Page images

I humbly beseech you, proceed to the affairs of state.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

to forget the grief of his daughter's stolen marriage, to which Brabantio is made very pertinently to reply to this effect: “

“My lord, I apprehend very well the wisdom of your advice; but though you would comfort me, words are but words; and the heart, already bruised, was never pie cet, or wounded, through the ear." It is obvious that the text must be restored thus:

That the bruis'it heart was pieced through the ear. i. e. that the wounds of sorrow were ever cured, or a man made heart-whole merely by the words of consolation. Warburton.

Shakspeare was continually changing his first expression for another, eiiber stronger or more uncommon; 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 Shakspeare's uncouth strain. ed 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, be 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. When the sentiment is brought to this state, the commentator, without this unravelling clue, expounds piercing the heart in its common acceptation wounding the heart, which making in this place nonsense, is corrected to pieced the heart, which is very stiff, and, as Polonius says, is a vile phrase. Sir 7. Reynolds.

Pierced may be right. The consequence of a bruise is sometimes matter collected, and this can no way be cured without piercing or letting it out. Thus, in Hamlet:

" It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
“ Whiles rank corruption mining all within,

“ Infects unseen.” Again:

“ This is th’imposthume of much wealth and peace,
“ That inward breaks, and shows no cause without,

" Why the man dies."
Our author might have had in his memory the following quaint
title of an old book: i.e.“ A lytell treatyse called the dysputa.
cyon, or the complaynte of the herte through perced with the lokynge
of the eye. Imprunted at Londo in Fletestrete at ye sygne of the
sonne by Wynkyn de Worde.”

Again, in A newe and a mery Interlude concernyng Pleasure and Payne in Love, made by Ihon. Heywood: Fol. Rastal, 1534:

Thorough myne erys dyrectly to myne harte

Percyth his wordys even lyke as many sperys.” Steerens. But words are words; I never yet did hear, That the bruis'd heart was pierced through the ear.] These mo

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Duke. The Turk with a most mighty preparation makes for Cyprus :

-Othello, the fortitude of the place

ral precepts, says Brabantio, may perhaps be founded in wisdom, but they are of no avail. Words after all are but words; and I never yet heard that consolatory speeches coulil reach and penetrate the afflicted heart, through the niedium of the ear.

Brabantio here expresses the same sentiment as the father of Hero in Much Ado about Nothing, when he verides the attempts of those comforters who in vain endeavour to

“ Charm ache with air, and agony with words." Our author has in various places showu a fonsiness for this antithesis between the heart and ear. Thus, in liis Venus and Adonis:

“ This dismal cry rings sadly in her ear,

“ Through which it enters, io surprise her heart.Again, in Much Ado about Nothing :“ My cousin tells him in his ear, that he is in her heart." Again, in Cymbeline :

I have such a heart as both mine ears “ Must not in haste abuse." Again, in his Rape of Lucrece:

“ His ear ber prayers admits, but his heart granteth

“No penetrable entrance to her plaining." A doubt has been entertained concerning the word pierced, which Dr. Warburton supposed to mean wounded, and therefore substituted pieced in its room. But pierced is merely a figurative espression, and means not wounded, but penetrated, in a metaphorical sense: thoroughly affected; as in the following passage in Shakspeare's 46th Sonnet:

“ My heart doth plead, that thou in bim dost lie;

" A closet never piere'd with crystal eyes.” So also, in Love's Labour's Lost:

“ Honest plain words best pierce the ear of grief.Again, in his Rape of Lucrece:

“ With sweetest touches pierce your mistress' ear.In a word, a heart pierced through the ear, is a heart which (to use our poet's words elsewhere) has granted a penetrable entrance to the language of consolation. So, in The Mirrour for Magistrates, 1575:

My pitecus plaint-the hardest heart may pierce." Spenser has used the word exactly in the same figurative sense in which it is here employed; Fairy Queen, B. VI,

“ Whylest thus he talkt, the knight with greedy eare
“ Hong still upon his melting mouth attent;
“ Whose sensefull words empierst his hart so neare,

" That he was rapt with double ravishment.” And, in his fourth Book, c. viii, we have the very words of the text:

“ Her words

“ Which passing through the eares, would pierce the heart." Some persons have supposed that pierced when applied met:

is best known to you: And though we have there a substitute of most aliowed sufficiency, yet opinion, a sovereign mistress of effects, throws a more safer voice on you: you must therefore be content to slubber the gloss of your new fortunes8 with this more stubborn and boisterous expedition.

Oth. The tyrant custom, most grave senators,
Hath made the flinty and steel couch of war
My thrice-driven bed of down:' I do agnize
A natural and prompt alacrity,
I find in hardness; and do undertake
These present wars2 against the Ottomites,
Most humbly therefore bending to your state,
I crave fit disposition for my wife;


phorically to the heart, can only be used to express pain; that the poet might have said, pierced with grief, or pierced with plaints, &c. but that to talk of piercing a heart with consolatory speeches, is a catachresis : but the passage above quoted from Spenser's sixth Book shows that there is no ground for the objection. So also, in Marlowe's Tamburlaine, 1590, we find

“ Nor thee nor them, thrice noble Tamburlaine,
“Shall want my heart to be with gladness pierc'd.Malone.

to slubber the gloss of your new fortunes -] To slubber, on this occasion, is to obscure. So, in the First Part of Feronimo, &c. 1605:

“The evening too begins to slubber day.” The latter part of this metaphor has already occurred in Macbeth:

golden opinions
“ Which should be worn now in their newest gloss.

