than bubonic plague or any similar disease (which would be "the plague").


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    He is wishing it rhetorically. It's a way for him to vent his anger at them. I don't think he expects anything to result from it.

    It's equivalent to:

    Let there be a plague upon them...


    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Keep in mind Irving is writing in the 1830s and many of his words and usages will be quaint or old fashioned to us now. He is also a self consciously poetic literary writer about travel and history.
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