Imatges de pàgina

Their medicínal gum:’ Set you down this:

gotten, or at least imperfectly remembered. I have read in some book, as ancient as the time of Shakspeare, the following tale; though, at present, I am unable either to recollect the title of the piece, or the author's name:

A Jew, who had been prisoner for many years in diftant parts, brought with him at his return to Venice a great number of pearls, which he offered on the 'change among the merchants, and (one alone excepted) disposed of them to his fatisfaction. On this pearl, which was the largest ever shown at market, he had fixed an immoderate price, nor could be persuaded to make the least abatement. Many of the magnificoes, as well as traders, offered him considerable sums for it, but he was resolute in his first demand. At last, after repeated and unsuccessful applications to individuals, he assembled the merchants of the city, by proclamation, to meet him on the Rialto, where he once more exposed it to sale on the former terms, but to no purpose. After having expatiated, for the last time, on the fingular beauty and value of it, he threw it fuddenly into the sea before them all.”

Though this anecdote may appear inconsistent with the avarice of a Jew, yet it fufficiently agrees with the spirit fo remarkable at all times in the scattered remains of that vindictive nation.

Shakspeare's seeming aversion to the Jews in general, and his constant desire to expose their avarice and baseness as often as he had an opportunity, may serve to strengthen my supposition; and as that nation, in' his time, and since, has not been famous for crimes daring and conspicuous, but has rather contented itself to thrive by the meaner and more successful arts of baseness, there seems to be a particular propriety in the epithet. When Falstaff is juftifying himself in King Henry IV. he adds, “ If what I have faid be not true, I am a Jew, an Ebrew, Jew," i. e. one of the moft fufpected characters of the time. The liver of a Jew is an ingredient in the cauldron of Macbeth; and the vigilance for gain, which is described in Shylock, may afford us reason to suppose the poet was alluding to a story like that already quoted.

7 Their medicínal gum:] Thus the quarto, 1622. This word is also used by our author in The Winter's Tale; and occurs in the works of two of our greatest poets-Milton and Dryden.

Steevens. I have preferred the reading of the folio [medicinable] because the word occurs again in Much Ado about Nothing : any impediment will be medicinable to me." i. e. falutary,


And say, besides,—that in Aleppo once,

Richer than all his tribe, seems to point out the Jew again in a mercantile light; and may mean, that the pearl was richer than all the gems to be found among a set of men generally trading in them, Neither do I recollect that Othello mentions many things, but what he might fairly have been allowed to have had knowledge of in the courle of his peregrinations. Of this kind are the fimiles of the Euxine sea flowing into the Propontick, and the Arabian trees dropping their gums. The rest of his speeches are more free from mythological and historical allusions, than almost any to be found in Shakspeare, for he is never quite clear from them; though in the design of this character he seems to have meant it for one who had spent a greater part of his life in the field, than in the cul. tivation of any other knowledge than what would be of use to him in his military capacity. It should be observed, that moft of the flourishes merely ornamental were added after the first edition; and this is not the only proof to be met with, that the poet in his alterations sometimes forgot his original plan.

The metaphorical term of a pearl for a fine woman, may, for aught I know, be very common; but in the instances Dr. Warburton has brought to prove it so, there are found circumstances that immediately show a woman to have been meant. So, in Troilues and Crisida:

“ HER BED IS INDIA, there she lies a pearl.

Why she is a pearl whose price hath launch'd” &c. In Othello's speech we find no such leading expression; and are therefore at liberty, I think, to take the passage in its literal meaning.

Either we are partial to discoveries which we make for ourselves, or the spirit of controversy is contagious; for it usually happens that each possessor of an ancient copy of our author, is led to affert the superiority of all such readings as have not been exhibited in the notes, or received into the text of the last edition. On this account, our present republication (and more especially in the celebrated plays) affords a greater number of these diversities than were ever before obtruded on the publick. A time however may arrive, when a complete body of variations being printed, our readers rnay luxuriate in an ample feast of thats and whiches; and thenceforward it may be prophecied, that all will unite in a with that the selection had been made by an editor, rather than submitted to their own labour and fagacity.

To this note Tould be subjoined (as an apology for many others which may not be thought to bring conviction with them) that the true sense of a passage has frequently remained undetermined, till repeated experiments have been tried on it; when one commentator,

Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk:

making a proper use of the errors of another, has at last explained it to universal satisfaction. When mistakes have such effects, who would regret having been mistaken, or be forry to prove the means of directing others, by that affinity which a wrong reading or interpretation sometimes has to the right, though he has not been so lucky as to produce at once authorities which could not be questioned, or decisions to which nothing could be added ?

