James Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, wrote that in October of 1765, the great lexicographer, essayist, and critic, Dr. Samuel Johnson, "at length gave to the world his edition of 'Shakespeare,' which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface, in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain."
Dr. Johnson had first made himself known as a Shakespearean critic when he published his Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth in 1745. Appended to his commentary on Macbeth was a proposal for a critical edition of Shakespeare's plays. Unfortunately, Johnson was forced to abandon this early proposal due to legal complications. Following further delay while he completed work on his Dictionary, Johnson again published Proposals, dated June 1756, stating that he intended to produce a complete edition of Shakespeare's plays by Christmas of 1757.
In what has been taken to be an extreme example of Dr. Johnson's legendary procrastination (but was more properly the result of illness and other factors), the promised Shakespeare edition didn't make its appearance until 1765. Although Johnson's annotations to the plays, for the most part, fail to fulfill the promise shown in his Observations on Macbeth (even the obsequious Boswell was compelled to confess that the great man's "researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute, as they might have been"), the Preface to the edition has justly been considered one of Johnson's greatest works.
On this page I have provided links to Johnson's Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, his Proposals, the Preface, and a selection of his notes on selected plays. In support of the Second Folio facsimile available on my main Shakespeare Page, the first play on the list of Johnson's notes is Much Ado About Nothing.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Act I, scene i. 22
Leonato. There are no faces truer.
That is, none "honester," none "more sincere."
Act I, scene i. 32
Beatrice. He set up his bills here in Messina, and challeng'd Cupid at the flight
The disuse of the bow makes this passage obscure. Benedick is represented as challenging Cupid at archery. To challenge "at the flight" is, I believe, to wager who shall shoot the arrow furthest without any particular mark. To "challenge at the bird-bolt," seems to mean the same as to challenge at children's archery, with small arrows such as are discharged at birds. In Twelfth Night Lady Olivia opposes a "bird-bolt" to a "cannon bullet," the lightest to the heaviest of missive weapons.
Act I, scene i. 55
Beatrice. ...four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man govern'd with one
In our authour's time "wit" was the general term for intellectual powers. So Davies on the Soul,
Wit, seeking truth from cause to cause ascends
And in another part,
But if a phrenzy do possess the brain,
The "wits" seem to have been reckoned five, by analogy to the five senses, or the five inlets of ideas.
Act I, scene i. 64
Messenger. I see, Lady, the gentleman is not in your books.
This is a phrase used, I believe, by more than understand it. "To be in one's books" is "to be in one's codicils or will, to be among friends set down for legacies."
Act I, scene i. 66
Beatrice. ...is there no young squarer now, that will make a voyage with him to the devil?
A "squarer" I take to be a cholerick, quarrelsome fellow, for in this sense Shakespeare uses the word to "square." So in Midsummer Night's Dream it is said of Oberon and Titania, that "they never meet but they square." So the sense may be, "Is there no hot-blooded youth that will keep him company through all his mad pranks?"
Act I, scene i. 87
Don Pedro. You embrace your charge too willingly
That is, your "burthen," your "encumbrance."
Act I, scene i. 157
Benedick. ...or do you play the flouting Jack, to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder
I know not whether I conceive the jest here intended. Claudio hints his love of Hero. Benedick asks whether he is serious, or whether he only means to jest, and tell them that "Cupid is a good hare-finder, and Vulcan a rare carpenter." A man praising a pretty lady in jest, may shew the quick sight of Cupid, but what has it to do with the "carpentry" of "Vulcan"? Perhaps the thought lies no deeper than this, "Do you mean to tell us as new what we all know already?"
Act I, scene i. 170
Benedick. ...hath not the world one man, but he will wear his cap with suspicion?
That is, subject his head to the disquiet of jealousy.
Act I, scene i. 185
Claudio. If this were so, so were it uttered.
Benedick. Like the old tale, my lord, it is not so, nor 'twas not so; but, indeed, God forbid it should be so.
This and the three next speeches I do not well understand, there seems something omitted relating to Hero's consent, or to Claudio's marriage, else I know not what Claudio can wish "not to be otherwise." The copies all read alike. Perhaps it may be better thus,
Claudio. If this were so, so were it.
Claudio gives a sullen answer, "if it is so, so it is." Still there seems something omitted which Claudio and Pedro concur in wishing.
Act I, scene i. 208
Benedick. I will have a recheate winded in my forehead
That is, "I will wear a horn on my forehead which the huntsman may blow." A "recheate" is the sound by which dogs are called back. Shakespeare had no mercy upon the poor cuckold, his "horn" is an inexhaustible subject of merriment.
Act I, scene i. 221
Don Pedro. ...thou wilt prove a notable argument
An eminent subject for satire.
Act I, scene i. 223
Benedick. ...he that hits me, let him be clapt on the shoulder, and call'd Adam.
Adam Bell was a companion of Robin Hood, as may be seen in "Robin Hood's Garland"; in which, if I do not mistake, are these lines,
For he brought Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough,
And the forester beat them all three.
Act I, scene i. 250
Benedick. ...ere you flout old ends any further, examine your conscience
"Before you endeavour to distinguish your self any more by antiquated allusions, examine whether you can fairly claim them for your own." This I think is the meaning; or it may be understood in another sense, "examine, if your sarcasms do not touch yourself."
