Page images
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

10 SCENE II.-- Such comfort, as do lusty young men feel," &c. Dr. Johnson would read yeomen, and make Capulet compare the delight of Paris “ among fresh female buds” to the joy of the farmer on the return of spring. But the spirit of Italian poetry was upon Shakspere when he wrote these lines; and he thought not of the lusty yeoman in his fields,

“ While the ploughman near at hand

Whistles o'er the furrow'd land,"— but of such gay groups as Boccaccio has painted, who

“ Sat down in the high grass, and in the shade

Of many a tree sun-proof.” Shakspere has, indeed, explained his own idea of “ well-apparelled April” in that beautiful sonnet beginning

“ From you have I been absent in the spring,

When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing."

Douce has well observed that, in this passage of "Romeo and Juliet,' Shakspere might “have had in view the decorations which accompany the above month in some of the manuscript and printed calendars, where the young folks are represented as sitting together on the grass; the men ornamenting the girls with chaplets of flowers.” We have adapted one of these representations from a drawing in the beautiful manuscript of the Roman de la Rose' in the British Museum.

il SCENE II.—“ Your plantain-leaf is excellent for that.The leaf of the broad-leafed plantain was used as a blood-stancher. Of course, Shakspere did not allude to the tropical fruit-bearing plant, but to the common plantain of our English marshy grounds and ditches. The plantain was also considered as a preventive of poison; and to this supposed virtue Romeo first alludes.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

12 SCENE III.—“ 'Tis since the earthquake now eleven years." We have shown in our Introductory Notice the importance of this line, as affording a probable date for the composition of “Romeo and Juliet.' The earthquake that was within the recollection of Shakspere's audience happened in the year 1580. The principle of dating from an earthquake, or from any other remarkable phenomenon, is a very obvious one. We have an example as old as the days of the prophet Amos:“The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” Tyrwhitt says, “ But how comes the Nurse to talk of an earthquake upon this occasion? There is no such circumstance, I believe, mentioned in any of the novels from which Shakspere may be supposed to have drawn his story.” But it appears to us by no means improbable that Shakspere might have been acquainted with some description of the great earthquake which happened at Verona in 1348, when Petrarch was sojourning in that city; and that, with something like historical propriety, therefore, he made the Nurse date from that event, while at the same time the supposed allusion to the earthquake in England of 1580 would be relished by his audience.

13 SCENE III.-—“ Read o'er the volume of young Paris' face." This passage furnishes a very remarkable example of the correctness of the principle laid down in Mr. Whiter's very able tract--- An Attempt to Explain and Illustrate various Passages of Shakspere, on a new Principle of Criticism, derived from Mr. Locke’s Doctrine of the Association of Ideas.' Mr. Whiter's most ingenious theory would lose much in being presented in any other than his own words. We may just mention that his leading doctrine, as applied to Shakspere, is, that the exceeding warmth of his imagination often supplied him, by the power of association, with words, and with ideas, suggested to the mind by a principle of union unperceived by himself, and independent of the subject to which they are applied. We readily agree with Mr. Whiter that “this propensity in the mind to associate subjects so remote in their meaning, and so heterogeneous in their nature, must, of necessity, sometimes deceive the ardour of the writer into whimsical or ridiculous combinations. As the reader, however, is not blinded by this fascinating principle, which, while it creates the association, conceals likewise its effects, he is instantly impressed with the quaintness or the absurdity of the imagery, and is inclined to charge the writer with the intention of a foolish quibble, or an impertinent allusion." It is in this spirit of a cold and literal criticism, here so well described, that Mr. Monck Mason pronounces upon the passage before us“ This ridiculous speech is full of abstruse quibbles.” But the principle of association, as explained by Mr. Whiter, at once reconciles us to the quibbles. The "volume" of young Paris' face suggests the “ beauty's pen” which hath “writ” there. Then, the obscurities of the fair “volume" are written in the “ margin of his eyes," as comments of ancient books are always printed in the margin. Lastly, this book of love" lacks “a cover"—the “golden story" must be locked in with “ golden clasps." The ingenious management of the vein of imagery is at least as remarkable as its “ abstruse quibbles.”

14 Scene IV.--" We'll have no Cupid hoodwink'd with a scarf,&c. The mask of ladies, or amazons, in Shakspere's “ Timon,' is preceded by a Cupid, who addresses the company in a speech. This “ device” was a practice of courtly life, before and during the time of Shakspere. But here he says,

“ The date is out of such prolixity.” The “Tartar's painted bow of lath” is the bow of the Asiatic nations, with a double curve; and Shakspere employed the epithet to distinguish the bow of Cupid from the old English long-bow. The “crow-keeper,” who scares the ladies, had also a bow :-he is the shuffle or mawkin--the scarecrow of rags and straw, with a bow and arrow in his hand. “ That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper,” says Lear. The “ without-book prologue faintly spoke after the prompter" is supposed by Warton to allude to the boy-actors that we afterwards find so fully noticed in · Hamlet.'

15 Scene IV.-“ We'll measure them a measure.” The measure” was the courtly dance of the days of Elizabeth; not so solemn as the pavan--the “doleful pavan,” as Davenant calls it, in which princes in their mantles, and lawyers in their long robes, and courtly dames with enormous trains, swept the rushes like the tails of peacocks. From this circumstance came its name, the pavan--the dance of the peacock. The measure" may be best described in Shakspere's own words, in the mouth of the lively Beatrice, in “Much Ado about Nothing :'_“The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good

time; if the prince be too important, tell him there is measure in everything, and so dance out the answer. For hear me, Hero : wooing, wedding, and repenting, is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace: the first suit is hot and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly-modest, as a measure full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance, and, with his bad legs, falls into the cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave."

