'At Stake' - a suggested origin

Posted by James Briggs on December 20, 2004

I hadd the following message sent to me today. I thought that I'd pass it on. Looks as if it could be authentic. Personally, I've never found an origin.

In Shakespeare the Complete Works edited by GB Harrison, copyright 1948, appendix 5, pages 1634,1635 the practice of bear baiting is discussed. As a form of entertainment a bear was tethered to a stake and 4 or 5 mastiffs were set upon the bear. The dogs were removed before the bear was killed. Bets were placed, but the text doesn't state whether the bet were upon which dog would be killed first or how long the bear would last. This is apparently the origin of having money "at the stake" or "at stake".

Apparently a similar form of entertainment involved a loose bull and dogs, but the sport continued until the bull was killed.

This text references another text for more on the sport of bear and bull baiting - EK Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage Vol II PP 448-71.

Sharon Shieh
Chicago, USA