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mentioned. The quotation from the Sloanian MS. is a translation from thence. By a ridiculous mistake the words, sauns loge arme," are rendered in the modern translation of that book, printed a few years ago, “ without linen armour ;” and “a mains nues et pies" [bare-handed and bare-footed) is translated, “and their hands naked and on foot.” Malone.
Again, Britton, Pleas of the Crown, c. xxvii, f. 18: “ Next let them go to combat armed without iron and without linnen armour, their heads uncovered and their hands naked, and on foot, with two bastons tipped with horn of equal length, and each of them a target of four corners, without any other armour, whereby any of them may annoy the other; and if either of them have any other weapon concealed about him, and therewith annoy his adversary, let it be done as shall be mentioned arnongst combats in a plea of land.” Reed.
This play may be justly said to contain two of the most sprightly characters that Shakspeare ever drew. The wit, the humourist, the gentleman, and the soldier, are combined in Benedick. It is to be lamented, indeed, that the first and most splendid of these distinctions, is disgraced by unnecessary profaneness ; for the goodness of his heart is hardly sufficient to atone for the licence of his tongue. The too sarcastic levity, which flashes out in the conversation of Beatrice, may be excused on account of the steadiness and friendship so apparent in her behaviour, when she urges her lover to risque his life by a challenge to Claudio. In the conduct of the fable, however, there is an imperfection similar to that which Dr. Johnson has pointed out in The Merry Wives of Windsor :-the second contrivance is less ingenious than the first :-or, to speak more plainly, the same incident is become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very one which before had been successfully practised on Benedick.
Much Ado About Nothing, (as I undertand from one of Mr. Vertue's MSS.) formerly passed under the title of Benedick and Beatrix, Heming the player received, on the 20th of May, 1613, the sum of forty pounds, and twenty pounds more as his Majesty's gratuity, for exhibiting six plays at Hampton Court, among wbich was this comedy. Steevens.
Benedict. Like the old tale, it is not so, nor 'twas not so: but indeed God forbid it should be so.] I believe none of the commentators have understood this ; it is an allusion, as the speaker says, to an old tale, which may perhaps be still extant in some collections of such things, or which Shakspeare may have heard, as I have, related by a great aunt, in his childhood.
Once upon a time, there was a young lady, (called Lady Mary in the story) who had two brothers. One summer they all three went to a country seat of theirs, which they had not before visited. Among the other gentry in the neighbourhood who came to see them, was a Mr. Fox, a batchelor, with whom they, particularly the young lady, were much pleased. He used often to dine with them, and frequently invited Lady Mary to come and see his house. One day that her brothers were absent elsewhere, and she had nothing better to do, she determined to go thither ; and accordingly set out unattended. When she arrived at the house, and knocked at the door, no one answered. At length she opened it, and went in; over the portal of the hall was written“ Be bold, be bold, but not too bold :” she advanced : over the stair-case, the same inscription : she went up: over the entrance of a gallery, the same : she proceeded: over the door of a chamber, -"Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest that your heart's blood should run cold.” She opened it; it was full of skeletons, tubs full of blood, &c. She retreated in haste; coming down stairs, she saw out of a window Mr. Fox advancing towards the house, with a drawn sword in one hand, while with the other he dragged along a young lady by her hair. Lady Mary had just time to slip down, and hide herself under the stairs, before Mr. Fox and his victim arrived at the foot of them. As he pulled the young lady up stairs, she caught hold of one of the bannisters with her hand, on which was a rich bracelet. Mr. Fox cut it off with his sword : the hand and bracelet fell into Lady Mary's lap, who then contrived to escape unobserved, and got home safe to her brother's house.
After a few days, Mr. Fox came to dine with them as usual (whether by invitation, or of his own accord, this deponent saith not). After dinner, when the guests began to amuse each other with extraordinary anecdotes, Lady Mary at length said, she would relate to them a remarkable dream 'she had lately had. I dreamt, said she, that as you, Mr. Fox, had often invited me to your house, I would go there one morning. When I came to the house, I knocked, &c. but no one answered. When I opened the door, over the hall was written, “ Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.” But, said she, turning to Mr. Fox, and smiling, It is not so, nor it was not so; then she pursues the rest of the story, concluding at every turn with “ It is not so, nor it was not so, till she comes to the room full of dead bodies, when Mr. Fox took up the burden of the tale, and said, “ It is not so, nor it was not so, and God forbid it should be so : " which he continues to repeat at every subsequent turn of the dreadful story, till she came to the circumstance of his cutting off the young lady's hand, when, upon his saying as usual, It is not so, nor it was not so, and God forbid it should be so, Lady Mary retorts, But it is so,
and it was so, and here the hand I have to show, at the same time producing the hand and bracelet from her lap: whereupon the guests drew their swords, and instantly cut Mr. Fox into a thousand pieces.