STEVENS. I abide by the old text, “ the base Judian," Shakspeare seems to allude to Herod in the play of Mariamne :

“ I had but one inestimable jewel
“ Yet 1 in suddaine choler cast it downe,

“ And dasht it all to pieces." FARMER. The words quoted by Dr. Warburton from Hamlet do not prove what they are adduced for. The Herod there alluded to, was a character in one of the ancient Mysteries. [See Candlemas-day, or the killing of the children of Israel, a Mystery, in Hawkins's Origin of the English Drama, Vol. 1.]

I once thought that the accent here given to Júdean was a strong objection to this reading: and that the word must have been Judéan or Judæan, (as a derivative from Judæa) which would not fuit the metre. But the objection was founded on a mistake; for derivative words of this kind were thus accented in Shakspeare's time. Thus, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, we have in the old copies, “ an Epicurian rascal,” which ascertains the pronunciation of' that word to have been different formerly from what it is now.

The word is thus spelt by North also in his translation of Plutarch. Again, in Antony and Cleopatra:

Keep his brains fuming, Epicúrean cooks." So, in Hamlet, we have the Némean lion (which is written in the old copy Nemian).

Those who would adopt the original reading, Indian, may urge in its support that the pearl naturally brings a people of the East to Shakspeare's mind; the connexion in his time being considered so strong, that a contemporary author has distinguished the inhabitants of India by an epithet founded on the circumitance of their abound. ing in pearls :

8 Where a malignant and a turbar'd Turk-] I am told that it is immediate death for a Christian to strike a Turk in Aleppo. Othello is boasting of his own audacity. STEEVENS.

Beat a Venetian, and traduc'd the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him-thus.

[Stabs himself. Lop. O bloody period ! GRA.

All, that's spoke, is marr'd. Oth. I kiss'd thee, ere I kill'd thee ;-No way but this,

[Falling upon DESDEMONA. Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. [Dies. Cas. This did I fear, but thought he had no

weapon; For he was great of heart. Los.

O Spartan dog, More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea! Look on the tragick loading of this bed ;

[To lago.

- where the bright fun with his neighbour beams Doth early light the pearled Indians.'

Cornelin, a tragedy, by T. Kyd, 159.4. On the other hand, the word tribe is strongly in favour of the reading of the text, and I have now no doubt that it is the true one.

Webster in his Appius and Virginia appears to have had this pássage in his thoughts :

“ Had your lordship yesterday
“ Proceeded as 'twas fit, to a just sentence,
The apparel and the jewels that she wore,
" More worth than all her tribe, had then been due

“ Unto our client.” MALONE. 9 Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.] So, in the Second Part of Marlowe's Tamburlaine, 1590:

Yet let me kiss my lord before I dye,

“ And let me dye with kissing of my lord." STEVENS. 2 0 Spartan dog,] The dogs of Spartan race were reckoned among those of the most fierce and savage kind. HANMER. They are again inentioned in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

• When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear

“ With bounds of Sparta.HENLEY. The Spartan dogs in our poet's contemplation, were blood-bounds. See Vol. V. p. 128. MALONE.

This is thy work: the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid.—Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed to you.-To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;}

[ocr errors]

you, lord governor, Remains the censure of this hellijh villain ;] Rymer, who had neither vigour of imagination to make a poet, nor strength of judgement to make a critick, as appears from his Edgar, and his Remarks on Shakspeare, had yet just enough to play the buffoon and caviller. His criticism on the Poets of the last Age, with only a mixture of trite remarks, transcribed from the French commentators on Aristotle, are one continued heap of ignorance and infolence, Almost the only remark on Shakspeare, which, I think, deserves an answer, is upon Iago's character, which he thus censures : To entertain the audience (says he) with something new and surprising, against common senje and nature, he would pass upon us a clase, dilsenbling, false, ungrateful rascal, instead of an open-bearted, frank, plain-dealing foldier, a character

constantly worn by them for forme thouJands of years in the world. This hath the appearance of sense, being founded on that rule of Nature and Aristotle, that each character should have manners convenient to the age, sex, and condition.

Ætatis cujusque notandi sunt tibi mores, &c. says Horace. But how has our critick applied it! According to this rule it is confessed, that a soldier should be brave, generous, and a man of honour. This is to be his dramatick character. But either one or more of any order may be brought in. 'If only one, then the character of the order takes its denomination from the manners of that one. Had therefore the only soldier in this play been lago, the rule had been transgressed, and Rymer's censure well founded. For then this eternal villain must have given the character of the soldiery; which had been unjust and unnatural, But if a number of the same order be represented, then the cha. racter of the order is taken from the manners of the majority; and this according to nature and common sense. Now in this play there are many of the order of the soldiery; and all, excepting Iago, represented as open, generous, and brave. From these the foldier's character is to be taken; and not from Iago, who is brought as an exception to it: unless it be unnatural to suppose there could be an exception; or that a villain ever infinuated himself into that corps, And thus Shakspeare stands clear of this impertinent criticilm.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »