COMMENTATORS ON SHAKESPEAR.
GENIUS AND WRITINGS;
AND ON THE LABORS OF THOSE WHO HAVE ENDEA-
VOURED TO ELUCIDATE THEM.
By HENRY JAMES PYE.
'Oy ooxh vfMV u <pl*oi b fxh tT£fo$ TaTav, rgayov aiithr/uv, o &.
duru Koaxivov i/noTidivM. — Lucian Demon.
Oae meets now and then with persons who are extremely learned and
knotty in expounding clear cases. — Spec. No. i39.
PRINTED FOR TIPPER AND RICHARDS,
By J. D. Dewick, Aldcrsgute-itreet.
JOHN PENN, ESQ.
THIS LITTLE WORK
AS A TOKEN OF RESPECT, FRIENDSHIP,
SINCERE AND FAITHFUL
HENRY JAMES PYE.
May 4, 18 07.
These Observations are made from the
Edition of Mr. Nichols, in Eight Volumes,
thick 12mo. 1797; and which professes to
be a frugal Selection from the Labors of
all the Commentators,
GENIUS AND WRITINGS OF SHAKESPEAR;
LABORS OF HIS COMMENTATORS.
After so much that has been written on this
subject in the prolegomena to the various editions
of Shakespear, and after the two luminous Essays
of Mrs. Montague and Mr. Morgan, it is difficult
to say any thing new upon tiie subject. I shall
therefore only throw together a few thoughts on
it that have occurred to me during my perusal of
those works, which, through the course of my life,
has been a favourite amusement in my hours of
Those who consider Shakespear only as a dra-
matic writer, will form a very incompetent idea
of his merit; for he possesses every species of
poetical excellence in a very great degree. Of
the contrivance of the fable, and the arrangement
of tile incidents, which Aristotle calls the soul of
the drama, he was very careless, as well as of the
unities considered as essential to probability,
which are very different from the unities hinted
at by Aristotle, and so rigidly adhered to by the
French critics. I see no breach of probability in
the long period that elapses between the third
and fourth Act in The Winter's Tale, any more
than there would have been on the Athenian
stage, where several tragedies were performed in
succession, if the Iphiginia in Taurus had been
acted immediately after the Iphigenia in Aulis.
The real breach of the unity of time, (with which
the unity of place is much connected) is, when the
precise time of action is marked, and events are
made to take place in that time which could not
possibly happen. Of this error the play of Lear
affords a striking example. In the second Act,
Lear comes in with his train to Regan, at Gloces-
ters castle, after having been recently affronted
by Goneril. From the circumstance of the
storm continuing, it is obvious that the interval
between the second and third Acts does not com-
prehend a period of time much exceeding that
which really passes, and yet, in this time, we are
toid that there <' is a power already footed to
revenge the injuries the king now bears ;" and
Cornwall says, « the French are now landed. ''
The same distinction applies to the unity of place.
The creative fancy of the poet, without essen-
tially violating poetical probability, may place his
hero on a magic courser, that can
4 Put a girdle round about the earth
In forty minutes.'
But he must not make an army of men march
from Edinburgh to London in one ni^ht.
Without having recourse to Shakespear or the
Arabian Tales, Euripides will furnish a strong
instance of the breach of both these natural uni-
ties. In the Suppliants, on which Chaucer's Pa-
lemon and Arcite is founded, Thesius marches
from Athens to Thebes, gains a complete victory,
and a messenger return^ with an account of the
battle, during a short dialogue between his mother*
vEthra, and the Chorus.
Shakespear introduces Time as a Chorus, to
apologize for his breach of unity in the Winter's
Tale ; but the Chorus in the Greek tragedy is a
perpetual accuser, and never an apologist; for,
consisting of persons who take an active part in
the drama, their continual presence shews that
no more than the actual time of the performance
of the ode passes during the interval ; and there-
fore the liberty taken by the Greek dramatic
poets, and allowed by Aristotle, of letting the
drama exceed a little one revolution of the sun, is
too much, and offends against the natural unity
In regard to the pathos, also, Shakespear is
greatly inferior to many dramatic poets. In the
terrific and sublime he is uaequailed, but he does
not possess the power of Otv/ay, and many infe-
rior poets, in exciting pity. He is pre-eminent in
" unlocking the gates of horror and thrilling fears,''
but not so ct in opening the sacred source of sym-
pathetic tears f excepting, however, the part of
Constance, in King John, which, when aided by
the voice and action of Mrs. Siddons, is almost
too much for the feelings.
