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His faults, in him, seem as the spots of heaven,
as the spots of heaven,
More firy by night's blackness ;] If by spots are meant stars, as night has no other fiery spots, the comparison is forced and harsh, stars having been always supposed to beautify the night; nor do I comprehend what there is in the counterpart of this simile, which answers to night's blackness. Hanmer reads :
spots on ermine,
• Or fires, by night's blackness." Johnson. The meaning seems to be " As the stars or spots of heaven are not obscured, but rather rendered more bright, by the blackness of the night, so neither is the goodness of Antony eclipsed by his evil qualities, but, on the contrary, his faults seem enlarged and aggravated by his virtues.
That which answers to the blackness of the night, in the counterpart of the simile, is Antony's goodness. His goodness is a ground which gives a relief to his faults, and makes them stand out more prominent and conspicuous.
It is objected, that stars rather beautify than deform the night. But the poet considers them here only with respect to their prominence and splendour. It is sufficient for him that their scintillations appear stronger in consequence of darkness, as jewels are more resplendent on a black ground than on any other.That the prominence and splendour of the stars were alone in Shakspeare's contemplation, appears from a passage in Hamlet, where a similar thought is less equivocally expressed:
“ Your skill shall, like a star i' the darkest night,
Stick firy off indeed."
though the truth of it stands off as gross
“ And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, “ Shall show more goodly, and attract more eyes, 66 Than that which hath no foil to set it off.” MALONE. purchas'd ;] Procured by his own fault or endeavour.
To give a kingdom for a mirth; to sit
him, (As his composure must be rare indeed, Whom these things cannot blemish ?,) yet must
say, this becomes him,
Whom these things cannot blemish,)] This seems inconsequent. I read :
“ And his composure,” &c. Grant that this becomes him, and if it can become him, he must have in him something very uncommon, yet, &c.
Johnson. Though the construction of this passage, as Dr. Johnson observes, appears harsh, there is, I believe, no corruption. In As You Like It we meet with the same kind of phraseology:
what though you have beauty,
therefore be proud and pitiless ? See vol. vi. p. 459, n. 6. Malone.
8 No way excuse his soils,] The old copy has-foils. For the emendation now made I am answerable. In the MSS. of our author's times and f are often undistinguishable, and no two letters are so often confounded at the press. Shakspeare has so regularly used this word in the sense required here, that there cannot, I imagine, be the smallest doubt of the justness of this emendation. So, in Hamlet :
and no soil, nor cautel, doth besmirch, “ The virtue of his will." Again, in Love's Labour's Lost:
“ The only soil of his fair virtue’s gloss.” Again, in Measure for Measure :
“ Who is as free from touch or soil with her,
“ As she from one ungot.” Again, ibid. : My unsoild name, the austereness of my
life.” Again, in King Henry IV. Part II. :
“ For all the soil of the achievement goes
So great weight in his lightness'. If he fillid
Enter a Messenger.
Here's more news.
In the last Act of the play before us we find an expression nearly synonymous :
His taints and honours
Wag'd equal in him.” Again, in Act II. Sc. III. : “ Read not my blemishes in the world's reports.”
MALONE. If foils be inadmissible, (which I question,) we might read fails. In The Winter's Tale, we meet with this substantive, which signifies omission, or non-performance: “ Mark, and perform it. See'st thou ? for the
fail “Of any point in't, shall not only be
“ Death to thyself,” &c. Yet, on the whole, I prefer Mr. Malone's conjecture.
Steevens. 9 So great weight in his lightness.] The word light is one of Shakspeare's favourite play-things. The sense is—His trilling levity throws so much burden upon us. Johnson.
i Call on him for't :] Call on him, is, visit him. Says Cæsar -If Antony followed his debaucheries at a time of leisure, I should leave him to be punished by their natural consequences, by surfeits and dry bones. Johnson.
to confound such time,] See p. 170, n. 7. Malone. 3 — boys; who, being mature in knowledge,] For this Hanmer, who thought the maturity of a boy an inconsistent idea, has put :
who, immature in knowledge :" but the words experience and judgment require that we read mature : though Dr. Warburton has received the emendation. By boys mature in knowledge, are meant, boys old enough to know their duty. Johnson.
Mess. Thy biddings have been done; and every
I should have known no less :-
love, Comes dear'd, by being lack'do. This common
4 That only have fear'd Cæsar:] Those whom not love but fear made adherents to Cæsar, now show their affection for Pompey.
Johnson. 5 The DISCONTENTS repair,] That is, the malecontents. So, in King Henry IV. Part I. Act V. Sc. I. :
- that may please the eye
MALONE. 6- he, which is, was wish'd, until he were ; And the ebb’d man, ne'er lov'd, till ne'er worth love,
Comes Dear'd, by being lack'd.] [Old copy-- fear'd.] Let us examine the sense of this (as it stood) in plain prose. earliest histories inform us, that the man in supreme command was always wish'd to gain that command, till he had obtain'd it. And he, whom the multitude has contentedly seen in a low condition, wlien he begins to be wanted by them, becomes to be fear'd by them.” But do the multitude fear a man because they want him ? Certainly, we must read :
“Comes dear'd, by being lack'd.” i. e. endear'd, a favourite to them. Besides, the context requires this reading ; for it was not fear, but love, that made the people flock to young Pompey, and what occasioned this reflection. So, in Coriolanus :
“ I shall be lov'd, when I am lack'd.” WARBURTON. The correction was made in Theobald's edition, to whom it was communicated by Dr. Warburton. Something, however, is yet
Like a vagabond flag upon the stream,
Cæsar, I bring thee word,
wanting. What is the meaning of—“ ne'er lov'd till ne'er worth love?" I suppose that the second ne'er was inadvertently repeated at the press, and that we should read-till not worth love.
MALONE. 7- rot itself-] The word—itself, is, I believe, an interpolation, being wholly useless to the sense, and injurious to the
Steevens. 8 Goes to, and back, LACKEYING the varying tide,
To rot itself with motion.] [Old copy-lashing.) But how can a flag, or rush, floating upon a stream, and that has no motion but what the fluctuation of the water gives it, be said to lash the tide? This is making a scourge of a weak ineffective thing, and giving it an active violence in its own power. 'Tis true, there is no sense in the old reading; but the addition of a single letter will not only give us good sense, but the genuine word of our author into the bargain :
“ lackeying the varying tide," i. e. floating backwards and forwards with the variation of the tide, like a page, or lackey, at his master's heels. THEOBALD.
Theobald's conjecture may be supported by a passage in the fifth book of Chapman's translation of Homer's Odyssey :
- who would willingly
Lacky along so vast a lake of brine ? ” Again, in his version of the 24th Niad:
" My guide to Argos either ship'd or lackying by thy side." Again, in the Prologue to the second part of Antonio and Melilda, 1602 :
“ O that our power
“ Could lacky or keep pace with our desires !” Again, in The Whole Magnificent Entertainment given to King James, Queen Anne his Wife, &c. March 15, 1603, by Thomas Decker, 4to. 1604 : “ The minutes (that lackey the heeles of time) run not faster away than do our joyes.”
Perhaps another messenger should be noted here, as entering with fresh news.
STEEVENS. which they EAR -] To ear, is to plough ; a common metaphor. Johnson.