Page images

Cries, cuckold, to my father; brands the harlot
Even here, between the chaste unsmirched brow,4
Of my true mother.

What is the cause, Laertes,
That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?--
Let him go, Gertrude; do not fear our person;
There's such divinity doth hedge a king,
That treason can but peep to what it would,
Acts little of his will.–Tell me, Laertes,
Why thou art thus incens’d;-Let him


Gertrude; Speak, man. Laer. Where is my father? King.

Dead. Queen.

But not by him. King. Let him demand his fill.

Laer. How came he dead? I 'll not be juggled with:
To hell, allegiance! vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience, and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation: To this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I 'll be reveng'd
Most throughly for my father.

Who shall stay you?
Laer. My will, not all the world's:
And, for my means, I 'll husband them so well,
They shall go far with little.

Good Laertes,
If you desire to know the certainty
Of your dear father's death, is 't writ in your revenge,
That, sweepstake, you will draw both friend and foe,
Winner and loser?

Laer. None but his enemies.

Will you know them then?

sc. iii.


unsmirched brow,] i. e. clean, not defiled. To besmirch, our author uses, Act I, sc. v, and again in King Henry V, Act IV,

This seems to be an allusion to a proverb often introduced in the old comedies. Thus, in The London Prodigal, 1605: true as the skin between any man's brows."

The same phrase is also found in Much Ado about Nothing, Act Ill, sc. V. Steevens. s That both the worlds I give to negligence,? So, in Macbeth: “ But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suf


Laer. To his good friends thus wide I 'll ope my arms;
And, like the kind life-rend'ring pelican,
Repast them with my blood.

Why, now you speak
Like a good child, and a true gentleman.
That I am guiltless of your father's death,
And am most sensibly? in grief for it,
It shall as level to your judgment ’pear,8
As day does to your eye.

Danes. within] Let her come in.

Laer. How now! what noise is that?
Enter OPHELIA, fantastically dressed, with Straws and

O heat, dry up my brains! tears seven times salt,
Burn out the sense and virtue of mine eye!
By heaven, thy madness shall be paid with weight,
Till our scale turn the beam. O rose of May!
Dear maid, kind sister, sweet Ophelia ! -

heavens! is 't possible, a young maid’s wits
Should be as mortal as an old man's life?
Nature is fine in love: and, where 'tis fine,
It sends some precious instance of itself



- life-rend'ring pelican,] So, in the ancient Interlude of Nature, bl. 1. no date :

“ Who taught the cok hys watche-howres to observe,
“ And syng of corage wyth shryll throte on hye?
“ Who taught the pellycan her tender hart to carve ?

“ For she nolde suffer her byrdys to dye ?" Again, in the old play of King Leir, 1605:

“ I am as kind as is the pelican,

“ That kils itselfe, to save her young ones lives." It is almost needless to add that this account of the bird is en. tirely fabulous. Steevens.

most sensibly -] Thus the quarto, 1604. The folio, following the error of a later quarto, reads-most sensible.

Malone, to your judgment 'pear,] So the quarto. The folio, and all the later editions, read :

to your judgment pierce, less intelligibly. Johnson.

This elision of the verb to appear, is common to Beaumont and Fletcher. So, in The Maid in the Mill :

They pear so handsomely, I will go forward." Again :

“ And where they 'pear so excellent in little,

They will but fiame in great." Steevens.


After the thing it loves.9
Oph. They bore him barefac'd on the bier;1

Hey no nonny, nonny hey nonny:2

And in his grave rain'd many a tear ;-Fare you well, my dove!:.

Laer. Hadst thou thy wits, and didst persuade revenge, It could not move thus.

Oph. You must sing, Down a-down, an you call him adown-a. O, how the wheel becomes it !3 It is the false steward, that stole his master's daughter.


9 Nature is fine in love : and, where 'tis fine,

It sends some precious instance of itself

After the thing it loves.] These lines are not in the quarto, and might have been omitted in the folio without great loss, for they are obscure and affected; but, I think, they require no emendation. Love (says Laertes) is the passion by which nature is most exalted and refined; and as substances, refined and subtilised, easily obey any impulse, or follow any attraction, some part of nature, so purified and refined, Aies off after the attracting object, after the thing it loves :

“ As into air the purer spirits flow,
“ And separate from their kindred dregs below,

“ So flew her soul.” Johnson. The meaning of the passage may be-That her wits, like the spirit of fine essences, flew off or evaporated. Fine, however, sometimes signifies artful. So, in All's Well that Ends Well: “Thou art too fine in thy evidence.” Steevens.

They bore him barefac'd on the bier ; &c.] So, in Chaucer's Knighte's Tale, Mr. Tyrwhitt's edit. ver. 2879:

“ He laid him bare the visage on the bere,

Therwith he wept that pitee was to here.” Steedens. 2 Hey no nonny, &c.] These words, which were the burthen of a song, are found only in the folio. See Vol. XIV, King Lear, Act III, sc. iii. Malone.

