Rest you merry!


The title of the carol “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” – the only Christmas carol that Dickens included in “A Christmas Carol” – has a construction that is strange to our ears. This is for three reasons. The first is that it’s grammatically incorrect. The archaic word “ye” is in the wrong case, and there is some speculation that it was changed (from the correct “you”) after the fact to make the carol sound more quaint. This is why you see some revisionist texts where the carol is actually called “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen.” Secondly, the word “rest” here is used in an archaic sense and means “keep.” Shakespeare used the contemporary (and grammatically correct) phrase rest you merry in “Romeo & Juliet” (I.ii.83) over a century before the carol, when it basically meant “peace and happiness to you.” Lastly, notice the comma after the word “merry.” The sentiment being expressed is the hope that God rests (keeps) you merry, gentlemen – in other words, the subjects of the carol are not “merry gentlemen” who needed rest. And that first line in the second verse: “In Bethlehem, in Jewry,” is a reference to the land of the Israelites, not to an “injury!”

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