Act I, scene iii. 11
Don John. I cannot hide what I am: I must be sad when I have cause, and smile at no man's jests; eat when I have stomach, and wait for no man's leisure
This is one of our authour's natural touches. An envious and unsocial mind, too proud to give pleasure, and too sullen to receive it, always endeavours to hide its malignity from the world and from itself, under the plainness of simple honesty, or the dignity of haughty independence.
Act I, scene iii. 15
Don John. ...laugh when I am merry, and claw no man in his humour.
To "claw" is to flatter, so "the pope's claw backs," in Bishop Jewel, are the pope's "flatterers." The sense is the same in the proverb, Mulus mulum scabit.
Act I, scene iii. 22
Don John. I had rather be a canker in a hedge, than a rose in his grace
A "canker" is the "canker rose, dogrose," cynosbatus, or "hip." The sense is, I would rather live in obscurity the wild life of nature, than owe dignity or estimation to my brother. He still continues his wish of gloomy independence. But what is the meaning of the expression, "a rose in his grace"? If he was a "rose" of himself, his brother's "grace" or "favour" could not degrade him. I once read thus, "I had rather be a canker in a hedge, than a rose in his garden"; that is, I had rather be what nature makes me, however mean, than owe any exaltation or improvement to my brother's kindness or cultivation. But a less change will be sufficient: I think it should be read, "I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose by his grace."
Act II, scene i. 3
Beatrice. I never can see him, but I am heart-burn'd an hour after.
The pain commonly called the "heart-burn," proceeds from an "acid" humour in the stomach, and is therefore properly enough imputed to "tart" looks.
Act II, scene i. 42
Antonio. Well, Niece, I trust, you will be rul'd by your father.
Beatrice. Yes, faith, it is my Cousin's duty to make curtsie, and say, "Father, as it pleases you"; but yet for all that, Cousin, let him be a handsome fellow, or else make another curtsie, and say, "Father, as it pleases me."
Of the two next speeches Mr. Warburton says, "All this impious nonsense thrown to the bottom is the players', and foisted in without rhyme or reason." He therefore puts them in the margin. They do not deserve indeed so honourable a place, yet I am afraid they are too much in the manner of our authour, who is some times trying to purchase merriment at too dear a rate.
Act II, scene i. 59
Beatrice. If the Prince be too important.
"Important" here and in many other places, is "importunate."
Act II, scene i. 82
Don Pedro. My visor is Philemon's roof; within the house is Jove.
[Theobald emended "love" to "Jove"]
This emendation, thus impressed with all the power of his eloquence and reason, Theobald had found in the 4to edition of 1600, which he professes to have seen; and in the first folio, the "l" and "I" are so much alike, that the printers, perhaps, used the same type of either letter.
Act II, scene i. 112
Beatrice. I had my good wit out of the Hundred Merry Tales
A book, I suppose, like the Oxford Jests.
Act II, scene i. 121
Beatrice. ...his gift is in devising impossible slanders.
"Impossible" is better.
"Impossible" slanders are, I suppose, such slanders as, from their absurdity and impossibility, bring their own confutation with them.
Act II, scene i. 167
Benedick. What fashion will you wear the garland of? about your neck, like an usurer's chain?
I know not whether the "chain" was, in our authour's time, the common ornament of wealthy citizens, or whether he satirically uses "usurer" and "alderman" as synonymous terms.
Act II, scene i. 183
Benedick. It is the base (tho' bitter) disposition of Beatrice, that puts the world into her person, and so gives me out
That is, "it is the disposition of Beatrice, who takes upon her to personate the world, and therefore represents the world as saying what she only says herself."
I do not understand how "base" and "bitter" are inconsistent, or why what is "bitter" should not be "base." I believe we may safely read, "It is the base, the bitter disposition."
Act II, scene i. 218
Benedick. ...hudling jest, with such impassible conveyance upon me, that I stood like a man at a mark
[Warburton emended "impossible" to "impassible."]
I know not what to propose. "Impossible" seems to have no meaning here, and for "impassible" I have not found any authority. Spenser uses the word "importable" in a sense very congruous to this passage, for "insupportable," or "not to be sustained."
Both him charge on either side
It may be easily imagined, that the transcribers would change a word so unusual, into that word most like it which they could readily find. It must be however confessed, that "importable" appears harsh to our ears, and I wish a happier critick may find a better word.
Sir Thomas Hanmer reads "impetuous," which will serve the purpose well enough, but is not likely to have been changed to "impossible."
"Importable" was a word not peculiar to Spenser, but used by the last translators of the Apocrypha, and therefore such a word as Shakespeare may be supposed to have written.
Act II, scene i. 286
Beatrice. ...thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sun-burn'd; I may sit in a corner, and cry heigh-ho! for a husband.
What is it, "to go to the world"? perhaps, to enter by marriage into a settled state: but why is the unmarried lady "sun-burnt"? I believe we should read, "thus goes every one to the wood but I, and I am sunburnt." Thus does every one but I find a shelter, and I am left exposed to wind and "sun." "The nearest way to the wood," is a phrase for the readiest means to any end. It is said of a woman, who accepts a worse match than those which she had refused, that she has passed through the "wood," and at last taken a crooked stick. But conjectural criticism has always something to abate its confidence. Shakespeare, in All's Well That Ends Well, uses the phrase, "to go to the world," for "marriage." So that my emendation depends only on the opposition of "wood" to "sun-burnt."
