What is the meaning of the Shakespeare line, "Oh what a tangled web we weave"?


The quote, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive," describes how deception creates complicated, intertwined situations which require further lying. Often misquoted as Shakespeare, this quote is actually from Canto VI, section XVII of the poem "Marmion," written by Sir Walter Scott in 1808.

In the poem, the character of Lord Marmion engages in deceit to obtain Clara, the fiancée of Sir Ralph De Wilton, for himself. Wilton is accused of treason by Marmion and flees the country. When Wilton re-enters, disguised as a pilgrim, he pleas before the Scottish court. His innocence is uncovered with the help of Constance, a nun who was Marmion's lover. Wilton is awarded his armor, but Marmion is killed in battle before the two men meet. Clara comes out of hiding, and she and Wilton are married.

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