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“—if I were as tedious as a king, I could find in my heart to bestow it all of your worship"-Hazlitt remarks upon the quaint blundering of the inimitable Dogberry and Verges, that they are "a standing record of that formal gravity of pretension, and total want of common understanding, which Shakespeare, no doubt, copied from real life; and which, in the course of two hundred years, appear to have ascended from the lowest to the highest offices of the state." The political sarcasm, as to the inheritance of the wisdom of these functionaries, has, I hope, but little application on our side of the Atlantic; but the desire to bestow all their tediousness upon their friends is, unquestionably, a characteristic in which the public men of America are not a jot behind the municipal dignitaries of the Messina watch.
ACT IV.-SCENE I.
"--some be of laughing, as, ha! ha! he!"-Benedick quotes from the "Accidence."
word too LARGE"-"So he uses 'large' jests, in this play, for licentious-not restrained within due bounds."-JOHNSON.
"Out on THE seeming"-The original quarto and folio have, "Out on thee seeming," which Collier alone, of modern editors, retains; understanding it that Claudio addresses Hero as the personification of "seeming," or hypocrisy. Pope, followed by many others, altered the phrase to "Out on thy seeming;" which gives a good sense, and is a probable correction. We have, however, preferred that of Knight, as most congruous to the context; and think, with him, that the sense is"Out on the specious resemblance-I will write against it" that is, against this false representation, along with this deceiving portrait
You seem to me as Dian in her orb, etc.
"True? O God!"-This is Hero's exclamation on John's assertion-"these things are true." It is usually printed as if Hero answered, "True, O God!" to Benedick's observation, "This looks not like a nuptial."
"— a LIBERAL villain”—i. e. Licentiously free; as, in OTHELLO-"Is he not a most profane and liberal counsellor ?"
"Fie, fie! they are not to be nam'd, my lord,
Not to be SPOKEN of," etc.
This is the metrical arrangement of the two original editions, of which, until Collier, all later editors attempted to make what they thought a more regular metre, by printing—
Not to be nam'd, my lord, not to be spoke of. The quarto of 1600 has spoke, the folio (1623) spoken; which I mention as indicating the gradual increase of attention to stricter grammatical distinctions.
"The story that is printed in her blood"-"The story that her blushing discovers to be true."-JOHNSON. This explanation has been doubted, but it is confirmed, as the Poet's thought, by the Friar's notice of the "blushing apparitions on her face."
"-frugal nature's FRAME"-i. e. Ordinance, arrangement, or framing of things; as in this play it is said of John
His spirits toil in frame of villainies.
"Who SMIRCHED thus"-The folio substitutes smeared for "smirched" in the quarto. "Smirched" is also found in HAMLET, As You LIKE IT, etc.; but, as Nares (Glossary) informs us, has hitherto been found in no other author. Our Poet was fond of using it. We have "smirched" in this play in the sense of soiled.
BEAT away those blushes"-We follow Collier in retaining "beat," the reading of the original quarto, (1600;) printed in the folio, and all other editions,
"—we RACK the value”-i. e. We raise the estimate to the utmost-a sense now retained only in the phrase
"-count confect"-Beatrice gives him this title in contempt. We still speak of caraway confects. She first calls him "count," and then mentions his title, "count confect"-"a sweet gallant, surely!" This is the old reading, which, without reason, has been changed to "a goodly count-confect."
"Sexton"-He is called "town-clerk" in the old stage-directions, probably because, being able to read and write, he acted as clerk for the town, or for such of the inhabitants as had not his accomplishments.
ACT V.-SCENE I.
"Cry-sorrow wag!"-" And sorrow, wag! cry hem, when he should groan,' is the reading of the old quarto, and of the folios, which may be reconciled to sense, and therefore ought not to be disturbed. The meaning is clear, though not clearly expressed. And, sorrow, wag,' is, and sorrow away! (for which, indeed, it may have been misprinted;) similar to the exclamation, care, away!' The reading substituted by the commentators has usually been
Cry, sorrow wag! and hem, when he should groanrequires merely the transposition of cry with and-a correction of a very common sort of error-and the sense is then so clear that it has been generally adopted. Knight, however, adopts Johnson's first suggestion, which gives the same sense, though harshly expressedAnd, sorrow wag! cry hem; when he should groan. "Sorrow go by!" is said to be still a common Scotism. "With CANDLE-WASTERS"-By "candle-wasters" is probably meant drunkards, or midnight revellers. There is, however, a passage in Ben Jonson's "Cynthia's Revels," (act iii. scene 2,) which seems to show that the epithet was applied, in ridicule, to students"Spoiled by a whoreson book-worm, a candle-waster." Leonato may mean to say, that a misfortune like his is not to be drugged, or made drunk, by the book-philosophy of mere theorists. His whole speech is directed against comforters of this description.