Act II, scene i. 330
Don Pedro. ...to bring Signior Benedick and the Lady Beatrice into a mountain of affection the one with the other
"A mountain of affection with one another" is a strange expression, yet I know not well how to change it. Perhaps it was originally written, "to bring Benedick and Beatrice into a mooting of affection"; to bring them, not to any more "mootings" of contention, but to a "mooting" or conversation of love. This reading is confirmed by the preposition "with"; "a mountain with each other" or "affection with each other" cannot be used, but "a mooting with each other" is proper and regular.
Act II, scene iii. 92
Leonato. I cannot tell what to think of it; but that she loves him with an inraged affection, it is past the infinite of thought.
[Warburton said that Leonato speaks in broken sentences, ending at "affection" and at "thought." He emended to "the definite of."]
Here are difficulties raised only to shew how easily they can be removed. The plain sense is, "I know not what to think otherwise, but that she loves him with an enraged affection": "It" (this affection) is past the infinite of thought. Here are no abrupt stops, or imperfect sentences. "Infinite" may well enough stand; it is used by more careful writers for "indefinite": And the speaker only means, that "thought," though in itself "unbounded," cannot reach or estimate the degree of her passion.
Act II, scene iii. 129
Leonato. O, she tore the letter into a thousand half-pence
[i.e. into a thousand pieces of the same bigness. This is farther explained by a passage in As You Like It. "There were none prinicipal; they were all like one another as half-pence are!" THEOBALD]
How the quotation explains the passage, to which it is applied, I cannot discover.
Act II, scene iii. 165
Don Pedro. ...the man, as you know all, hath a contemptible spirit.
That is, a temper inclined to scorn and contempt. It has been before remarked, that our authour uses his verbal adjectives with great licence. There is therefore no need of changing the word with Sir T. Hanmer to "contemptuous."
Act III, scene i. 52
Hero. Mis-prizing what they look on
Act III, scene i. 95
Ursula. Signior Benedick,
"Argument." This word seems here to signify "discourse," or, the "powers" of reasoning.
Act III, scene i. 104
Ursula. She's lim'd, I warrant you
She is ensnared and entangled as a sparrow with "birdlime."
Act III, scene i. 112
Beatrice. Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand
This image is taken from falconry. She had been charged with being as wild as "haggards of the rock"; she therefore says, that "wild" as her "heart" is, she will "tame" it "to the hand."
Act III, scene ii. 28
Don Pedro. There is no appearance of fancy in him, unless it be a fancy that he hath to strange disguises
Here is to play upon the word "fancy," which Shakespeare uses for "love" as well as for "humour, caprice," or "affection."
Act III, scene ii. 62
Don Pedro. She shall be bury'd with her face upwards.
[Theobald: heels upward]
This emendation, which appears to me very specious, is rejected by Dr. Warburton. The meaning seems to be, that she who acted upon principles contrary to others, should be buried with the same contrariety.
Act III, scene iii. 38
Dogberry. ...only have a care that your bills be not stolen
A "bill" is still carried by the watchmen at Lichfield. It was the old weapon of the English infantry, which, says Temple, "gave the most ghastly and deplorable wounds." It may be called securis falcata.
Act III, scene iv. 40
Margaret. Clap us into Light o' love
A tune so called; which has been already mentioned by our authour.
Act III, scene iv. 40
Beatrice. ...if your husband have stables enough, you'll look he shall lack no barns.
A quibble between "barns," repositories of corn, and "bairns," the old word for children.
Act III, scene iv. 46
Beatrice. By my troth, I am exceeding ill--hey ho!
Margaret. For a hawk, a horse, or a husband?
Beatrice. For the letter that begins them all, H.
This is a poor jest, somewhat obscured, and not worth the trouble of elucidation. Margaret asks Beatrice for what she cries, "hey ho"; Beatrice answers, for an "H," that is, for an "ache" or "pain."
Act III, scene iv. 49
Margaret. Well, if you be not turn'd Turk, there's no more sailing by the star.
[i.e. taken captive by love, and turn'd renegado to his religion. WARBURTON]
This interpretation is somewhat far-fetched, yet, perhaps, it is right.
Act III, scene iv. 69
Beatrice. ...you have some moral in this Benedictus.
That is, some secret meaning, like the "moral" of a fable.
Act III, scene iv. 78
Margaret. ...he swore, he would never marry; and yet now, in despight of his heart, he eats his meat without grudging
I do not see how this is a proof of Benedick's change of mind. It would afford more proof of amorousness to say, "he eats not his meat without grudging"; but it is impossible to fix the meaning of proverbial expressions: perhaps, "to eat meat without grudging," was the same as "to do as others do," and the meaning is, "he is content to live by eating like other mortals, and will be content, notwithstanding his boasts, like other mortals, to have a wife."
Act III, scene v. 13
Verges. I am as honest as any man living, that is an old man, and no honester than I.
[There is much humour, and extreme good sense under the covering of this blundering expression. It is a sly insinuation that length of years, and the being much "hacknied in the ways of men," as Shakespeare expresses it, take off the gloss of virtue, and bring much defilement on the manners. WARBURTON]
Much of this is true, but I believe Shakespeare did not intend to bestow all this reflection on the speaker.
Act III, scene v. 35
Dogberry. ...an two men ride an horse, one must ride behind
This is not out of place, or without meaning. Dogberry, in his vanity of superiour parts, apologizing for his neighbour, observes, that, "of two men on a horse, one must ride behind." The "first" place of rank, or understanding, can belong but to "one," and that happy "one" ought not to despise his inferiour.