Considering Shakespear as a general poet, we
may say that he highly possesses all the sublimity,
the variety, the accurate description, and the
scenery independent of representation, of the
epopee, both serious and comic united, for we
need not say the comic epopee was lost with the
Margites of Homer, while we possess the Tom
Jones of Fielding. Shakespear, also excels in
that knowledge of the human character and
human heart which forms the complete ethic
poet, and that boldness of conception and facility
of transition, abrupt but not unintelligible, which
is the greatest excellence of the lyric poet.
That Shakespear sometimes swells his sublime
to the bombast, and sometimes &inks his humour
to buffoonery, cannot be denied ; but far-fetched
allusions to contemporary events, and hidden
personal satire, which many of his commentators
are very anxious to find, are very rarely indeed to
be found in his writings.
The chief faults of his commentators, besides
this, arise from a desire to say every thing they
can say, not only on the passage commented on,
but on every thing that has been said in the com-
ment, as well as from a too great display of black-
letter reading. That such a reading is as necessary
to the investigation of certain passages in Shake-
spear, as dung is necessary to produce ferti-
lity, or scaffolding to erect a building; but when
the business is accomplished, who would make
an ostentatious display of either? Other inferior
faults are, imputing expressions to the age of
Shakespear, which are at present in common use ;
or to this or that particular county, when they are
in common use throughout the kingdom.
The latest commentator, Mr. Seymour, is very
anxious to correct the grammar of Shakespear,
and to reform his obsolete language. I was sur-.
prised to find, in the edition before me, the sub-
stitution of akes for aches, making the blank verse
halt for it. This may be expected from news-
paper and gallery critics ; but an editor of Shake-
spear should adhere to the rule laid down bv Dr.
Johnson—^ It is sufficient that the words are
Shakspear's. If phraseology is to be changed as
words grow uncouth by disuse, or coarse by vul-
garity, the history of every language will be lost;
we shall no longer have the words of any author ;
and, as these alterations will be often unskilfully
made, we shall, in time, have little of his
The word aches occurs as a dissyllable in
a much later poet: Swift, the most accurate
writer of his day, has this line in his City Shower:
' Old aches throb, your hollow tooth will rage.*
For so the line stands in every edition down to
the Dublin one 1762, and consequently in those
published during the author's life; but the re-
former has since laid his fingers on it, and in the
modern editions it stands —
' Old ake* will throb,' &c.
I trust no critic living will be offended with the
freedom with which I have treated his opinions :
where such persons as Dr. Johnson, Mr.Warton,
Mr. Steevens, and Sir William Blackstone, have
failed, it is not disgrace for any man to fail.
As I did not wish to swell the work to an un-
reasonable size, I have not gone through the
whole variorum edition, but have made my ob-
servations from the selection of the notes in the
edition of Mr. Nichols.
ON SOME OF THE
CRITICISMS ON SHAKESPEAR.
ACT I. SCENE II.
Full poor cell.] i. e. " A CELL in a great
degree of poverty ." — Steevens. Surely it was
not worth a note to tell us that full, \§ full of ten-
times used for very.
So dry was he for sway.~] i.e. " So thirst}'.
The expression, I am told, is not uncommon in
the midland counties:' — Steevens. Good hea-
vens ! Is not dry, in all parts of England, and by
all ranks of people, used in this sense, at least, as
often as thirsty? I will venture to assert very
often by the critic himself.
A hint,'] " Hint is suggestion/' — Steevens.
Another wonderful discovery.
Race.] " Race, and raciness in wine, signifies
(signify) a kind of tartness." — Blackstone. The
contrary is the case, they signify a taste of the
native richness of the grape.
Curtsied when they have and kissed.] " As
was anciently done at the beginning of some
dances." — Steevens. I wonder the commentator
missed so fair an opportunity of giving a learned
dessertation on the cushion dance.
ACT II. SCENE II.
/ will not take too much for him.] " Too much
means any sum ; ever so much." — Steevens.
" I think the meaning is, let me take what
sum I will, however great, I shall not take too
much for him ; it is impossible for me to sell him
too dear." — Malone. These profound critics
are always digging to the centre for what lies on
the surface. There is no figure of speech more
common among such persons as Stcphano, than
the expression of strong determination by seeming
denial. As, to be sure, I shall not get drunk to-
day. In this sense, the phrase is obviously used
ACT III. SCENE I.