Steevens. thrice driven bed of clown:] A driven bed, is a bed for which the feathers are selected, by driving with a fan, which separates the light from the heavy. Johnson.

- I do agnize - ] i.e. acknowledge, confess, avow. So, in A Summarie Report, &c. of the speaker relative to Mary Queen of Scots, 4to. 1586: “ – a repentant convert, agnising her Maiesties great mercie” &c. Again, in the old play of Cambyses :

“ The tenor of your princely will, from you for to agnize." In this instance, however, it signifies to know; as likewise in the following, from the same piece :

“Why so? I pray you let me agnize.Steevens. It is so defined [i. e. to acknowledge] in Bullokar's English Expositor, 8vo. 1616. Malone.

2 These present wars -] The quarto, 1622, and the folio, by an error of the press, have this present wars. For the emendation I am responsible. Malone.

Due reference of place, and exhibition ;3
With such accommodation, and besort,
As levels with her breeding.

If you please,
Be 't at her father's.

I'll not have it so.
Oth. Nor I.

Des. Nor I; I would not there reside,
To put my father in impatient thoughts,
By being in his eye. Most gracious duke,
To my unfolding lend a gracious ear;4
And let me find a charter in your voice,5
To assist my simpleness.

Duke. What would you, Desdemona?

Des. That I did love the Moor to live with him, My downright violence and storm of fortunes?

3 I crave fit disposition for my wife;

Due reference of place, and exhibition ; &c.] I desire, that proper disposition be made for my wife, that she may have precedency and revenue, accommodation and company, suitable to her rank.

For reference of place, the old quartos have reverence, which Sir Thomas Hanmer has received. I should read :

Due preference of place, Fohnson. Exhibition is allowance. The word is at present used only at the universities. So, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:

“ What maintenance he from his friends receives,

“Like exhibition thou shalt have from me.” Again, in King Edward IV, by Heywood, 1626:

“Of all the exhibition yet bestow'd,
“ This woman's liberality likes me best.” Steevens.

Most gracious duke,
To my unfolding lend a gracious ear;] Thus the quarto, 1622.
The folio, to avoid

the repetition of the same epithet, reads-your prosperous ear; i. e. your propitious ear. Steevens. 5 — a charter in your voice,] Let your favour privilege me.

Johnson. 6 To assist my simpleness.] The first quarto reads this as an unfinished sentence:

And if my simpleness Steevens. 7. My downright violence and storm of fortunes — ] Violence is not violence suffered, but violence acted. Breach of common rules and obligations. The old quarto has scorn of fortune, which is perhaps the true reading. Fuhnson.


May trumpet to the world; my heart's subdued,
Even to the very quality of my lord:9

The same mistake of scorn for storm had also happened in the old copies of Troilus and Cressida :

as when the sun doth light a scorn," instead of a-storm.

I am also inclined to read-storm of fortunes, on account of the words that follow, viz.“ May trumpet to the world.” So, in King Henry IV, Part I:

the southern wind “ Doth play the trumpet to his purposes.” I concur with Dr. Johnson in his explanation of the passage before us. Mr. M. Mason is of the same opinion, and properly observes, that by the storm of fortune, “the injuries of fortune” are not meant, “but Desdemona's high-spirited braving of her.”

Steevens. 8 —my heart's subdued,

Even to &c.] So, in one of the Letters falsely imputed to Mary Queen of Scots: “ and my thoghtes are so willyngly subduit unto yours” &c. Steevens. 9 Even to the very quality of my lord:] The first quarto reads

Even to the utmost pleasure, &c. Steevens. Quality here means profession. “I am so much enamoured of Othello, that I am even willing to endure all the inconveniencies incident to a military life, and to attend him to the wars."-"I cannot mervaile, (said Lord Essex to Mr. Ashton, a Puritan preacher who was sent to him in the Tower,) though my protestations are not believed of my enemies, when they so little prevailed with a man of your quality.

That this is the meaning, appears not only from the reading of the quarto,-“my heart 's subdued, even to the utmost pleasure of my lord, i. e. so as to prompt me to go with bim wherever he wishes I should go,” but also from the whole tenour of Desdemova's speech; the purport of which is, that as she had married a soldier, so she was ready to accompany him to the wars, and to consecrate her soul and fortunes to his honours, and his valiant part; i. e. to attend him wherever his military character and his Love of fame should call him. Malone.

That quality here signifies the Moorish complexion of Othello, and not his military profession, is obvious from what immediately follows:

“ I saw Othello's visage in his mind:" and also from what the Duke says to Brabantio:

“ If virtue no delighted beauty lack,

“Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.. Desdemona, in this speech asserts, that the virtues of Othello had subdued her heart, in spite of his visage ; and that, to his rank and accomplishments as a soldier, she had consecrated her soul and her fortunes. Henley.

« PreviousContinue »