Act IV, scene 20
Benedick. How now! Interjections? why, then some be of laughing, as, ha, ha, he!
This is a quotation from the Accidence.
Act IV, scene i. 40
Claudio. She knows the heat of luxurious bed
That is, "lascivious." "Luxury" is the confessor's term for unlawful pleasures of the sex.
Act IV, scene i. 51
Claudio. I never tempted her with word too large
So he uses "large jests" in this play, for "licentious, not restrained within due bounds."
Act IV, scene i. 55
Claudio. Out on thy seeming! I will write against it
[Warburton: rate against]
As to "subscribe to" any thing is to "allow" it, so to "write against" is to "disallow" or "deny."
Act IV, scene i. 57
Claudio. As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown
Before the air has tasted its sweetness.
Act IV, scene i. 73
Claudio. And, by that fatherly and kindly power
That is, "natural power." "Kind" is "nature."
Act IV, scene i. 91
Don Pedro. ...a liberal villain
"Liberal" here, as in many places of these plays, means, "frank beyond honesty" or "decency." "Free of tongue." Dr. Warburton unnecessarily reads "illiberal."
Act IV, scene i. 99
Claudio. O Hero! what a Hero hadst thou been
I am afraid here is intended a poor conceit upon the word "hero."
Act IV, scene i. 121
Leonato. ...could she here deny
That is, "the story which her blushes discover to be true."
Act IV, scene i. 127
Leonato. Griev'd I, I had but one?
[WARBURTON. The meaning of the second line according to the present reading, is this, "Chid I at frugal nature that she sent me a girl and not a boy?" But this is not what he chid nature for; if he himself may be believed, it was because she had given him "but one": and in that he owns he did foolishly, for he now finds he had "one too much." He called her "frugal," therefore, in giving him but one child. (For to call her so because she chose to send a girl, rather than a boy, would be ridiculous) So that we must certainly read,
Chid I for this at frugal nature's 'fraine,
i.e. refraine, "or keeping back her further favours, stopping her hand, as we say, when she had given him one." But the Oxford Editor has, in his usual way, improved this amendment, by substituting "hand" for "'fraine."]
Though "frame" be not the word which appears to a reader of the present time most proper to exhibit the poet's sentiment, yet it may as well be used to shew that he had "one child," and "no more," as that he had a "girl," not a "boy," and as it may easily signify "the system of things," or "universal scheme," the whole order of beings is comprehended, there arises no difficulty from it which requires to be removed by so violent an effort as the introduction of a new word offensively mutilated.
Act IV, scene i. 136
Leonato. But mine, and mine I lov'd, and mine I prais'd,
[Warburton proposed "as" for "and" throughout the two lines.]
Act IV, scene i. 186
Benedick. Two of them have the very bent of honour
"Bent" is used by our authour for the utmost degree of any passion or mental quality. In this play before, Benedick says of Beatrice, "her affection has its full bent." The expression is derived from archery; the bow has its "bent" when it is drawn as far as it can be.
Act IV, scene i. 249
Leonato. Being that I flow in grief,
This is one of our authour's observations upon life. Men overpowered with distress eagerly listen to the first offers of relief, close with every scheme, and believe every promise. He that has no longer any confidence in himself, is glad to repose his trust in any other that will undertake to guide him.
Act IV, scene ii. 63
Sexton. Let them be in hand.
Conrade. Off, coxcomb.
[Warburton, in proposing the reading adopted by Samuel Johnson, mentions Theobald's reference to the differing speech headings in the Quarto.]
Act V, scene i. 15
Leonato. If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
Sir Thomas Hanmer, and after him Dr. Warburton, for "wag" read "waive," which is, I suppose, the same as, "put aside," or "shift off." None of these conjectures satisfy me, nor perhaps any other reader. I cannot but think the true reading nearer than it is imagined. I point thus,
If such an one will smile, and stroke his beard,
That is, "if he will smile, and cry sorrow be gone, and hem instead of groaning." The order in which "and" and "cry" are placed is harsh, and this harshness made the sense mistaken. Range the words in the common order, and my reading will be free from all difficulty.
If such an one will smile, and stroke his beard,
Act V, scene i. 31
Leonato. ...therefore give me no counsel;
That is, than "admonition," than "moral instruction."
Act V, scene i. 102
Don Pedro. Gentlemen both, we will not wake your patience.
WARBURTON. This conveys a sentiment that the speaker would by no means have implied, That the patience of the two old men was not exercised, but asleep, which upbraids them for insensibility under their wrong. Shakespeare must have wrote "-We will not wrack," i.e. destroy your patience by tantalizing you.
This emendation is very specious, and perhaps is right; yet the present reading may admit a congruous meaning with less difficulty than many other of Shakespeare's expressions.
The old men have been both very angry and outrageous; the Prince tells them that he and Claudio "will not wake their patience"; will not any longer force them to "endure" the presence of those whom, though they look on them as enemies, they cannot resist.
Act V, scene i. 140
Claudio. If he be, he knows how to turn his girdle.
We have a proverbial speech, "If he be angry, let him turn his girdle." But I do not know its original or meaning.