Such is the old tale to which Shakspeare evidently alludes, and which has often “froze my young blood,” when I was a child, as, I dare say, it had done his before me. I will not apologize for repeating it, since it is manifest that such old wives' tales often prove the best elucidation of this writer's meaning. BLAKEWAY.
- Hundred merry Tales ;] The book, to which Shakspeare alludes, might be an old translation of Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. The original was published at Paris, in the black letter, before the year 1500, and is said to have been written by some of the royal family of France. Ames mentions a translation of it prior to the time of Shakspeare.
In The London Chaunticleres, 1659, this work, among others, is cried for sale by a ballad-man : “ The Seven Wise Men of Gotham; a Hundred Merry Tales ; Scoggin's Jests," &c. Again, in The Nice Valour, &d. by Beaumont and Fletcher :
the Almanacs, “ The Hundred Novels, and the Books of Cookery.” Of this collection there are frequent entries in the register of the Stationers' Company. The first I met with was in Jan. 1581.
STEEVENS. This book was certainly printed before the year 1575, and in much repute, as appears from the mention of it in Laneham's Letter concerning the entertainment at Kenelworth-Castle. Again, in The English Courtier and the Cuntrey Gentleman, bl. l. 1586, sig. H 4: “ wee want not also pleasant mad headed knaves that bee properly learned and well reade in diverse pleasant bookes and good authors. As Sir Guy of Warwicke, the Foure Sonnes of Aymon, the Ship of Fooles, the Budget of Demandes, the Hundredth Merry Tales, the Booke of Ryddles, and many other excellent writers both witty and pleasaunt.” It has been suggested to me that there is no other reason than the word hundred to suppose this book a translation of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. I have now but little doubt that Boccace's Decameron was the book here alluded to. It contains just one hundred Novels. So, in Guazzo's Civile Conversation, 1586, p. 158: “
we do but give them occasion to turne over the Hundred Novelles of Boccace, and to write amorous and lascivious letters." Reed.
Such were the guesses with which those most conversant in old English literature were obliged to content themselves ; but it is now clearly ascertained that the Hundred Merry Tales was, as I have stated, a jest book of that time. A fragment of an early edition of a compilation of that kind, under the title mentioned by Beatrice, was discovered a few years ago, by my friend Mr.
Coneybeare, Professor of Poetry, in Oxford ; which, by his permission, was published for the gratification of brother antiquaries. It must have appeared earlier than 1533, as it was from the press of John Rastell, who ceased to print in that year. Another work of the same nature, called “ Tales and Quicke Answeres," perhaps of equal or nearly equal antiquity, has also been given to the publick. Scoggin's Jests, Tarleton's Jests, and Peele's Jests, show that this title was not always adhered to; but the Hundred Merry Tales continued for a long period to be the most popular name for collections of this sort. An hundred indeed seems to have been a favourite number with our ancestors even upon graver occasions, of which the celebrated Marquis of Worcester's Century of Inventions, may, out of a multitude, be mentioned as an instance. The quotation already given from The London Chaunticleres, will show that the Hundred Merry Tales was still hawked about among the common people as late as the middle of the seventeenth century; and I can close this account, as Dr. Farmer has done the disquisition on stewed prunes, by stating the price. In “The true State, of the Case, of John Butler, B.D. &c. treating of a Marriage dissolved and made null by Desertion, 1697 ; " the author maintains, and avows that he has carried into practice, a doctrine not unlike to that of Milton, in his Tractate of Divorce; although he does not appear to have been aware of his having had so illustrious a precursor. His notions on this subject having been controverted, he makes this angry reply to one of his antagonists : “ I have collected thereout (i. e. from the work he answers) a centiloquy of lies, &c. : Had they been collected together as a little book I have seen when I was a school-boy, called An Hundred Merry Tales, perhaps it might have fetched a penny a book," Boswell.