The opening song of the Sweeney Todd musical contains the following passage about his wife:
There was another man who saw
that she was beautiful…
A pious vulture of the law
who, with a gesture of his claw
removed the barber from his plate!
Then there was nothing but to wait!
And she would fall!
So lost and oh so beautiful!
Can anyone explain the definition of the word “plate” in this context? I can’t find any definition that makes sense in its usage above. Perhaps it is an old English word?
Here, the meaning is, “The [vulture of the law] removed the barber from [the vulture’s] plate.”
This is a formulation of the idiom off one’s plate:
No longer a matter of one’s responsibility and concern
(Compare with the related too much on one’s plate.)
In this idiomatic context, one’s “plate” is the set of concerns one is trying to resolve.
The judge (the “vulture of the law”) wanted to get access to the barber’s wife; the barber himself was a matter of concern for the judge in achieving this end. When the judge eliminated the barber as a concern, he “removed the barber from his plate”.