Act V, scene i. 159
Don Pedro. ...nay, said I, the gentleman is wise; certain, said she, a wise gentleman
This jest depending on the colloquial use of words is now obscure; perhaps we should read, "a wise gentle-man," or "a man wise enough to be a coward." Perhaps "wise gentleman" was in that age used ironically, and always stood for "silly fellow."
Act V, scene i. 214
Claudio. ...there's one meaning well suited.
That is, "one meaning is put into many different dresses"; the Prince having asked the same question in four modes of speech.
Act V, scene ii. 8
Margaret. To have no man come over me? why, shall I always keep below stairs?
THEOBALD. Thus all the printed copies, but, sure, erroneously: for all the jest, that can lie in the passage, is destroy'd by it. Any man might come "over" her, literally speaking, if she always kept "below" stairs. By the correction I have ventur'd to make, Margaret, as I presume, must mean, What! shall I always keep above stairs? i.e. Shall I for ever continue a chambermaid?
I suppose every reader will find the meaning of the old copies.
Act V, scene ii. 15
Benedick. I give thee the bucklers
I suppose that to "give the bucklers" is, "to yield," or to "lay by all thoughts of defence," so clipeum abjicere. The rest deserves no comment.
Act V, scene iii. 13
Song. "Those that slew thy virgin knight"
"Knight," in its original signification, means "follower" or "pupil," and in this sense may be feminine. Helena, in All's Well, That Ends Well, uses "knight" in the same signification.
LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST
Act I, scene i. 31
The stile of the rhyming scenes in this play is often entangled and obscure. I know not certainly to what "all these" is to be referred; I suppose he means that he finds "love, pomp, and wealth in philosophy."
Act I, scene i. 75
"Falsly" is here, and in many other places, the same as "dishonestly" or "treacherously." The whole sense of this gingling declamation is only this, that "a man by too close study may read himself blind," which might have been told with less obscurity in fewer words.
Act I, scene i. 82
This is another passage unnecessarily obscure: the meaning is, that when he "dazzles," that is, has his eye made weak, "by fixing his eye upon a fairer eye, that fairer eye shall be his heed," his "direction" or "lodestar, (see Midsummer Night's Dream) and give him light that was blinded by it."
Act I, scene i. 92
WARBURTON. The first line in this reading is absurd and impertinent. There are two ways of setting it right. The first is to read it thus,
This makes a fine sense, and alludes to Adam's Fall, which came from the inordinate passion of knowing too much. The other way is to read, and point it thus,
i.e. "to feign." As much as to say, the affecting to know too much is the way to know nothing. The sense, in both these readings, is equally good: But with this difference; If we read the first way, the following line is impertinent; and to save the correction we must judge it spurious. If we read it the second way, then the following line compleats the sense. Consequently the correction of "feign" is to be preferred. "To know too much (says the speaker) is to know nothing; it is only feigning to know what we do not: giving names for things without knowing their natures; which is false knowledge": And this was the peculiar defect of the Peripatetic Philosophy then in vogue. These philosophers, the poet, with the highest humour and good sense, calls the "Godfathers of Nature," who could only give things a "name," but had no manner of acquaintance with their essences.
That there are "two ways of setting" a passage "right" gives reason to suspect that there may be a third way better than either. The first of these emendations "makes a fine sense," but will not unite with the next line; the other makes a sense less fine, and yet will not rhyme to the correspondent word. I cannot see why the passage may not stand without disturbance. "The consequence," says Biron, "of too much knowledge," is not any real solution of doubts, but mere empty "reputation." That is, "too much knowledge gives only fame, a name which every godfather can give likewise.
Act I, scene i. 95
To "proceed" is an academical term, meaning, "to take a degree," as "he proceeded bachelor in physik." The sense is, "he has taken his degrees on the art of hindring the degrees of others."
Act I, scene i. 147
Biron amidst his extravagancies, speaks with great justness against the folly of vows. They are made without sufficient regard to the variations of life, and are therefore broken by some unforeseen necessity. They proceed commonly from a presumptuous confidence, and a false estimate of human power.
Act I, scene i. 156
Act I, scene i. 159
Act I, scene i. 166
WARBURTON. As very bad a play as this is, it was certainly Shakespeare's, as appears by many fine master-strokes scattered up and down. An excessive complaisance is here admirably painted, in the person of one who was willing to make even "right" and "wrong" friends: and to persuade the one to recede from the accustomed stubbornness of her nature, and wink at the liberties of her opposite, rather than he would incur the imputation of ill-breeding in keeping up the quarrel. And as our author, and Jonson his contemporary, are, confessedly, the two greatest writers in the drama that our nation could ever boast of, this may be no improper occasion to take notice of one material difference between Shakespeare's worst plays, and the other's. Our author owed all to his prodigious natural genius; and Jonson most to his acquired parts and learning. This, if attended to, will explain the difference we speak of. Which is this, that, in Jonson's bad pieces, we do not discover the least traces of the author of the Fox and Alchemist; but, in the wildest and most extravagant notes of Shakespeare, you every now and then encounter strains that recognize their divine composer. And the reason is this, that Jonson owing his chief excellence to art, by which he sometimes strain'd himself to an uncommon pitch, when he unbent himself, had nothing to support him; but fell below all likeness of himself: while Shakespeare, indebted more largely to nature than the other to his acquired talents, could never, in his most negligent hours, so totally divest himself of his genius but that it would frequently break out with amazing force and splendour.
