« PreviousContinue »
La. Cap. We follow thee.—Juliet, the county
stays. Nurse. Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days.
SCENE IV. A Street.
Enter ROMEO, MERCUTIO, BENVOLIO, with five
or six Maskers, Torch-Bearers, and Others. Rom. What, shall this speech be spoke for our
excuse? Or shall we on without apology?
Ben. The date is out of such prolixity?.
Shakspeare appears to have formed this character on the following slight hint:- Another gentleman, called Mercutio, which was a courtlike gentleman, very well beloved of all men, and by reason of his pleasant and courteous behaviour was in al companies wel intertained.'— Painter's Palace of Pleasure, tom. ii.
He is described in similar terms in Arthur Brooke's poem; and it is added :• A gift he had, which nature gave him in his swathing
them hold.' Hence the poet makes him little sensible to the passion of love, and ' a jester at wounds which he never felt.'
2 In King Henry VIII. where the king introduces himself at the entertainment given by Wolsey, he appears, like Romeo and his companions, in a mask, and sends a messenger before with an apology for his intrusion. This was a custom observed by those who came uninvited, with a desire to conceal themselves, for the sake of intrigue, or to enjoy the greater freedom of conversation. Their entry on these occasions was always prefaced by some speech in praise of the beauty of the ladies, or the generosity of the entertainer; and to the prolixity of such introductions it is probable Romeo is made to allude. In Histriomastix, 1610, a man expresses his wonder that the maskers enter without any compliment:- What, come they in so blunt, without device ? Of this kind of masquerading there is a specimen in Timon, where Cupid precedes a troop of ladies with a speech.
We'll have no cupid hood-wink'd with a scarf,
Mer. Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Rom. Not I, believe me: you have dancing shoes, With nimble soles : I have a soul of lead, So stakes me to the ground, I cannot move.
Mer. You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings, And soar with them above a common bound.
Rom. I am too sore enpierced with his shaft,
Mer. And, to sink in it, should you burden love, Too great oppression for a tender thing.
Rom. Is love a tender thing ? it is too rough, Too rude, too boist'rous; and it pricks like thorn.
3 The Tartarian bows resemble in their form the old Roman or Capid's bow, such as we see on medals and bas-relief. Shakspeare uses the epithet to distinguish it from the English bow, whose shape is the segment of a circle.
4 See King Lear, Act iv. Sc. 6, p. 509, note 18.
5 A torch-bearer was a constant appendage to every troop of maskers. To hold a torch was anciently no degrading office. Queen Elizabeth's gentlemen pensioners attended her to Cambridge, and held torches while a play was acted before her in the Chapel of King's College on a Sunday evening. 6 Let Milton on this occasion keep Shakspeare in countePar. Lost, book iv. 1. 180:
in contempt At one slight bound high over-leap'd all bound.' VOL. X.
Mer. If love be rough with you, be rough with love; Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.Give me a case to put my visage in :
[Putting on a Mask. A visor for a visor !—what care I, What curious
eye doth quote 7 deformities? Here are the beetle-brows, shall blush for me.
Ben. Come, knock, and enter: and no sooner in, But every man betake him to his legs.
Rom. A torch for me: let wantons, light of heart, Tickle the senseless rushes 8 with their heels; For I am proverb'd with a grandsire phrase, I'll be a candle-holder, and look on,The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done 9. Mer. Tut! dun's the mouse, the constable's own
word : If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire 10
7 To quote is to note, to mark. See Hamlet, Act ii. Sc. 1, note 10.
8 Middleton (the author of The Witch) bas borrowed this thought in his play of Blurt Master Constable, 1602 :
bid him, whose heart no sorrow feels, Tickle the rushes with his wanton heels,
I have too much lead at mine.' It has been before observed that the apartments of our ancestors. were strewed with rushes, and so it seems was the ancient stage. • On the very rushes when the Comedy is to dance.' - Decker's Gull's Hornbook, 1609. Shakspeare does not stand alone in giving the manners and customs of his own times to all countries and ages. Marlowe, in his Hero and Leander, describes Hero as
fearing on the rushes to be flung.' 9 To hold the candle is a common proverbial expression for being an idle spectator. Among Ray's proverbial sentences we have, ' A good candle holder proves a good gamester. This is the 'grandsire phrase' with which Romeo is proverbed. There is another old prudential maxim subsequently alluded to, which advises to give over when the game is at the fairest. 10 • Tut! dun's the mouse, the constable's own word:
If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire. Dun is the mouse is a proverbial saying to us of vague signification, alluding to the colour of the mouse; but frequently
Of this (save reverence) love, wherein thou stick'st
I mean, sir, in delay We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day. Take our good meaning; for our judgment sits Five times in that, ere once in our five wits 12.
Rom. And we mean well, in going to this mask;
Why, may one ask ?
And so did I.
That dreamers often lie. Rom. In bed, asleep, while they do dream things
employed with no other intent than that of quibbling on the word done. Why it is attributed to a constable we know not. It occurs in the comedy of Patient Grissel, 1603. So in The Two Merry Milkmaids, 1620 :—Why then, 'tis done, and dun's
and undone all the courtiers.' To draw dun out of the mire was a rural pastime, in which dun meant a dun horse, supposed to be stuck in the mire, and sometimes represented by one of the persons who played, at others by a log of wood. Mr. Gifford has described the game, at which he remembers often to have played, in a note to Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas, vol, vii. p. 282 :— A log of wood is brought into the midst of the room; this is dun (the cart horse), and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance, either with or without ropes, to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till all the company take part in it, when dun is extricated of course; and the merriment arises from the awkward and affected efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and sundry arch contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes.'
11 This proverbial phrase, which was applied to superfluous actions in general, occurs again in The Merry Wives of Wind
See vol. i. p. 208. 12 The quarto of 1597 reads, “Three times a day;' and right wits instead of five wits.
Mer. O, then, I see, queen Mab hath been with you. She is the fairies' midwife 13; and she comes In shape no bigger than an agate-stone On the fore-finger of an alderman", Drawn with a team of little atomies 15 Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep: Her waggon-spokes made of long spinners' legs; The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers; The traces, of the smallest spider's web; The collars, of the moonshine's watery beams : Her whip, of cricket's bone; the lash, of film: Her waggoner, a small gray-coated gnat 16 Not half so big as a round little worm Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid : Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut, Made by the joiner squirrel, or old grub, Time out of mind the fairies' coach-makers. And in this state she gallops night by night Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love: On courtiers’knees, that dream on court’sies straight: O’er lawyer's fingers, who straight dream on fees :
13 The fairies' mid»cife does not mean the midwife to the fairies, but that she was the person among the fairies whose department it was to deliver the fancies of sleeping men of their dreams, those children of an idle brain. When we say the king's judges, we do not mean persons who judge the king, but persons appointed by him to judge his subjects.-Steevens. Warburton, with some plausibility, reads, “the fancy's midwife.'
14 The quarto of 1597 has, ‘ of a burgomaster.' The citizens of Shakspeare's time appear to have worn this ornament on the thumb. So Glapthorne in his comedy of Wit in a Constable: * And an alderman, as I may say to you, he has no more wit than the rest o’the bench; and that lies in his thumb ring.' Shakspeare compares his fairy to the figure carved on the agate-stone of a thumb ring. See vol. iii. p. 366, note 7; and vol. v. p. 176, note 29.
15 Atomies for atoms.
16 There is a similar fanciful description of Queen Mab's chariot in Drayton's Nymphidia, which was written several years after this tragedy.