"-louder than ADVERTISEMENT"-i. e. Than admonition; than moral instruction.
"And made a PUSH"-Pope and others print this, "make a pish"-i. e. treat with contempt; but": push" is the reading of the old copies, that being the old mode of spelling. Collier refers to instances in proof of it, in Beaumont and Fletcher's "Maids' Revenge" in Chapman's "Gentleman Usher;" and repeatedly in Middleton's plays. Boswell would derive the expression from fencing, and tells us that, "to make a push at any thing is to contend against it, or defy it." Shakespeare's meaning is evident, taking "push" as an interjection.
"Come, follow me, boy! come, sir boy, come, follow me." "Stevens destroys this most characteristic line-and his reading is that of all popular editions-by his old fashion of metre-mongering. He reads
Come, follow me, boy; come, boy, follow me."
- your FOINING fence"-i. e. Thrusting. "as we do the minstrels"-i. e. As we bid minstrels draw their instruments out of their cases.
he knows how to turn his girdle"-Stevens says that the Irish have an expression corresponding to that quoted:-"If he is angry, let him tie up his brogues." He supposes both phrases merely to mean, that the angry man should employ himself till he is in a better humour. Instances are quoted to show that it was a common expression of defiance. Mr. Holt White plausibly accounts for the origin of the term, by saying that the buckle was usually worn in front of the belt; but, in wrestling, it was turned behind, in order to give the adversary a fairer grasp at the girdle.
"-Shall I not find a woodcock too"-A jesting allusion to the supposed fact that the woodcock has no brains, and is therefore easily caught; alluding to the success of the plot against Benedick. The joke is common in old plays.
But, soft you; let ME be"-Most modern editions read, 'let be," in opposition to the older, which have, "let me be;" meaning merely "let me alone." Let be is, however, good old colloquial English for "Let things be as they are."
"INCENSED me to slander"-i. e. "Incited me. The word is used in the same sense in RICHARD III. and HENRY VIII."-M. MASON.
"Art THOU the slave"-The folio repeats thou-" Art thou, thou, the slave?" which Knight retains, as expressive of passion. It may be right, but it rather seems an accidental repetition, such as often occurs. The quarto reading is as in our text, and the metre agrees with it.
Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb"-It was the custom to attach, upon the tomb of celebrated persons, a written inscription, either in prose or verse, generally in praise of the deceased. (See Bayle, in "Aretin, [Pierre,"] note H.)
"And she alone is heir to both of us"-This appears to be a lapse of memory in the author, as mention is made, in act i. scene 2, of a son of Antonio.
“— was PACKED in all this wrong"-The old copies have packt, which Collier prints pact, and explains bargain, or contract; Margaret, one party to the pact, being spoken of as the contract itself. We read, with all the other editors, "packed," in the sense retained in speaking of a "packed jury," combined, an accomplice,a sense common in SHAKESPEARE; as, "Were he not pack'd with her," (COMEDY OF ERRORS;) "There's packing," etc., (TAMING OF THE SHREW.) Bacon uses it in the same way.
"God save the foundation"-This was a customary old phrase with those who received alms at the gates of religious houses.
"this LEWD fellow"-" Here 'lewd' has not the common meaning, nor can it be used in the more uncommon sense of ignorant; but rather means knavish, ungracious, naughty, which are the synonymes used with it in explaining the Latin pravus, in dictionaries of the sixteenth century."-SINGER.
I give thee the bucklers"-To "give the bucklers" was to yield the victory; by which an enemy obtained his adversary's shield, and retained his own. The phrase was proverbial.
"How pitiful I deserve"-The beginning of an old ballad by William Elderton.
"An old, an old instance"-The words " an old" are repeated in the quarto, as well as in the folios, for greater emphasis.
"HEAVENLY, HEAVENLY"-We have here, with Knight, followed the reading of the folios, in preference to the quarto, which has "Heavily, heavily." To utter is here to put out-to eject. Death is expelled "heavenly"-by the power of heaven. The passage has evidently reference to the sublime verse in "Corinthians." All the other editors have read, "Heavily, heavily," and understand, with Boswell, "till death be spoken of," or, with Stevens, "till songs of death be uttered;" and then heavily would be appropriate. The folio reading seems to me more poetical and probable, and the sense at least as clear.
"This same is she"-The old copies give this speech to Leonato; but, since Theobald, it has been arbitrarily assigned to Antonio.
the Poet throws a spirit and variety into the answer, by making it
Troth, no; no more than reason. Stevens cuts out the "troth:" the metre (says he) is overloaded. It would matter little what Stevens did with his own edition, but he has furnished the text of every popular edition of Shakespeare extant; and for this reason we feel it a duty perpetually to protest against his corruptions of the real text."-KNIGHT.