This passage I believe means no more than that Don Armado was a man nicely versed in ceremonial distinctions, one who could distinguish in the most delicate questions of honour the exact boundaries of right and wrong. "Compliment," in Shakespeare's time, did not signify, at least did not only signify verbal civility, or phrases of courtesy, but according to its original meaning, the trappings, or ornamental appendages of a character, in the same manner, and on the same principles, of speech with "accomplishment." "Compliment" is, as Armado well expresses it, "the varnish of a complete man."
Act I, scene i. 171
The "world" seems to be used in the monastick sense by the king now devoted for a time to a monastick life. "In the world," in seculo, in the bustle of human affairs, from which we are now happily sequestred, "in the world," to which the votaries of solitude have no relation.
Act I, scene i. 236
A "minow" is a little fish which cannot be intended here. We may read, "the base minion of thy mirth."
Act I, scene ii. 4
"Imp" was anciently a term of dignity. Lord Cromwel in his last letter to Henry VIII. prays for "the imp his son." It is now used only in contempt or abhorrence; perhaps in our authour's time it was ambiguous, in which state it suits well with this dialogue.
Act I, scene ii. 33
By "crosses" he means money. So in As You Like It, the Clown says to Celia, "if I should bear you I should bear no cross."
Act I, scene ii. 37
Dull. Come, Jaquenetta, away.
[Theobald stated that "all the printed copies" assign these two lines to "Maid." He therefore printed as above.]
[Theobald stated that "all the printed copies" assign these two lines to "Maid." He therefore printed as above.]
Act I, scene ii. 155
I suppose we should read, it is not for prisoners to be silent in their "wards," that is, in "custody," in the "holds."
Act I, scene ii. 167
See the last act of As You Like It with the notes.
Act II, scene i. 15
"Chapman" here seems to signify the "seller," not, as now commonly, the "buyer." "Cheap" or "cheping" was anciently "market," "chapman" therefore is "marketman." The meaning is, that "the estimation of beauty depends not on the uttering or proclamation of the seller, but on the eye of the buyer."
Act II, scene i. 104
Sir T. Hanmer reads "not" sin to break it. I believe erroneously. The Princess shews an inconvenience very frequently attending rash oaths, which whether kept or broken produce guilt.
Act II, scene i. 202
That is, mayst thou have sense and seriousness more proportionate to thy beard, the length of which suits ill with such idle catches of wit.
Act II, scene i. 222
"Several" is an inclosed field of a private proprietor, so Maria says, "her lips are private property." Of a Lord that was newly married one observed that he grew fat; yes, said Sir Walter Raleigh, any beast will grow fat, if you take him from the "common" and graze him in the "several."
Act II, scene i. 237
That is, "his tongue being impatiently desirous to see as well as speak."
Act II, scene i. 240
Perhaps we may better read, "to feed only by looking."
Act II, scene i. 257
[Theobald maintained that the act should not end here.]
[Theobald maintained that the act should not end here.]
Act III, scene i. 1
In the folios the direction is, "enter Braggart and Moth," and at the beginning of every speech of Armado stands "Brag." both in this and the foregoing scene between him and his boy. The other personages of this play are likewise noted by their characters as often as by their names. All this confusion has been well regulated by the later editors.
Act III, scene i. 3
Here is apparently a song lost.
Act III, scene i. 19
Dr. Warburton has here changed "compliments" to "'complishments" for "accomplishments," but unnecessarily.
Act III, scene i. 27
Moth. No, master; the hobby-horse is but a colt
"Colt" is a hot mad-brained unbroken young fellow, or sometimes an old fellow with youthful desires.
Act III, scene i. 56
Moth. You are too swift, Sir, to say so.
Is that lead slow, Sir, which is fir'd from a gun?
How is he too swift for saying that lead is slow? I fancy we should read, as well to supply the rhyme as the sense,
Act III, scene i. 62
Welkin is the sky, to which Armado, with the false dignity of a Spaniard, makes an apology for sighing in its face.
Act III, scene i. 67
The old folio reads, "no salve in thee male, Sir," which in another folio, is "no salve, in the male, Sir." What it can mean is not easily discovered: if "mail" for a "packet" or "bag" was a word then in use, "no salve in the mail" may mean no salve in the mountebank's budget. Or shall we read, "no egma, no riddle, no l'envoy--in the vale, Sir--O, Sir, plantain." The matter is not great, but one would wish for some meaning or other.
Act III, scene i. 128
[Warburton defined incony and kony as "fine, delicate" and emended "Jew" to "jewel"]
"Cony" has the signification here given it, but "incony" I never heard nor read elsewhere. I know not whether it be right, however specious, to change "Jew" to "jewel." "Jew," in our author's time, was, for whatever reason, apparently a word of endearment. So in Midsummer Night's Dream,
Act III, scene i. 170
Mr. Upton has made a very ingenious conjecture on this passage. He reads, "This Signior Julio's giant-dwarf." Shakespeare, says he, intended to compliment Julio Romano, who drew Cupid in the character of a giant-dwarf. Dr. Warburton thinks, that by "Junio" is meant youth in general.
Act III, scene i. 175
An "apparitor," or "paritor," is the officer of the bishop's court who carries out citations; as citations are most frequently issued for fornication, the "paritor" is put under Cupid's government.
Act III, scene i. 177
The conceit seems to be very forced and remote, however it be understood. The notion is not that the "hoop wears colours," but that the colours are worn as a "tumbler" carries his "hoop," hanging on one shoulder and falling under the opposite arm.