Ferdinand. —Here's my hand.
Miranda.— And mine with my heart in it.~] " It
is still customary in the west of England, when
the conditions of a bargain are agreed upon, for
the parties to ratify it by joining their hands, and
at the same time for the purchaser to give an
earnest. To this practice the poet alludes." —
Henley. Though it must be obvious to every
reader of common sense, that the poet had no
such allusion in his head, but only used the very
common expression of giving hand and heart
together, we are nevertheless obliged to the
learned critic, for informing us, that it was once
customary to bind a bargain by shaking hands and
giving earnest, And that this obsolete custom is
mirabile dictu ! Still to be found in the west of
ACT IV. SCENE I.
Bosh/ acres. ~] " Bosky acres are fields divided
from each other by hedge-rows;" — Steevens.
Bosky acres are shrubby acres. Mr. Steevens
does not seem to understand what hedge-row
means; a narrow thicket dividing two fields which
he supposes it to be, is in some counties called a
roxvy in others a spinwj, and in others a show. A
hedge-row is a line of forest trees in a hedge. So
Milton uses it, hedge-roic elms; and so it is called
all over England.
Sharp furzes, prickly goss^\ u I know not how
Shakespear distinguishes goss from furze, for
what he calls furze, is called gorze or goss in the
midland counties." — Steevens.
Miller gives furze, zvhin, and gorse, as names for
the genista spinosa. But furze is, I conceive, the
proper name, and the other two provincial terms,
jjust as a wheat stubble is called in Hampshire a
wheat ash. In Berkshire, where, though the pro-
nunciation is broad, there are few provincial names
of things, it is always called furze, and the name
of goss or gorse is given to the anonis, called by
Miller, cammocl$, petty whin, or rest harrow.
ACT V. SCENE I.
Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle,
And I would call it' fair.] " 1 take the
sense to be only this. Ferdinand would not, he
says, play her false for the world. Yes, answers
she, I would allow you to do it for something
Jess than the world, for twenty kingdoms ; and I
wish you well enough to allow you after a little
wrangle, that your play was fair. So likewise
Dr. Grey." — Johnson. This explanation would
be just, if it had ended with the word king*
doms. I conceive Shakespear, who was no
nice weigher of words, meant wrangling to be
equivalent with playing false or with unfair
advantage. So in Henry V. the king in ajlu-
sion lo the tennis-balls, directs the ambassadors to
tell the dauphin
He hath made a match with such a wrangler,
That all the courts of France shall be disturb'd
TWO GENTLEMEN OF
act I. SCENE II.
I see you have a month's mind to them.] This
expression is a fine topic for the critics, who take
occasion to shew their learning, by describing it
as a funeral ceremony of our ancestors. Such a
ceremony, however, can have no reference to the
phrase, as it is employed here, and which is still
in use to express the having a great desire for a
ACT I. SCENE IIL
Which would be a great impeachment to his age.]
* Impeachment, Mr. M, Mason very 'justly
observes, signifies reproach or itnputation."-*
Steevens. It is very lucky that this common
usage of the word is confirmed by two critics.
8 TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA.
ACT II. SCENE I.
Servant.'] " Here Sylvia calls her lover servant,
and again her gentle servant. This was the com-
mon language of ladies to their lovers, at the time
when Shakespear wrote." — Sir J. Hawkins.
In the noble gentleman of Beaumont and Fletcher,
the lady's gallant has no other name in the Dra-
matis Personae than servant. Mistress and servant
are always used for lovers in Dryden's plays, and
I believe later ; the former word now is only in.
use, and in a very different sense.
ACT IT. SCENE IV.
' Tls but her picture I have yet beheld.] " This
is evidently a slip of attention, for he has seen
her in the last scene, and in high terms offered
her his service." — Johnson.
" / believe Porte us means that as yet he has
only seen her outward form, without having
known her long enough to have any acquaintance
with her mind." — Steevens.
TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA. 9
Dele / believe, and the last note is unexcep-
ACT III. SCENE I.
For long agone I have forgot to court:
Beside, the fashion of the time is changed!]
" The modes of courtship, the acts by which
men recommended themselves to the ladies/'
Johnson. What a wonderful elucidation of a
difficult passage !
Which is much in a bare Christian!] " Bare
has two senses, mere and w«to/."— Steevens.
Another wonderful discovery,
ACT IV. SCENE III.
