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Enter King, Queen, LAERTES, Lords, OSRIC, and Atten
dants with Foils, Sc. King. Come, Hamlet, come, and take this hand from
[The King puts the Hand of Laertes into that of
HAMLET. Ham. Give me your pardon, sir:5 I have done you
wrong; But pardon it, as you are a gentleman. This
presence knows, and you must needs have heard, How I am punish'd with a sore distraction. What I have done, That might your nature, honour, and exception, Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness. Was 't Hamlet wrong'd Laertes? Never, Hamlet : If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away, And, when he's not himself, does wrong Laertes, Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. Who does it then? His madness: If’t be so, Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd;
of it, what matters it how soon we lose them? Therefore come what will, I am prepared.” Warburton.
The reading of the quarto was right, but in some other copy the harshness of the tranposition was softened, and the passage stood thus:-Since no man knows aught of what he leaves. For knows was printed in the later copies has, by a slight blunder in such typographers.
I do not think Dr. Warburton's interpretation of the passage the best that it will admit. The meaning may be this, -Since no man knows aught of the state of which he leaves, since he cannot judge what other years may produce, why should he be afraid of leaving life betimes? Why should he dread an early death, of which he cannot tell whether it is an exclusion of happiness, or an interception of calamity. I despise the superstition of augury and omens, which has no ground in reason or piety; my comfort is, that I cannot fall but by the direction of Providence.
Sir T. Hanmer has—Since no man owes aught, a conjecture not very reprehensible. Since no man can call any possession certain, what is it to leave? Johnson.
Dr. Warburton has truly stated the reading of the first quarto, 1604. The folio reads,-Since no man has ought of what he leaves, what is 't to leave betimes?
In the late editions neither copy has been followed. Malone.
5 Give me your pardon, sir:] I wish Hamlet had made some other defence; it is unsuitable to the character of a good or a brave man, to shelter himself in falsehood. Johnson.
His madness is
I am satisfied in nature,
I embrace it freely;
Come, one for me.
6 Sir, &c.] This passage I have restored from the folio.
Steevens 7 I am satisfied in nature, &c.] This was a piece of satire on fantastical honour. Though nature is satisfied, yet he will ask advice of older men of the sword, whether artificial honour ought to be contented with Hamlet's submission. There is a passage somewhat similar in The Maid's Tragedy:
“ Evad. Will you forgive me then ?
“ Mel. Stay, I must ask mine honour first.” Steevens. 8 Till by some elder masters, of known honour,] This is said in allusion to an English custom. I learn from an ancient MS. of which the reader will find a more particular account in a note to The Merry Wives of Windsor, Vol. III, p. 27, n. 9; that in Queen Elizabeth's time there were “ four ancient masters of defence,” in the city of London. They appear to have been the referees in many affairs of honour, and exacted tribute from all inferior practitioners of the art of fencing, &c.
Steevens. Our poet frequently alludes to English customs, and may have done so here, but I do not believe that gentlemen ever submitted points of honour to persons who exhibited themselves for money as prize-fighters on the publick stage; though they might appeal in certain cases to Raleigh, Essex, or Southampton, who from their high rank, their course of life, and established reputation, might with strict propriety be styled, "elder masters, of knorun honour." Malone. VOL. XV.
Stick fiery off indeed.
You mock me, sir.
Very well, my lord;
King. I do not fear it; I have seen you both :-
Laer. This is too heavy, let me see another.
[They prepare to play. Osr. Ay, my good lord. King. Set me the stoups of wine upon that table:
like a star i' the darkest night, Stick fiery off indeed.] So, in Chapman's version of the twen. ty-second Iliad:
a world of stars &c.
the midnight that renders them most showne, “ Then being their foil; -,” Steevens. 1 Your grace hath laid the odds o' the weaker side.] When the odds were on the side of Laertes, who was to hit Hamlet twelve times to nine, it was perhaps the author's slip. Sir T. Hanmer reads
Your grace hath laid upon the weaker side. Fohnson. ·. I see no reason for altering this passage. Hamlet considers the things imponed by the King, as of more value than those imponed by Laertes; and therefore says, that he had laid the odds on the weaker side.” M. Mason.
Hamlet either means, that what the King had laid was more valuable than what Laertes staked; or that the king hath made his bet, an advantage being given to the weaker party. I believe the first is the true interpretation. In the next line but one the word odds certainly means an advantage given to the party, but here it may have a different sense. This is not an uncommon practice with our poet. Maione.
The King had wagered, on Hamlet, six Barbary horses, against a few rapiers, poniuris, &c. that is, about twenty to one. These are the ouds here meant. Ritson.
2 But sinee he's better'd, we have therefore odds.] These odds were twelve to nine in favour of Hamlet, by Laertes giving him three. Ritson. the stoups of wine — ] A stoop is a kind of flagon.
Steevens. Containing somewhat more than two quarts. Malone.
Stoup is a common word in Scotland at this day, and denotes a pewter vessel, resembling our wine measure; but of no deter
If Hamlet give the first or second hit,
minate quantity, that being ascertained by an adjunct, as gallonstoup, pint-stoup, mutchkin-stoup, &c. The vessel in which they fetch or keep water is also called the water-stoup. A stoup of wine is therefore equivalent to a pitcher of wine. Ritson. * And in the cup an union shall he throw,] In some editions:
And in the cup an onyx shall he throw. This is a various reading in several of the old copies; but union seems to me to be the true word. If I am not mistaken, neither the onyx, nor sardonyx, are jewels which ever found place in an imperial crown. An union is the finest sort of pearl, and has its place in all crowns, and coronets. Besides, let us consider what the King says on Hamlet's giving Laertes the first hit:
Stay, give me drink. Hamlet, this pearl is thine ;
“ Here's to thy health.” Therefore, if an union be a pearl, and an onyx a gem, or stone, quite differing in its nature from pearls; the King saying, that Hamlet has earned the pearl, I think, amounts to a demonstration that it was an union pearl, which he meant to throw into the cup. Theobald.
And in the cup an union shall he throw,] Thus the folio rightly. In the first quarto, by the carelessness of the printer, for union we have unice, which in the subsequent quarto copies was made onyx. An union is a very precious pearl. See Bullokar's English Expositor, 1616, and Florio's Italian Dictionary, 1598, in v.
Malone. So, in Soliman and Perseda :
Ay, were it Cleopatra's union.” The union is thus mentioned in P. Holland's translation of Pliny's Natural History: “ And hereupon it is that our dainties and delicates here at Rome, &c. call them unions, as a man would say singular and by themselves alone.”
To swallow a pearl in a draught seems to have been equally common to royal and mercantile prodigality. So, in the Second Part of If You know not Me, You know Nobody, 1606, Sir Thomas Gresham says:
“ Here 16,000 pound at one clap goes.
“Unto his queen and mistress.” It may be observed, however, that pearls were supposed to possess an exhilarating quality. Thus, Rondelet, Lib. I, de Te. stac, C. XV: “ Uniones quæ à conchis &c. valde cordiales sunt.”
And let the kettle to the trumpet speak,
Ham. Come on, sir.
Come, my lord. [They play. Ham.
Judgment. Osr. A hit, a very palpable hit. Laer.
Well,-again. King. Stay, give me drink: Hamlet, this pearl is
thine ;5 Here 's to thy health.-Give him the cup.
[Trumpets sound ; and Cannon shot off within. Ham. I'll play this bout first, set it by awhile. Come.-Another hit; What say you? [They play.
Laer. A touch, a touch, I do confess.
this pearl is thine ;) Under pretence of throwing a pearl into the cup, the King may be supposed to drop some poisonous drug into the wine. Hamlet seems to suspect this, when he af. terwards discovers the effects of the poison, and tauntingly asks him,"Is the union here?" Steevens.
Queen. He's fat, and scant of breath.] It seems that John Lowin, who was the original Falstaff, was no less celebrated for bis performance of Henry VIII, and Hamlet. See the Historia Histrionica, &c. If he was adapted, by the corpulence of his figure, to appear with propriety in the two former of these cha. racters, Shakspeare might have put this observation into the mouth of her majesty, to apologize for the want of such elegance of person as an audience might expect to meet with in the representative of the youthful prince of Denmark, whom Ophelia speaks of as “the glass of fashion and the mould of form.” This, however, is mere conjecture, as Joseph Taylor likewise acted Hamlet during the life of Shakspeare.
In Ratsie's Ghost, (Gamaliel) no date, about 1605, bl. 1. 4o. the second part of his madde prankes &c. He robs a company of players. “ Sirra, saies he to the chiefest of them, thou hast a good presence on a stage-get thee to London, for if one man were dead, [Lowin, perhaps,] there would be none fitter than thyself to play bis parts--I durst venture all the money in my purse on thy head to play Hamlet with him for a wager." He knights bim afterwards, and bids him~"Rise up, Sir Simon