Act III, scene i. 194
To this line Mr. Theobald extends his second act, not injudiciously, but, as was before observed, without sufficient authority.
Act IV, scene i. 18
To understand how the princess has her glass so ready at hand in a casual conversation, it must be remembered that in those days it was the fashion among the French ladies to wear a looking glass, as Mr. Bayle coarsely represents it, "on their bellies"; that is, to have a small mirrour set in gold hanging at the girdle, by which they occasionally viewed their faces, or adjusted their hair.
Act IV, scene i. 34
[WARBURTON: tho' my heart]
"That my heart means no ill," is the same with "to whom my heart means no ill": the common prase suppresses the particle, as "I mean him (not to him) no harm."
Act IV, scene i. 41
Here, I believe, is a kind of jest intended; a member of the "common"-wealth is put for one of the "common" people, one of the meanest.
Act IV, scene i. 49
[WARBURTON: my waste...your wit...my waste]
This conjecture is ingenious enough, but not well considered. It is plain that the ladies' girdles would not fit the princess. For when she has referred the clown to "the thickest and the tallest," he turns immediately to her with the blunt apology, "truth is truth"; and again tells her, "you are the thickest here." If any alteration is to be made, I should propose,
This would point the reply; but perhaps he mentions the slendernes of his own wit to excuse his bluntness.
Act IV, scene i. 63
This story is again alluded to in Henry IV.
"Let King Cophetua know the truth thereof." But of this king and beggar the story then, doubtless, well known, is, I am afraid, lost. Zenelophon has not the appearance of a female name, but since I know not the true name, it is idle to guess.
Act IV, scene i. 90
Just now; a little while ago. So Raleigh,
Act IV, scene i. 99
Perhaps the Princess said rather "Come, ladies, away."--The rest of the scene deserves no care.
Act IV, scene ii. 1
WARBURTON. There is very little personal reflexion in Shakespeare. Either the virtue of those times, or the candour of our author, has so effected, that his satire is, for the most part, general, and as himself says,
The place before us seems to be an exception. For by Holofernes is designed a particular character, a pedant and schoolmaster of our author's time, one John Flono, a teacher of the Italian tongue in London, who has given us a small dictionary of that language under the title of A world of words, which in his Epistle Dedicatory he tells us, "is of little less value than Stephens's treasure of the Greek tongue," the most compleat work that was ever yet compiled of its kind. In his preface, he calls those who had criticized his works "Sea-dogs or Land-critics; Monsters of men, if not beasts rather than men; whose teeth are canibals, their toongs addars-forks, their lips aspes poison, their eyes basiliskes, their breath the breath of a grave, their words like swordes of Turks that strive which shall dive deepest into a Christian lying bound before them." Well therefore might the mild Nathaniel desire Holofernes to "abrogate scurrility." His profession too is the reason that Holofernes deals so much in Italian sentences. There is an edition of Love's Labour's lost, printed 1598, and said to be "presented before her Highness this last Christmas 1597." The next year 1598, comes out our John Flono with his World of Words, recentibus odjis; and in the preface, quoted above, falls upon the comic poet for bringing him on the stage. "There is another sort of leering curs, that rather snarle than bite, whereof I could instance in one, who lighting on a good sonnet of a gentleman's, a friend of mine, that loved better to be a poet than to be counted so, called the author a Rymer.--Let Aristophanes and his comedians make plaies, and scowre their mouths on Socrates; those very mouths they make to vilifie shall be the means to amplifie his virtue, &c." Here Shakespeare is so plainly marked out as not to be mistaken. As to the "sonnet" of "The Gentleman his friend," we may be assured it was no other than his own. And without doubt was parodied in the very sonnet beginning with "The praisefull Princess, &c." in which our author makes Holofernes say, "He will something affect the letter; for it argues facility." ...
I am not of the learned commentator's opinion, that the satire of Shakespeare is so seldom personal. It is of the nature of personal invectives to be soon unintelligible; and the authour that gratifies private malice, animam in volnere penit [Virgil, Georgics, "...and lay down their lives in the wound." (Describing angry bees.)], destroys the future efficacy of his own writings, and sacrifices the esteem of succeeding times to the laughter of a day. It is no wonder, therefore, that the sarcasms which, perhaps, in the authour's time "set the playhouse in a roar,"are now lost among general reflections. Yet whether the character of Holofernes was pointed at any particular man, I am, notwithstanding the plausibility of Dr. Warburton's conjecture, inclined to doubt. Every man adheres as long as he can to his own preconceptions. Before I read this note I considered the character of Holofernes as borrowed from the Rhombus of Sir Philip Sidney, who, in a kind of pastoral entertainment exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, has introduced a schoolmaster so called, speaking "a leash of languages at once," and puzzling himself and his auditors with a jargon like that of Holofernes in the present play. Sidney himself might bring the character from Italy; for as Peacham observes, the schoolmaster has long been one of the ridiculous personages in the farces of that country.
Act IV, scene ii. 26
[WARBURTON. I read, "we thankful should be for those parts (which we taste and feel ingradare) that do fructify," &c.]
