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It's a multiple play on words, based on the double meaning of "come to dust".
At one level, "come to dust" = "die and be reduced to dust". So it means "Golden lads and girls" (i.e the most worthy people) die just the same as lowly ones like chimney sweepers.
But the joke is that chimney sweepers also literally "come to dust" = "arrive to clean dust (from the chimney)".
Some commentaries also note a third possible meaning (see Google Books http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ZGpco... ): that "chimney-sweepers" was the dialect name for a plant of the Plantago species whose head eventually disintegrates to dust. The same reference notes that "golden" in Shakespeare is "a term of praise and value", not meaning rich or the like.
Answers to this one are good so far. However...there's more to this than meets the eye.
In victorian times, children - particularly children - were used to sweep chimneys - and many of them did actually come to dust, because during those times there were no such things as health and safety rules and regulations, no safety gear such as masks to prevent chemicals from getting into the lungs and so on. Many children did die as a result of illnesses - or indeed accidents - that occurred during the victorian times as a result of being a chimney sweep. They may have started clean, and have had a relatively good bill of health, but the work would have caused respiratory issues, and in some cases there were more severe illnesses brought on as a result of this form of employment. Children did not get an easy life - particularly in England - during this time.
Source(s):Used to work in a victorian themed 'working' museum. Hated it, but I remember a lot about it.
Both secular science and the Bible (the Word of God) state that Mankind was formed from dust. Read Genesis, and check on Ecclesiastes 3:20. From dust you came, and to dust you shall return. If you haven't read the Bible, you're not fully educated, and there's no reason to remain biblically illiterate and not fully educated. In the Bible, man is formed from the dust of the earth. According to secular science's "Big Bang Theory," man was formed from star dust.
"Golden Lads" was apparently Warwickshire (Stratford upon Avon is in Warwickshire) vernacular for a dandelion when blooming, and "chimney sweeper" for a dandelion when it is blown to seed, or so I've heard. It's a metaphor, with different layers of meaning.
Source(s):Numerous web references (suspect, I know), but nothing definitive. And as with all things Shakepearean, there's huge debate.
maybe when there are rich men and the gold-diggers (girls) who are, in this case, chimney-sweepers, and have not-so-great-paying-jobs have to serve them or something? idk just a guess
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What does "Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust" mean?
What does this quote mean?