These words are also found in old John Heywood's Play of The Wether:

“ Gyve boys wether, quoth a nonny nonny." I am informed, that among the common people in Norfolk, to nonny signifies to trifle or play with. Steevens.

30, how the wheel becomes it! &c.] The story alluded to I do not know; but perhaps the lady stolen by the steward was reduced to spin. Johnson.

The wheel may mean no more than the burthen of the song, which she had just repeated, and as such was formerly used. I met with the following observation in an old quarto black-letter book, published before the time of Shakspeare. "The song was accounted a good one, thogh it was not moche

Laer. This nothing 's more than matter.

Oph. There 's rosemary, that 's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember: and there is pansies, that 's for thoughts.

graced by the wheele which in no wise accorded with the sub. ject matter thereof."

I quote this from memory, and from a book, of which I cannot recollect the exact title or date ; but the passage was in a preface to some songs or sonnets. I well remember, to have met with the word in the same sense in other old books.

Rota, indeed, as I am informed, is the ancient musical term in Latin, for the burden of a song. Dr. Farmer, however, has just favoured me with a quotation from Nicholas Breton's Toyes of an Idle Head, 1577, which at once explains the word wheel in the sense for which I have contended:

“ That I may sing, full merrily,

“ Not heigh ho wele, but care away!" i e. not with a melancholy, but a cheerful burthen.

I formerly supposed that the ballad alluded to by Ophelia, was that entered on the books of the Stationers' Company: “ October 1580. Four ballades of the Lord of Lorn and the False Steward," &c. but Mr. Ritson assures me there is no corresponding theft in it. Steevens.

I am inclined to think that wheel is here used in its ordinary sense, and that these words allude to the occupation of the girl who is supposed to sing the song alluded to by Ophelia.-The following lines in Hall's Virgidemiarum, 1597, appear to me to add some support to this interpretation :

« Some drunken rimer thinks his time well spent,
“ If he can live to see his name in print;
“ Who when he is once fleshed to the presse,
" And sees his handselle have such fair successe,

Sung to the wheele, and sung unto the payle,

“ He sends forth thraves of ballads to the sale." So, in Sir Thomas Overbury's Characters, 1614: “She makes her hands hard with labour, and her head soft with pittie; and when winter evenings fall early, sitting at her merry wheele, she sings a defiance to the giddy wheele of fortune.”

Our author likewise furnishes an authority to the same pur: pose. Twelfth Night, Act II, sc. iv:

Come, the song we had last night: “The spinsters and knitters in the sun,

“ Do use to chaunt it." A musical antiquary may perhaps contend, that the contro. verted words of the text alludes to an ancient instrument men. tioned by Chaucer, and called by him a rote, by others a vielle; which was played upon by the friction of a wheel. Malone.

4 There's rosemary, that's for remembrance;—and there is pansjes, that 's for thoughts.] There is probably some mythology in

Laer. A document in madness; thoughts and remembrance fitted.

Oph. There 's fennel for you, and columbines:5.

the choice of these herbs, but I cannot explain it. Pansies is for
thoughts, because of its name, Pensees ; but why rosemary indi.
cates remembrance, except that it is an ever-green, and carried
at funerals, I have not discovered. Johnson.
So, in All Fools, a comedy, by Chapman, 1605:

“ What flowers are these ?
“ The pansie this.

“ O, that's for lovers' thoughts .'" Rosemary was anciently supposed to strengthen the memory, and was not only carried at funerals, but worn at weddings, as appears from a passage in Beaumont and Fletcher's Elder Bro. ther, Act III, sc. iii. And from another in Ram-Alley, or Merry Tricks, 1611:

will I be wed this morning,
“ Thou shalt not be there, nor once be graced with

“ A piece of rosemary: Again, in The Noble Spanish Soldier, 1634: “ I meet few but are stuck with rosemary: every one asked me who was to be married.

Again, in Greene's Never too Laté, 1616: “ she hath given thee a nosegay of Powers, wherein, as a top-gallant for all the rest, is set in rosemary for remembrance.

Again, in A Dialogue between Nature and the Phænix, by R. Chester, 1601 :

“ There 's rosemarie ; the Arabians justifie

(Physitions of exceeding perfect skill).

“ It comforteth the braine and memorie," &c. Steevens. Rosemary being supposed to strengthen the memory, was the emblem of fidelity in lovers. So, in A Handfull of Pleasant De. lites, containing sundrie New Sonets, 16mo. 1584: Rosemary

is for remembrance
“ Betweene us daie and night;
“ Wishing that I might alwaies have

“ You present in my sight.” The poem in which these lines are found, is entitled A Nosegaie alwaies sweet for Lovers to send for Tokens of Love, &c. Malone.

5. There's fennel for you, and columbines:] Greene, in his Quip for an Upstart Courtier, 1620, calls fennel, women's weeds: "fit generally for that sex, sith while they are maidens, they wish wantonly."

Among Turbervile's Epitaphes, &c. p. 42, b. I likewise find the following mention of fennel :

Your fenell did declare

(As simple men can showe)
“ That Aattrie in my breast I bare,

“Where friendship ought to grow."


« PreviousContinue »