"get thee a wife: there is no staff more reverend than one tipped with horn"-The "staff" is marriage. Benedick supposes it to be a welcome and respectable support to so " giddy a thing as man," although he cannot avoid a final flout at the "horn," which forms the handle of the staff, and an emblem of the destiny which he has all along attributed to married men. Wit ness the "recheat in the forehead," etc. To this day, it is common to see old-fashioned sticks, or canes, surmounted with horn handles. Stevens and Malone will have it, that the allusion is to the baston, or "staff tipped with horn," used by combatants in the wager of battle; but we are not informed how the passage in the text is at all explained by the use of these weapons.
Coleridge has selected this comedy as affording a special example of a pervading characteristic of Shakespeare's dramas, which distinguishes them from those of all other dramatic poets. It is that of the independence of dramatic interest without the plot:
"The interest (says he) in the plot is on account of the characters, not vice versa, as in almost all other writers; the plot is a mere canvass, and no more. Hence arises the true justification of the same stratagem being used in regard to Benedick and Beatrice-the vanity in each being alike. Take away from MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING all that which is not indispensable to the plot, either as having little to do with it, or, at best, like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into the service, when any other less ingeniously absurd watchmen and nightconstables would have answered the mere necessities of the action; take away Benedick, Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the character of Heroand what will remain? In other writers the main agent of the plot is always the prominent character; in
Sakespeare it is so, or is not so, as the character is
self calculated, or not calculated, to form the plot. Don John is the main-spring of the plot of this play; but he is merely shown, and then withdrawn."
Among the most original and ingenious of the Shakespeare critics of Germany is Dr. Ulrici, whose "Essay on Shakespeare's Dramatic Wit, and his Relation to Calderon and Goethe" is founded mainly on the idea that Shakespeare's peculiar and essential difference from other dramatic poets consists in a view of human life suggested or unfolded by Christian revelation, in opposition to one derived from mythological paganism or natural reason. The reader will readily acknowledge a share of truth in this proposition; while, in the bold and unqualified manner in which it is announced, and the extent to which it is carried, it has much the air of paradoxical hypothesis. We are indebted to an excellent paper on Shakespearian literature, in the “Edinburgh Review," for 1840, for the following abridgment of Ulrici's analysis of the comedy before us :
"Ulrici's theory, as to the leading idea of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, is exceedingly ingenious. He considers the play as a representation of the contrast and contradiction between life, in its real essence, and the aspect which it presents to those who are engaged in its struggle. And this contradiction, he tells us, is set forth in an acted commentary on the title of the drama-a series of incidents which, in themselves neither real nor strange, nor important, are regarded by the actors as being all these things. The war at the opening, it is said, begins without reason and ends without result; Don Pedro seems to woo Hero for himself, while he gains her for his friend; Benedick and Beatrice, after carrying on a merry campaign of words without real enmity, are entrapped into marriage without real love; the leading story rests in a seeming faithlessness, and its results are a seeming death and funeral, a challenge which produces no fighting, and a marriage in which the bride is a pretender; and the weakness and shadowiness of human wishes and plans are exposed with yet more cutting irony in the means that bring about the fortunate catastrophe-an accident in which the unwitting agents, headed by Dogberry, the very representative of the idea of the piece, are the lowest and most stupid characters of the whole group. The Poet's readers may hesitate in following his speculative critic the whole way in this journey to the temple of abstract truth; but there can be no reasonable doubt that, for a long part of it, he has followed the right track. And it is interesting to trace how that great rule of the Poet, which Coleridge has set down as characteristic of himhis general avoidance of surprises-is here, as elsewhere, made subservient to the immediate purpose."
Campbell's remarks on this play are written in a more worldly spirit, and in a splenetic humour :
"I fully agree with the admirers of this play in their opinion as to the most of its striking merits. The scene of the young and guiltless heroine struck speechless by the accusation of her lover, and swooning at the foot of the nuptial altar, is deeply touching. There is eloquence in her speechlessness, and we may apply the words, Ipsa silentia terrent,' amidst the silence of those who have not the ready courage to defend her, while her father's harsh and hasty belief of her guilt crowns the pathos of her desolation. At this crisis, the exclamation of Beatrice, the sole believer in her innocence, 'O! on my soul, my cousin is belied,' is a relieving and glad voice in the wilderness, which almost reconciles me to Beatrice's otherwise disagreeable character. I agree also that Shakespeare has, all the while, afforded the means of softening our dismayed compassion for Hero, by our previous knowledge of her innocence, and we are sure that she shall be exculpated. Yet who, but Shakespeare, could dry our tears of interest for Hero, by so laughable an agent as the immortal Dogberry? I beg pardon for having allowed that Falstaff makes us forget all the other comic creations of our Poet. How
could I have overlooked you, my Launce, and my Launce's dog, and my Dogberry? To say that Falstaff makes us forget Dogberry is, as Dogberry himself would say, most tolerable and not to be endured. And yet Shakespeare, after pouncing on this ridiculous prey, springs up, forthwith, to high dramatic effect, in making Claudio, who had mistakenly accused Hero, so repentant as to consentingly marry another woman, her supposed cousin, under a veil, which, when it is lifted, displays his own vindicated bride, who had been supposed to have died of grief, but who is now restored to him, like another Alcestis, from the grave.