As xvhen thy lady and thy true love died,
Upon zchose grave thou vow'dst true chastity.]
The long note about widow's and widower's
vows, and the citing Dugdale, may display Mr.
Steevens's knowledge as an antiquary, but can
have no relation to this passage, which obviously
alludes to the loss of an honorable mistress, and
Hot a wife,
MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
ACT I. SCENE I.
The luce is the fresh fish , the saltfisli is an old
Jish.~] On this strange line, Messrs. Johnson*
Steevens, Toilet, Malone, and Farmer, have writ-
ten a great deal, without throwing the least light
She speaks small, like a woman] u When
female characters were filled by boys, to speak
small like a woman must have been a valuable
qualification/' — Holt White. True, in an actor
of female characters, but as Slender is speaking of
Anne Page, and not of the boy who played the
part, there is no name for the absurdity of this
Yet I live like a poor gentleman born.~\ " As
great a fool as the poet has made Slender, it ap-
THE MERRY WIVES OP WINDSOR. 11
pears by his boasting of his wealth, his breeding, and
his courage, that he knew how to win a woman ;
this is a fine instance of Shakespear's knowledge
of nature." — Warburton. Is it a proof of
Shakespear's knowledge of nature, to make a
character, which he has drawn so near absolute
idiotism, as to be hardly a proper object of
the drama, have a deep insight into the female
disposition? Perhaps, the bishop undervalued
a science in which he was no great adept
himself. Shakespear, however, has made Slender
act quite in character, by not saying a word but
what must make him perfectly ridiculous to any
woman, who was not as great a fool as himself.
ACT I. SCENE IV.
A little wee face.] Messrs. Collins and Ritson
think this word, which is familiar to every child,
a fit subject for serious investigation.
ACT II. SCENE I.
You wot o/l] " To wot, is to know— obso-
lete."— Steevens. Another deep discovery.
J2 THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR,
My desires had Instance and argument to recom-
mend them.'] " Instance is example/' — John-
son. It seldom has any other meaning, but this
is I think an exception, it seems here to mean
ACT II. SCENE III.
My heart of elder.'] " It should be remem-
bered, to make this joke relish, that the elder has
no heart. I suppose this expression were made
use of in opposition to the common one, heart of
oat," — Steevens. The latter part of this note
is just; but where did the critic learn that any
plants was distinguished, by having, or not
having a heart ? Heart is used metaphorically for
the middle of the wood, which in the oak is the
most solid part of the timber, and in the elder
only a soft pith.
ACT III. 'SCENE I.
Piii'ie zcard, or pitty xcary.] As there is no
place of this name, or any thing like it at Wind-
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. 13
sor, I am afraid it will always remain inexplicable,
but the bold alteration to city-ward, i. e. towards
London, adopted in the text of this edition seems
wrong, the scene being at Windsor ; had it been
Jaid in Westminster, it would have been very
plausible. City is never applied to London in
common discourse, as the metropolis in general,
but only to the incorporated part of it, as distin-
guished from Westminster and the suburbs.
ACT lit. SCENE IV.
Cut and long tail."] We have the various opi-
nions of Steevens, Reed, Sir J. Hawkins, and
Judge Blackstone, on this phrase. I wish they
had taken this opportunity to give us a few re-
marks on tag, rag, and bobtail.
ACT IV. SCENE I.
Hemes oahi\ There have been different opi-
nions about this tree. Some have supposed it to
be a tree in the little park, nearly a mile from the
castle, which was cut down a few years since, and
1± THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR.
which was near an old saw-pit, in which the
fictitious fairies might have concealed themselves.
This is the tree. 1 conceive, mentioned bv them in
this note of Steevens. Act V. Scene III. " An
oak, which may be that alluded to by Shakespear,
is still standing close to a pit in Windsor forest.
It is yet shewn as the oak of Heme." The
tree which the keepers shew as Hemes oak, is
also in the little park, not much more than
a hundred yards from the castle ditch, and
in the middle of a row of elms, obviously above
a century its juniors; it is in a state of decay,
and might well have been an old tree in the time
of Shakespear. I do not affirm this is the tree,
but the other could not be the tree; for in Act V.
Scene II. Page proposes to couch in the castle
ditch, t;l: see the light of the fairies ; and that
this was not far from the tree appears from their
laying hold on Falstaff. as soon as he rises from
THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. ||
ACT IV. SCENE V.