And Mr. Edwards in his animadversions on Dr. Warburton's notes, applauds the emendation. I think both the editors mistaken, except that Sir T. Hanmer found the metre though he missed the sense. I read, with a slight change,
That is, "such barren plants" are exhibited in the creation, to make us "thankful when we have more taste and feeling than he, of those parts or qualities which produce fruit in us," and preserve us from being likewise "barren plants." Such is the sense, just in itself and pious, but a little clouded by the diction of Sir Nathaniel. The length of these lines was no novelty on the English stage. The moralities afford scenes of the like measure.
Act IV, scene ii. 28
The meaning is, to be in a school would as ill become "a patch," or low fellow, as folly would become me.
Act IV, scene ii. 92
Act IV, scene ii. 140
That is, specious, or fair seeming appearances.
Act IV, scene iii. 2
Alluding to lady Rosaline's complexion, who is, through the whole play, represented as a black beauty.
Act IV, scene iii. 25
I cannot think the "night of dew" the true reading, but know not what to offer.
Act IV, scene iii. 43
The punishment of perjury is to wear on the breast a paper expressing the crime.
Act IV, scene iii. 70
The "liver" was anciently supposed to be the seat of love.
Act IV, scene iii. 106
Perhaps we may better read, "Ah! would I might triumph so."
Act IV, scene iii. 118
Act IV, scene iii. 144
Act IV, scene iii. 161
"Knot" has no sense that can suit this place. We may read "sot." The rhymes in this play are such as that "sat" and "sot" may be well enough admitted.
Act IV, scene iii. 175
[WARBURTON: vane like]
Act IV, scene iii. 226
Something like this is a stanza of Sir Henry Wotton, of which the poetical reader may forgive the insertion.
Act IV, scene iii. 252
[WARBURTON: beauty's crete]
Act IV, scene iii. 286
"A man at arms," is a soldier armed at all points both offensively and defensively. It is no more than, "Ye soldiers of affection."
Act IV, scene iii. 298
This and the two following lines are omitted, I suppose, by mere over-sight, in Dr. Warburton's edition.
Act IV, scene iii. 308
[WARBURTON: We should read "duty," i.e. ethics, or the offices and devoirs that belong to man. A woman's eye, says he, teaches "observance" above all other things.]
The sense is plain without correction. A lady's eye[s] give a fuller notion of beauty than any authour.
I.e. a lady's eyes give a fuller notion of beauty than any authour.
Act IV, scene iii. 316
[WARBURTON: He calls them "numbers," alluding to the Pythagorean principles of astronomy]
Act IV, scene iii. 340
The ancient reading is, "make heaven."
Act IV, scene iii. 353
Perhaps we might read thus, transposing the lines,
The antithesis of "a word that all men love," and "a word which loves all men," though in itself worth little, has much of the spirit of this play.
Act V, scene i. 2
I know not well what degree of respect Shakespeare intends to obtain for this vicar, but he has here put into his mouth a finished representation of colloquial excellence. It is very difficult to add any thing to this character of the schoolmaster's table-talk, and perhaps all the precepts of Castiglione will scarcely be found to comprehend a rule for conversation so justly delineated, so widely dilated, and so nicely limited.
It may be proper just to note, that "reason" here, and in many other places, signifies "discourse," and that "audacious" is used in a good sense for "spirited, animated, confident." "Opinion" is the same with "obstinacy" or opiniatrete.
Act V, scene i. 11
To have the beard "piqued" or shorn so as to end in a point, was in our authour's time a mark of a traveller affecting foreign fashions: so says the Bastard in K. John.
Act V, scene i. 21
There seems yet something wanting to the integrity of this passage, which Mr. Theobald has in the utmost corrupt and difficult places very happily restored. For "ne intelligis Domine, to make frantick, lunatick," I read "(nonne intelligis, Domine?) to be mad, frantick, lunatick."
Act V, scene i. 37
This word, whencesoever it comes, is often mentioned as the longest word known.
Act V, scene i. 89
The authour has before call'd the beard valour's excrement in the Merchant of Venice.
Act V, scene ii. 42
Rosaline. 'Ware pencils.
The former editions read, "were pencils." Sir T. Hanmer here rightly restored "'ware pencils." Rosaline, a black beauty, reproaches the fair Catharine for painting.
Act V, scene ii. 69
These are observations worthy of a man who has surveyed human nature with the closest attention.
Act V, scene ii. 87
The Princess of France invokes, with too much levity, the patron of her country, to oppose his power to that of Cupid.
Act V, scene ii. 117
"Spleen ridiculous" is, a ridiculous "fit."
Act V, scene ii. 205
When Queen Elizabeth asked an ambassadour how he liked her Ladies, "It is hard," said he, "to judge of stars in the presence of the sun."
Act V, scene ii. 235
To "cogg" signifies "to falsify the dice," and "to falsify a narrative," or "to lye."
Act V, scene ii. 281
This line is not universally understood, because every reader does not know that a "statute cap" is part of the academical habit. Lady Rosaline declares that her expectation was disappointed by these courtly students, and that "better wits" may be found in the common places of education.
[GRAY: "Woolen caps" were enjoined by act of parliament, in the year 1571, 13th Queen Elizabeth]
I think my own interpretation of this passage right.
Act V, scene ii. 440
Princess. Your oath once broke, you force not to forswear.
"You force not" is the same with "you make no difficulty." This is a very just observation. The crime which has been once committed, is committed again with less reluctance.
In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages mean, childish, and vulgar; and some which ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden queen. But there are scattered, through the whole, many sparks of genius; nor is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakespeare.
© 1999 by Clark J. Holloway.