Page images
[ocr errors]

but Borachio had no enmity to Hero; he only wished to

gain money. LIBERAL. Act IV., Sc. 1.

“ Most like a liberal villain." Licentiously free, as in 'Othello,' “ Is he not a most profane

and liberal counsellor?”. MEET WITH YOU. Act I., Sc. 1.

“But he'll be meet with you.” Even with you. So in 'The Tempest.'

We must prepare to meet with Caliban.” MISPRISING. Act III., Sc. 1. Undervaluing. MONTANTO. Act I., Sc. 1.

“Is Signior Montanto returned ?" A nickname, derived from the fencing-school, bestowed by

Beatrice upon Benedick. OLD COIL. Act V., Scene 2.

Yonder's old coil at home.” Old is not here used in the sense of ancient, but of extreme.

Old coil is great bustle. In Henry IV., Part 2, Act II.,

we have “old utis." ONCE. Act I., Sc. 1.

'T is once, thou lovest." Once for all. In 'Coriolanus' we have—“Once, if he do re

quire our voices he ought to have them.” RACK, Act IV., Sc. 1.

Why then we rack the value.”
Strain, stretch. In this sense we have rack-rent.
RECHEAT. Act I., Sc. 1.

A term used in hunting. It is the note by which the hounds

are recalled. REECHY. Act III., Sc. 3.

It is the same word as reeky, the ch and k being eonstantly

interchanged. Begrimed, smoky. Sad. Act I., Sc. 3. Serious. SQUARER. Act I., Sc. 1.

“ Is there no young squarer now, that will make a voyage with him to the devil ?”

To square is to dispute, to quarrel. In A Midsummer Night's
Dream,' the word is used in a like sense :-
“And now they never meet in grove, or green,

By fountain clear, or spangled star-light sheen,
But they do square.”


STRAIN. Act II., Sc. 1.

“He is of a noble strain." Strain is breed or lineage. Beaumont and Fletcher, 'Maid's Tragedy,' have

“I hate the whole strain." STUFFED. Act I., Sc. 1.

“Stuffed with all honourable virtues." Stored, filled with. TROW. Act III., Sc. 4.

“ What means the fool, trow?" For “trow ye?” “ does anybody know?” So in ‘Merry Wives

of Windsor,' “Who's there, trow?” Wits. Act I., Sc. 1.

“Four of his five wits went halting off.”
Johnson says “the wits seem to have been reckoned five,

by analogy to the five senses, or the five inlets of ideas."
Chaucer in The Persones Tale,' uses wits as synonymous
with senses, and says, “ Certes delites ben after the appetites
of the five wittes, as sight, hering, smelling, savouring, and
touching;” as also have other of our old writers. Shak-
spere in his 141st sonnet makes a distinction :-
“But my five wits nor my five senses, can

Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee."
And in the present passage uses it in the sense of intellec-

tual powers,

UNDERGOES. Act V., Sc. 2. Passes under.


LEONATO, the governor of Messina, hath a fair daughter-an only child, Hero. He hath a niece, too, abiding with him, Beatrice. There has been war, but it is ended; and certain Italian and Spanish noblemen are returned to Sicily. Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, comes to Messina, with his young favourites, Claudio of Florence, and Benedick of Padua. They are all warmly welcomed by Leonato. Claudio had seen Hero before he went to the wars. Benedick had met Beatrice in many a skirmish of wit. For Beatrice is smart and clever; and her uncle says truly, that there is a kind of merry war between her and signior Benedick. With this courtly company comes also Don John, the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro—an envious plotting miscreant, who makes no secret to his companions of his evil wishes. These are the characters out of whose proceedings “Much Ado " is to be evolved.

