Page images




1 THIS prologue, after the first copy was published in 1597, received several alterations, both in respect of correctness and versification. In the folio it is omitted. The play was originally performed by the Right Honourable the Lord of Hunsdon his servants. In the first of K. James I. was made an act of parliament for some restraint or limitation of noblemen in the protection of players, or of players under their sanction.


2 -carry coals.] To carry coals, formerly was a phrase for, to bear injuries.

3 -I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.] So it signifies in Ran. dolph's Muses Looking-Glass, Act III. sc. iii. p. 45:

[ocr errors]

Orgylus. To bite his thumb at me.

"Argus. Why should not a man bite his thumb?

"Orgylus. At me? were I scorn'd to see men bite "their thumbs;

"Rapiers and daggers," &c.


mis-temper'd weapons-] Are angry weapons.

Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate !] Every sonnetteer characterises Love by contrarieties. Watson begins one of his canzonets:

"Love is a sowre delight, a sugred griefe,

"A living death, an ever-dying life, &c." Turberville makes reason harangue against it in the

same manner:

"A fierie frost, a flame that frozen is with ise! "A heavie burden light to beare! a vertue "fraught with vice!" &c.

Immediately from the Romaunt of the Rose: "Love it is an hatefull pees,

"A free aquitaunce without reles,

"An heavie burthen light to beare,
"A wicked wawe awaie to weare;

"And health full of maladie,

"And charitie full of envie;

"A laughter that is weping aie,

"Rest that trauaileth night and daie," &c.

This kind of antithesis was very much the taste of the
Provençal and Italian poets; perhaps it might be hint
ed by the ode of Sappho preserved by Longinus.
Petrarch is full of it:

"Pace non trovo, e non hó da far guerra;
"E temo, e spero, e ardo, e son un ghiaccio;
"E volo sopra'l ciel, e ghiaccio in terra;

"E nulla stringo, e tutto'l mondo abbraccio,"
&c. Son. 105.

Sir Thomas Wyat gives a translation of this sonnet, without any notice of the original, under the title of,

Description of the contrarious Passions in a Louer, amongst the Songes and Sonnettes, by the Earle of Surrey, and others, 1574.


6 Tell me in sadness,] Tell me seriously.

7 She is the hopeful lady of my earth:] This line means, my hopes are fixed on her as the heir to my


• Such, amongst view of many, mine, being one, May stand in number, though in reckoning none.]The first of these lines I do not understand. The old folio gives no help; the passage is there, Which one more view. I can offer nothing better than this:

Within your view of many, mine being one,
May stand in number, &c.


A very slight alteration will restore the clearest sense to this passage. Shakspeare might have written the lines thus:

Search among view of many: mine, being one, May stand in number, though in reckoning none.. i. e. Amongst the many you will view there, search for one that will please you. Chuse out of the multitude. This agrees exactly with what he had already said to


[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

And like her most whose merit most shall be." My daughter (he proceeds) will, it is true, be one of the number, but her beauty can be of no reckoning (i. e. estimation) amongst those whom you will see here. Reckoning for estimation, is used before in this very


"Of honourable reckoning are you both." STEEV.

9 Your plantain leaf is excellent for that.] Tackius tells us, that a toad, before she engages with a spider, will fortify herself with some of this plant; and that, if she comes off wounded, she cures herself afterwards with it. DR. GRAY.


crush a cup of wine.] To crush a cup, and to crack a bottle, were alike in vulgar use formerly. teen-] Sorrow.



it stinted,] That is, it stopped.

13 It is an honour-] The modern editors all read, it is an honour. I have restored the genuine word, hour, which is more seemly from a girl to her mother. Your, fire, and such words as are vulgarly uttered in two syllables, are used as dissyllables by Shakespeare.


14 What say you? &c.] This ridiculous speech is entirely added since the first edition.


15 Give me a torch,-] The character which Romeo declares his resolution to assume, will be best explained by a passage in Westward Hoe, by Decker and Webster, 1607. "He is just like a torch-bearer to maskers; he wears good clothes, and is ranked in good company, but he doth nothing." A torchbearer seems to have been a constant attendant on

every troop of masks. So, in the second part of Robert Earl of Huntingdon, 1601:


As on a masque; but for our torch-bearers, "Hell cannot rake so mad a crew as I."

Again, in the same play :

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

"Before whom, unintreated, I am come.
"And here prevented, I believe, their page,
"Who with his torch, is entered."

Again, in the Merchant of Venice :

"We have not spoke as yet of torch-bearers." Again, in Marston's Insatiate Countess, 1603: "Night, like a masque, is enter'd heaven's great hall, "With thousand torches ushering the way."


16 The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done.] An allusion to an old proverbial saying, which advises to give over, when the game is at the fairest. RITSON.

17 Tut! dun's the mouse, the constable's own word:] This poor obscure stuff should have an explanation in mere charity. It is an answer to these two lines of Romeo.

For I am proverb'd with a grandsire phrase,

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done.

Mercutio, in his reply, answers the last line first. The thought of which, and of the preceding, is taken from gaming. I'll be a candle-holder (says Romeo) and look on. It is true, if I could play myself, I could never expect a fairer chance than in the company we are going to but, alas! I am done. I have nothing to play with; I have lost my heart already. Mercutio catches at the word done, and quibbles with it, as if Romeo had said, The ladies indeed are fair, but I am dun, i. e. of a dark complexion. And so replies, Tut! dun's the mouse; a proverbial expres

« PreviousContinue »