16 Scene IV._“ Give me a torch.Romeo declares that he will not dance

“ I am not for this ambling.” He subsequently says,

“I'll be a candle-holder, and look on." Anciently, all rooms of state were lighted by waxen torches borne in the hands of attendants. Froissart thus describes the feasting of Gaston de Foix :-“ At midnight when he came out of his chamber into the hall to supper, he had ever before him twelve torches brennyng, borne by twelve varlettes standing before his table all supper." To hold the torch was not, however, a degrading office in England; for the gentlemen pensioners of Elizabeth held torches wbile a play was acted before her in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge.

17 Scene IV.-“ Tickle the senseless rushes with their heels." Carpets, though known in Italy, were not adapted to the English habits in the time of Elizabeth ; and even the presence-chamber of that queen was, according to Hentzner, strewed with hay, by which he meant rushes. The impurities which gathered on the floor were easily removed with the rushes. But the custom of strewing rushes, although very general in England, was not peculiar to it. Mr. Brown, in his work on Shakspere's autobiographical poems, has this observation : “ An objection has been made, imputing an error in Grumio's question, “Are the rushes strewed ?' But the custom of strewing rushes in England belonged also to Italy: this may be seen in old authors, and their very word, giuncare, now out of use, is a proof of it."

18 Scene IV.-" Tut! dun 's the mouse." We have a string of sayings here which have much puzzled the commentators. When Romeo exclaims, “I am done,” Mercutio, playing upon the word, cries “ Dun's the mouse.” This is a proverbial phrase, constantly occurring in the old comedies. It is probably something like the other cant phrase that occurs in • Lear, “ The cat is grey." The following line,

“ If thou art dun, we 'll draw thee from the mire,” was fully as puzzling, till Gifford gave us a solution :-“ Dun is in the mire, then, is a Christmas gambol, at which I have often played. A log of wood is brought into the midst of the room : this is dun (the cart-horse), and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance, either with or without ropes, to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till all the company take part in it, when dun is extricated of course; and the merriment arises from the awkward and affected efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and from sundry arch contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes. This will not be thought a very exquisite amusement; and yet I have seen much honest mirth at it, and have been far more entertained with the ludicrous contortions of pretended struggles than with the real writhing, the dark scowl of avarice and envy, exhibited by the same description of persons, in the genteeler amusement of cards, the universal substitute for all our ancient sports."'-(Ben Jonson's Works' vol. vii., p. 282.)

19 SCENE IV.-“ Sir reverence.This was the old mode of apology for the introduction of a free expression. Mercutio says he will draw Romeo from the “mire of this love," and uses, parenthetically, the ordinary form of apology for speaking so profanely of love. Gifford has given us a quotation from an old tract on the origin of tobacco, which is exactly in point :-“ The time hath been when, if we did speak of this loathsome stuff, tobacco, we used to put a 'sir reverence' before, but we forget our good manners.” In another note on the same word, Gifford says, “ There is much filthy stuff on this simple interjection, of which neither Steevens nor Malone appears to have known the import, in the notes to “Romeo and Juliet.””-( Ben Jonson's Works, vol. vi., p. 149; vol. vii., p. 337). 20 Scene IV.

This is that very Mab

That plats the manes of horses in the night."
We extract the following amusing note from Douce’s “ Illustrations :'-

“ This line alludes to a very singular superstition, not yet forgotten in some parts of the country. It was believed that certain malignant spirits, whose delight was to wander in groves and pleasant places, assumed occasionally the likenesses of women clothed in white; that in this character they sometimes haunted stables in the night-time, carrying in their hands tapers of wax, which they dropped on the horses' manes, thereby plaiting them in inextricable knots, to the great annoyance of the poor animals, and the vexation of their masters. These hags are mentioned in the works of William Auvergne, Bishop of Paris in the thirteenth century. There is a very uncommon old print by Hans Burgmair, relating to this subject. A witch enters the stable with a lighted torch; and, previously to the operation of entangling the horse's mane, practises her enchantments on the groom, who is lying asleep on his back, and apparently influenced by the nightmare. The belemnites, or elfstones, were regarded as charms against the last-mentioned disease, and against evil spirits of all kinds; but the cerauniæ, or bætuli, and all perforated flint-stones, were not only used for the same purpose, but more particularly for the protection of horses and other cattle, by suspending them in stables, or tying them round the necks of the animals." The next line,

“ And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs," seems to be unconnected with the preceding, and to mark a superstition which, as Dr. Warburton has observed, may have originated from the plica Polonica, which was supposed to be the operation of the wicked elves, whence the clotted hair was called elf-locks, and elf-knots. Thus Edgar talks of “elfing all his hair in knots."

21 SCENE V._" Remove the court cupboard." The court cupboard was the ornamental sideboard, set out with salvers and beakers on days of festivity. We have, in a play of 1599, “accomplished the court cupboard;” and in another by Chapman, in 1606, “ Here shall stand my court cupboard with its furniture of plate.” In Italy, the art of Benvenuto Cellini was lavished upon the exquisite ornaments of the court cupboard.

« PreviousContinue »