"At the same time, if Shakespeare were looking over my shoulder, I could not disguise some objections to this comedy, which involuntarily strike me as debarring it from ranking among our Poet's most enchanting dramas. I am on the whole, I trust, a liberal on the score of dramatic probability. Our fancy and its faith delighted withal; but, if I may use a vulgar saying, 'a are no niggards in believing whatsoever they may be willing horse should not be ridden too hard.' Our fanciful faith is misused when it is spurred and impelled to believe that Don John, without one particle of love for Hero, but out of mere personal spite to Claudio, should contrive the infernal treachery which made the latter assuredly jealous. Moreover, during one half of the play, we have a disagreeable female character in that of Beatrice. Her portrait, I may be told, is deeply drawn, and minutely finished. It is; and so is that of Benedick, who is entirely her counterpart, except that he is less disagreeable. But the best-drawn portraits by the finest masters may be admirable in execution, though unpleasant to contemplate, and Beatrice's portrait is in this category. She is a tartar, by Shakespeare's own showing, and, if a natural woman, is not a pleasing representative of the sex. In befriending Hero, she almost reconciles us to her, but not entirely; for a good heart, that shows itself only on extraordinary occasions, is no sufficient atonement for a bad temper, which Beatrice evidently shows. The marriage of the marriage-hating Benedick and the furiously anti-nuptial Beatrice is brought about by a trick. Their friends contrive to deceive them into a belief that they love each other, and partly by vanity-partly by a mutual affection, which had been disguised under the bickerings of their wit-they have their hands joined, and the consolations of religion are administered, by the priest who marries them, to the unhappy sufferers.
"Mrs. Jameson, in her characters of Shakespeare, concludes with hoping that Beatrice will live happy with Benedick; but I have no such hope; and my final anticipation in reading the play is the certainty that Beatrice will provoke her Benedick to give her much and just conjugal castigation. She is an odious woman. Her own cousin says of her
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
All matters else seem weak. She cannot love,
"I once knew such a pair; the lady was a perfect Beatrice; she railed hypocritically at wedlock before her marriage, and with bitter sincerity after it. She and her Benedick now live apart, but with entire reciprocity of sentiments, each devoutly wishing that the other may soon pass into a better world. Beatrice is not to be compared, but contrasted with Rosalind, who is equally witty; but the sparkling sayings of Rosalind are like gems upon her head at court, and like dewdrops on her bright hair in the woodland forest."
We extract this last criticism, partly in deference to Campbell's general exquisite taste and reverent appreciation of Shakespeare's genius, and partly as an example of the manner in which accidental personal associations influence taste and opinion. The critical poet seems to have unhappily suffered under the caprices or insolence of some accomplished but fantastical female
wit, whose resemblance he thinks he recognizes in Beatrice; and then vents the offences of the belle of Edinburgh, or London, upon her prototype of Messina, or more probably of the court of Queen Elizabeth. Those who, without encountering any such unlucky cause of personal prejudice, have looked long enough upon the rapidly passing generations of wits and beauties in the gay world to have noted their characters as they first appeared, and subsequently developed themselves in after life, will pronounce a very different judgment. Beatrice's faults are such as ordinarily spring from the consciousness of talent and beauty, accompanied with the high spirits of youth and health, and the play of a lively fancy. Her brilliant intellectual qualities are associated with strong and generous feelings, high confidence in female truth and virtue, warm attachment to her friends, and quick, undisguised indignation at wrong and injustice. There is the rich material, which the experience and the sorrows of maturer life, the affection and the duties of the wife and the mother, can gradually shape into the noblest forms of matronly excellence; and
such, we doubt not, was the result shown in the married life of Beatrice.
The objection to the character of the Bastard John goes deeper into the sources of human action. It denies the truth of such a character, for reasons which would apply also to that of Iago. I wish, for the honour of human nature, that the objection were well founded; and that the Poet had here drawn an unreal character, acting from motives such as never influence conduct in real life. But, unhappily, it is not so. Experience shows too many instances of the infliction of causeless and bitter injury, without any adequate personal motive, of passion or of interest, to suffer us to doubt the truth or probability of John, or Iago. Self-generated envy and hatred, the natural "strong antipathy of bad to good," the Satanic pleasure of making others feel pangs similar to those which guilt has made familiar to their own breasts, the very gratification derived from the exercise of malignant power,-every one of these has prompted many deeds and plots, surpassing in guilt the revenge or hatred of ambition, rivalry, or jealousy.