Claudio is enamoured of Hero; and his friend Don Pedro encourages his wooing. The prince will himself break the matter to her, and to her father. There is a masked ball in Leonato's house. The prince, as one of the maskers, takes Hero aside. Don John has possessed himself of Pedro's intention; and begins his design by inciting Claudio to jealousy. But the frank and faithful prince soon dispels his fears. He has won the lady for his friend, and obtained the father's consent. During this love-suit Beatrice has encountered Benedick; and, pretending not to know him, has huddled jest after jest upon him, so that he says, “I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me.” But the prince, and Claudio, and his betrothed Hero, have a little plot to make Beatrice fall in love with Benedick, and Benedick with Beatrice. There is a more serious plot which the malicious Don John is brewing, with a fit instrument of wickedness, Borachio.

The comic plot against Benedick and Beatrice proceeds


after this fashion: Benedick is in Leonato's garden. He soliloquises about the folly of Claudio in being in love. For himself, “ till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.” She must be rich, wise, virtuous, fair, mild, noble, "of good discourse, an excellent musician, and her hair shall be of what colour it please God.” Benedick hides in an arbour when he sees the prince, Claudio, and Leonato coming. They know he is hiding. After one of those charming intervals of repose, in which music heightens the luxury of quiet, they talk of Beatrice. They say she loves him, but that she will never declare her love, “and she will die if he woo her, rather than she will 'bate one breath of her accustomed crossness.”

Benedick is captured: “Love me! why, it must be requited. * * * * * * When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.” In the same garden, the same stratagem is played upon Beatrice, by Hero and her gentlewoman Ursula. They know she is in “ the pleached bower;" and they come near it; and they talk how “ Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely;" and how “disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes.” The proud witty lady is subdued to exclaim, “Benedick, love on, I will requite thee."

The serious plot against Claudio and Hero proceeds thus: Don John cornes to his brother and Claudio, and tells them that Hero is disloyal, and that they shall have proof of her faithlessness, even on the night before her intended marriage. Borachio tells the story to his companion Conradle: "know, that I have to-night woo'd Margaret, the lady Hero's gentlewoman, by the name of Hero; she leans me out at her mistress' chamber-window, bids me a thousand times good night. The prince, Claudio, and my master, planted, and placed, and possessed by my master Don John, saw afar off in the orchard this amiable encounter." The result was clear: “ Away went Claudio enraged.”

We now approach the tragic part of this story. Claudio and Hero stand before the altar. Hero is rejected with scorn and loathing. Don Pedro vindicates the justice of this cruelty. He had himself seen her “talk with a ruffian at her chamber-window.” The wounded lover, the heart-broken father, the wronged maiden. Where is all this to end?

[ocr errors]

Friar Francis, who was in attendance to perform the marriage-rite, has the sense to discover that this “Much Ado is “ about nothing.” When the unhappy father is bewildered in his daughter's shame, the friar has been a watchful observer of the manifest indications of guilt or innocence:

“I have mark'd
A thousand blushing apparitions start
Into her face; a thousand innocent shames
In angel whiteness bear away those blushes;
And in her eye there hath appear'd a fire,
To burn the errors that these princes hold

Against her maiden truth.” Hero had swooned. The friar, being alone with the father, Hero, Beatrice, and Benedick, counsels that she should be given out for dead, so as to “change slander for remorse.” Benedick advises Leonato to consent. This fatal altar-scene is the crisis of the ve of enedick and Beatrice. The lady, after all, is not that smart, conventional thing she has appeared. She has a heart. She alone, when that poor Hero appears

deserted of all, has the courage to say,

“O, on my soul, my cousin is belied !” The injury done to Hero wrings out of Beatrice the avowal of her regard for Benedick. They are now bound together in their common sympathy for the unfortunate.

The plot against Hero and Claudio is ultimately discovered; and there is an end of the “Much Ado.” But the discovery is brought about by a singular agency. It is not the calm wisdom of the friar, but the dogged conceit of the constable, that leads to the happy termination, and prevents this termination coming too soon. The leading idea of this beautiful comedy is, that there is a real aspect of things which is to be seen by the audience, and not seen by the agents. Dogberry and Verges are conceived wholly in this spirit. Those inimitable guardians of the night who descended upon this earth to bestow for all time the blessing of irrepressible laughter, have been somewhat hastily shorn of their importance by a great critic. Coleridge has said “any other less ingeniously-absurd watchmen and night

« PreviousContinue »