« PreviousContinue »
and in such a manner that the pins may once turn rouna in the air, and slide with the thinner extremity foremost towards the bowl. The pins are about one or two and twenty inches long. BLOUNT.
-the age is grown so picked] So smart, so sharp, says Sir T. Hanmer, very properly; but there was, I think, about that time, a picked shoe, that is, a shoe with a long pointed toe, in fashion, to which the allusion seems likewise to be made. Every man now is smart; and every man now is a man of fashion. JOHNSON.
This fashion of wearing shoes with long pointed toes was carried to such excess in England, that it was restrained at last by proclamation so long ago as the fifth year of Edward IV. when it was ordered, "that the beaks or pykes of shoes and boots should not pass two inches, upon pain of cursing by the clergy, and forfeiting twenty shillings, to be paid, one noble to the king, another to the cordwainers of London, and the third to the chamber of London :---and for other countries and townes the like order was taken.---Before this time, and since the year 1482, the pykes of shoes and boots were of such length, that they were fain to be tied up to the knee with chains of silver, and gilt, or at least silken laces." STEEVENS.
mutines in the bilboes.] The bilboes is a bar of iron with fetters annex ed to it, by which mutinous or disorderly sailors were anciently linked together. The word is derived from Bilboa, a place in Spain where instruments of steel were fabricated in the utmost perfection. To understand Shakespeare's allusion completely, it should be known, that as these fetters connect the legs of the offenders very close together, their attempts to rest must be as fruitless as those of Hamlet, in whose mind there was a kind of fighting that would not let him sleep. Every motion of one must disturb his partner in confinement. The bilboes are still shown in the Tower of London, among the other spoils of the Spanish Armada. STEEVENS.
P. 111. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!] Let us review for a moment the behaviour of Hamlet, on the strength of which Horatio founds this eulogy, and recommends him to the patronage of angels.
Hamlet, at the command of his father's ghost, undertakes with seeming alacrity to revenge the murder; and declares he will banish all other thoughts from his mind. He makes, however, but one effort to keep his word, and that is, when he mistakes Polonius for the king. On another occasion, he defers his purpose till he can find an opportunity of taking his uncle when he is least prepared for death, that he may insure damnation to his soul. Though he assassinated Polonius by accident, yet he deliberately procures the execution of his school-fellows, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who appear not, from any circumstances in this play, to have been acquainted with the treacherous purposes of the mandate they were employed to carry. To embitter their fate, and hazard their punishment beyond the grave, he denies them even the few moments necessary for a brief confession of their sins. Their end (as he declares in a subsequent conversation with Horatio) gives him no concern, for they obtruded themselves into the service, and he thought he had a right to destroy them. From his brutal conduct toward Ophelia, he is not less accountable for her distraction and death. He interrupts the funeral designed in honour of this lady, at which both the King and Queen were present; and, by such an outrage to decency, renders it still more necessary for the usurper to lay a second stratagem for his life, though the first had proved abortive. He insults the brother of the dead, and boasts of an affection for his sister, which, before, he had denied to her face; and yet at this very time must be considered as desirous of supporting the character of a madman, so that the openness of his confession is not to be imputed to him as a virtue. He apologizes to Horatio afterwards for the absurdity of this behaviour, to which, he says, he was provoked by that nobleness of fraternal grief, which, indeed, he ought rather to have applauded than condemned. Dr. Johnson has observed, that to bring about a reconciliation with Laertes, he has availed himself of a dishonest fallacy; and to conclude, it is obvious to the most careless spectator or reader, that he kills the King at last to revenge himself, and not his father.
The late Dr. Akenside once observed to me, that the conduct of Hamlet was every way unnatural and indefensible, unless he were to be regarded as a young man whose intellects were in some degree impaired by his own misfortunes; by the death of his father, the loss of expected sovereignty, and a sense of shame resulting from the hasty and incestuous marriage of his mother. STEEVENS.
Some of the charges here brought against Hamlet, appear to me questionable at least, if not unfounded. In the novel on which this play is constructed, the ministers who by the king's order accompanied the young prince to England, and car ried with them a packet in which his death was concerted, were apprized of its con tents; and therefore we may presume that Shakespeare meant to describe their res presentatives, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, as equally criminal; as combining with the King to deprive Hamlet of his life. His procuring their execution there.
fore does not with certainty appear to have been unprovoked cruelty, and might have been considered by him as necessary to his future safety; knowing, as he must have known, that they had devoted themselves to the service of the King in whatever he should command.
I do not perceive that he is accountable for the madness of Ophelia. He did not mean to kill her father, when concealed behind the arras, but the King; and still less did he intend to deprive her of her reason and her life: her subsequent distraction therefore can no otherwise be laid to his charge, than as an unforeseen Consequence from his too ardently pursuing the object recommended to him by his father.