Paid.] " To pay, in our author's time, signi-
fied to beat, so in Henry IV. Part I. Seven of the
eleven I paid J 9 — Maloke. That pay often had.
and still has, the signification of beat, is very-
true ; but the illustration is an unlucky one, as
in the passage quoted it signifies to kill.
Poins says, " Pray God you have not murdered
some of them | ,J Falstaff answers : " Nay, that's
past praying for, two I am sure I have pay'd, two
Yogues in buckram suits." Though on this very
place, Malone says, L e. « Drubbed, beaten."
Whatever Falstaff means here, he means in the
passage cited, as he is only particularly describing
the identical circumstance after multiplying two
men in buckram out of four, to seven out of
ACT V. SCENE V.
Ignorance itself is a plummet o'er me.] Without
siting any of the other wis* notes. I shall onlv »ive
16 THE MERRY WIVES OP WINDSOR.
the very sensible remark of the editor, Mr. Nichols.
" Dr. Johnson's note renders this perfectly intel-
ligible, all those which follow it serving only to
shew how agreeably learned critics can blunder."
The concluding note, on the title of Sir Hugh
Evans, begins with an assertion, that, " the
question, whether priests were formerly knights
in consequence of their being called Sir, still re-
mains to be decided." This, however, Mr. Douce
has" afterwards dicided in the negative, after
citing a number of learned authorities. But he
has omitted one from our poet himself, where they
are mentioned in contradistinction to each other;
for in Twelfth Night, Viola says, " I am one that
had rather go with Sir Priest, than Sir Knight."
Mr. Douce, with all his learning, seems to be
ignorant that the bachelors (bas chevaliers) of
arts in our universities (at least in Oxford), are all
styled domini in the battery books, and there are
few clergymen who have not taken that, or a
ACT J. SCENE a-
Post] " Post, in our author's time, signified a
messenger." — Malone. I believe it does still.
In Markland's Pleriplegia, one of the requisites of
a good shooter is having a foot-post's legs.
ACT II. SCENE I.
An excellent breast.] i. e. in singing. The
putting breast for breath being fully established
by T. Warton, Steevens makes the following re-
mark on it — "I suppose this cant term to have
been current among the musicians of the age.
All professions have in some degree their jargon ;
and the remoter they are from liberal science, and
the less consequential to the real interests of life,
the more they strive to hide themselves behind
affected terms and barbarous phraseology." — Of
18 TWELFTH NIGHT.
this note I shall only say, that it only shews Mr.
Steevens had the same regard for musicians as his
fellow-commentator, Dr. Johnson.
ACT II. SCENE III.
Then come kiss me sweeet and twenty^ " This
line is obscure ; we might read —
" Come a kiss then sweet and twenty.
" Yet I know not whether the present reading be
not right ; for, in some countries, sweet and twenty ',
whatever be the meaning, is a phrase of endear-
ment. — Johnson. If there is any such provincial
expression of endearment, it is obviously used
here, but I doubt the fact ; as for colloquial ex-
pressions, Dr. Johnson is no authority. The
meaning I think is sufficiently clear, considering
Shakespear's carelessness of arrangement (which,
indeed, was the error of the time), without the
proposed alteration, which, however, is a good
paraphrase of it. The same kind of expression
occurs in the Merry Wives or Windsor, Act II
Scene I. Good even, and twenty.
TWELFTH NIGHT. 19
Draw three souls out of one weaver!] That
Warburton should suppose that Shakespear alluded
to the peripatetic dogma of the plastic, the animal,
and the natural soul does not surprise me ; it is
exactly in Warburton's manner. But that Far-
mer should add a note to confirm it ; and Malone
only doubt whether the author intended it, does
ACT IT. SCENE IV.
And dallies zvith the innocence of youth.] " To
dally is to play, to trifle. " — Steevens. Was this
explanation necessary ?
But 'tis that miracle and queen of gems
That nature pranks her in J] Warburton, with
his usual absurdity, would substitute mind for in.
Steevens says, " The miracle atfd queen of gems
is her beauty. I humbly conceive Shakespear
meant her natural excellence both of form and
mind in contradistinction to the gifts of fortune.
She pined in thought.] " Thought formerly
s signified melancholy." — Douce. I should like to
20 TWELFTH NIGHT.
see one instance of this, except by implication, as
it may also mean joy, hate, or love. Th plain
meaning here is so clear that it requires an un^