He appears to have been induced to leap into Ophelia's grave, not with a design to insult Laertes, but from his love to her, (which then he had no reason to conceal,) and from the bravery of her brother's grief, which excited him (not to condemn that brother, as has been stated, but) to vie with him in the expression of affection and
When Hamlet says, "the bravery of his grief did put me into a towering passion," I think, he means, into a lofty expression (not of resentment, but) of sorrow.
I may also add, that he neither assaulted nor insulted Laertes. till that nobleman had cursed him, and seized him by the throat. MALONE.
P. 121. A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife] That Cassio was married is not sufficiently implied in these words, since they mean, according to Iago's licentious manner of expressing himself, no more than a man "very near being married." This seems to have been the case in respect of Cassio.-Act IV. sc. i, Iago speaking to him of Bianca, says" Why, the cry goes, that you shall marry her." Cassio acknowledges that such a report had been raised, and adds, "This is the monkey's own giving out: she is persuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and selfflattery, not out of my promise." Iago then, having heard this report before, very naturally circulates it in his present conversation with Roderigo. If Shakespeare, however, designed Bianca for a courtezan of Cyprus, (where Cassio had not yet been, and had therefore never seen her,) Iago cannot be supposed to allude to the report concerning his marriage with her, and consequently this part of my argument must fall to the ground.
Had Shakespeare, consistently with Iago's character, meant to make him say that Cassio was "actually damn'd in being married to a handsome woman," he would have made him say it outright, and not have interposed the palliative almost. Whereas what he says at present amounts to no more than that (however near his marriage) he is not yet completely damned, because he is not absolutely married. The succeeding parts of Iago's conversation sufficiently evince that the poet thought no mode of conception or expression too brutal for the character. STEEVENS.
P. 126. As double as the duke's] The double voice of Brabantio refers to the opi nion, which (as being a magnifico, he was no less entitled to, than the duke himself) either, of nullifying the marriage of his daughter, contracted without his consent; or, of subjecting Othello to fine and imprisonment, for having seduced an HENLEY. 1
P. 133. Wherein of antres vast, &c.] Whoever ridicules this account of the pro gress of love, shows his ignorance, not only of history, but of nature and manners It is no wonder that, in any age, or in any nation, a lady, recluse, timorous, and delicate, should desire to hear of events and scenes which she could never see, and should admire the man who had endured dangers, and performed actions, which, however great, were yet magnified by her timidity. JOHNSON.
P. 133. Of the cannibals that each other eat,] These lines have been considered by Pope, and others, as the interpolation of the players, or at least vulgar trash, which Shakespeare admitted merely to humour the lower part of his audience. But the case was probably the very reverse, and the poet rather meant to recommend his play to the more curious and refined among his auditors, by alluding here to sonre of the most extraordinary passages in Sir Walter Raleigh's celebrated voyage to Guiana, performed in 1595: in which nothing excited more universal attention, than the accounts which he brought from the new world of the cannibals, Amazons, and especially of the nation
"Do grow beneath their shoulders."
Hear his own solemn relation: "Next unto the Arvi" [a river, which he says falls into the Orenoque or Oronoko] "are two rivers, Atoica and Caora; and on that branch, which is called Caora, are a nation of people, whose heads appear not above their shoulders; which though it may be thought a mere fable, yet for mine own part I am resolved it is true, becanse every childe in the province of Arromia and Canuri affirme the same: they are called Ewaipanoma; they are reported to have
their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouthes in the middle of their breasts, and that a long traine of hair groweth backward betweene their shoulders," &c.
As for the Anthropophagi, or cannibals "that each other eat," the same celebrated voyager tells us: "At one of the outlets of the Orenoque, we left on the right hand of us a nation of inhumaine canibals." [p. 659.] And in the second voyage to Guiana, in 1596, published also by Sir Walter, one of the nations, called Ipaios, are thus described: "They are but few, but very cruel to their enemies for they bind, and eat them alive peecemeale.-These Indians, because they eate them whom they kill, use no poyson."
P. 135. That the bruis'd heart was pierced through the ear.] Shakespeare was continually changing his first expression for another, either stronger or more uncom mon; so that very often the reader who has not the same continuity or succession of ideas, is at a loss for its meaning. Many of Shakespeare's uncouth strained epithets may be explained, by going back to the obvious and simple expression, which is most likely to occur to the mind in that state. I can imagine the first mode of expression that occurred to the poet was this:
"The troubled heart was never cured by words."
To give it poetical force he altered the phrase:
"The wounded heart was never reached through the ear."
Wounded heart he changed to broken, and that to bruised, as a more common expression. Reached he altered to touched, and the transition is then easy to pierced. i. e. thoroughly touched. Sir J. REYNOLDS.
P. 159. A Florentine more kind and honest.] In consequence of this line, a doubt has been entertained concerning the country of Iago. Cassio was undoubtedly a Florentine, as appears by the first scene of the play, where he is expressly called one. That Iago was a Venetian, is proved by a speech in the third scene of Act III, and by what he says in Act V. after having stabbed Roderigo. MALONE.
P. 182. Have you scored me?] To score originally meant no more than to cut a notch upon a tally, or to mark out a form by indenting it on any substance. But it was soon figuratively used for setting a brand or mark of disgrace on any one. "Let us score their backs," says Scarus, in Antony and Cleopatra; and it is employed in the same sense on the present occasion. STEEVENS.
P. 200. It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul,---] The abruptness of this soliloquy makes it obscure. The meaning, I think, is this:---I am here (says Othello in his ind) overwhelmed with horror. What is the reason of this perturbation? Is it want of resolution to do justice? Is it the dread of shedding blood? No; it is not *he action that shocks me, but "it is the cause, it is the cause, my soul; let me not trame it to you, ye chaste stars! it is the cause." JOHNSON.
Ibid. This sorrow's heavenly] Perhaps the poet would not have retained both these images, had he published the play himself, though in the hurry of composition he threw them both upon paper. The first seems adopted from the fabulous history of the crocodile, the second from a passage in the scripture. STEEVENS. M. MASON.
"Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth."
- P. 207. ---the ice-brook's temper] The particular name of the ice-brook may be determined by the following passage in Martial. It was undoubtedly the brook or rivulet called Salo (now Xalon,) near Bilbilis in Celtiberia. In this the Spaniards plunged all their swords and other weapons while hot from the forge; and to the icy quality of the waters, they were indebted for their stubborn temper:
"Sævo Bilbilin optimam metallo
P. 207. O ill-starr'd wench!] Wench originally signified only a young woman, The word is used without any dishonourable meaning in the bible: "Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz stayed by En-rogel; (for they might not be seen to come into the city :) and a wench went and told them; and they went and told king David." 2 Sam. xvii. STEEVENS.
P. 209. Like the base Judean.] I am satisfied that Shakespeare is here alluding to Herod, who in a fit of blind jealousy threw away such a jewel of a wife as Mariamne. The story was likewise very obvious, for, in the year 1618 the lady Elizabeth Carew published a tragedy called Mariam, the fair Queen of Jewry. THEOBALD.
By the Judean is meant Herod, whose usage to Mariamne is so apposite to the speaker's case, that a more proper instance could not be thought of. The metapho
rical term of a pearl for a fine woman, is so common as scarce to need examples. In Troilus and Cressida, a lover says of his mistress--
"Why, she's a pearl, whose price," &c.
I cannot join with the learned critics in conceiving this passage to refer to the well-known story of Herod and Mariamne. The poet might just as fairly be supposed to have alluded to that of Jephthah and his daughter. Othello, in detestation of what he had done, seems to compare himself to another person who had thrown away a thing of value, with some circumstances of the meanest villany, which the epithet base seems to imply in its general sense, though it is sometimes used for low or mean. The crime of Herod surely deserves a more aggravated distinction. For though in every crime, great as well as small, there is a degree of baseness, yet the furiis agitatus amor, such as contributed to that of Herod, seems to ask a stronge word to characterize it: as there was spirit at least in what he did, though the spirit of a fiend, and the epithet base, would better suit with petty larceny than royal guilt. Besides, the simile appears to me too apposite almost to be used on the occasion, and is little more than bringing the fact into comparison with itself. Each through jealousy had destroyed an innocent wife, circumstances so parallel, as hardly to admit of that variety which we generally find in one allusion, which is meant to illustrate another, and at the same time to appear as more than a superfluous ornainent. I have read in some book, as ancient as the time of Shakespeare, the following tale; though, at present, I am unable either to recollect the title of the piece, or the author's name:
"A Jew, who had been prisoner for many years in distant parts, brought with him at his return to Venice a great number of pearls, which he offered on the change among the merchants, and, one alone excepted, disposed of them to his satisfaction. On this pearl, which was the largest ever shown at market, he had fixed an immoderate price, nor could be persuaded to make the least abatement. Many of the magnificoes, as well as traders, offered him considerable sums for it, but he was resolute in his first demand. At last, after repeated and unsuccessful applications to individuals, he assembled the merchants of the city, by proclamation, to meet him on the Rialto, where he once more exposed it to sale on the former terms, but to no purpose After having expatiated, for the last time, on the singular beauty and value of it, he threw it suddenly into the sea before them all."
Though this anecdote may appear inconsistent with the avarice of a Jew, yet it sufficiently agrees with the spirit so remarkable at all times in the scattered remains of that vindictive nation. STEEVENS.
Shakespeare seems to allude to Herod in the play of Mariamne
"I had but one inestimable jewel-----
"Yet I in suddaine choler cast it downę,