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In shape no bigger than an agat-stone
I apprehend, and with no violence of interpretation, that by " the fai. ries' midwife,” the poet means, obe midwife among ibe fairies, because it was her peculiar employment to steal the new-born babe in the night, and to leave another in its place. The poet here uses her general appellation, and character, which yet has so far a proper reference to the present train of fiction, as that her illufions were practised on persons in bed or alleep; for the not only haunted women in childbed, but was likewise the incubus or nighemare: Shakspeare, by employing her here, alludes at large to her midnight pranks performed on neepers ; but denominates her from the most notorious one, of her personating the drowsy midwife, who was insensibly carried away into some diftant water, and fubftituting a new birth in the bed or cradle. It would clear the appellation to read the fairy midwife. - The poet avails him. self of Mab's appropriate province, by giving her this nocturnal agency,
T. WARTON. 4 On tbe fore.finger of an alderman,] The quarto, 1597, reads, of a burgomaster. The alteration was probably made by the poet himself, as we find it in the succeeding copy, 1599: but in order to familiarize the idea, he has diminished its propriety. In the pictures of burgomaflers, the ring is generally placed on the fore-finger; and from a paslage in Tbe first Part of Henry IV. we may suppose the citizens in Shakspeare's time to have worn this ornament on the tbumb. So again, Glapthorne, in his comedy of Wit in a Constable, 1639: " -and an alderman, as I may say to you, he has no more wit than the reft o'the bench; and that lies in his obumb.ring." STEEVENS.
s-of atomies- ] Atomy is no more than an obsolete substitute for alom. So, in Heywood's Brazen Age, 1613:
" l'll tear thy limbs into more atomies
“ Than in the summer play before the fun." In Drayton's Nimpbidia there is likewise a description of Queen Mab's chariot:
6. Four nimble gnals tbe borses were,
“ Upon i be coacb-box getsing:
Tbe fair Queen Mab becoming well,
The cover, of the wings of grashoppers ;
And " Tbe seal, tbe soft wool of the bee,
Tbé cover (gallantly to fee)
“ I trow, 'twas fimple trimming :
“ Wirb tbiffle-down tbey jhed it." STEEVENS. Drayton's Nimpbidia was written several years after this tragedy. See Vol. II. p. 460, n. 7. MALONE.
* _with sweet-meats-] i. e. kisfing-comfits. There artificial aids to perfume the breath, are mentioned by Falstaff in the last act of tbe Merry Wives of Windfor. MALONE. 6 Sometime foe gallops o'er a courrier's nose,
And iber dreams be of smelling out a suit:] Dr. Warburton has juftly observed, that in Shakspeare's time “a court-folicitation was called simply a suit, and a process, a suit ar law, to distinguish it from the other. • The king (says an anonymous contemporary writer of the life of Sir William Cecil,) called him (Sir William Cecil,) and after long talk with him, being much delighted with his answers, wished his father to find [i. e. to smell our] a suit for him. Wherevpon he became fuitor for the reversion of the cuftos brevium office in the Common Pleas; which the king willingly granted, it being the first fuit he had in his life.'
And sometimes comes the with a tithe-pig's tail,
As almost every book of that age furnishes proofs of what Dr. War. burton has observed, I Mall add but one other instance, from Decker's Guis Hornebooke, 1609: " If you be a courrier, discourse of the obLaining of suits."
To avoid the repetition of the word courtiers in this speech, Mr. Tyrrwhitt proposed to read-O'er counties' knees, i, e. the knees of counts; for in old language county signified a nobleman. So, as he observes, in Holindhed, p. 1150, "the Countie Egmond," and in the Burleigh papers, I. p. 7, " The Councie Paiatine, Lowys.” Paris, he adds, who, in one place is called earl, is most commonly styled the county in
play. See also Vol. I. p. 270, n. 8; Vol. III. p. 13, D.5; and p. 431, n. *. He, however, candidly acknowledges that • the repetition of the courtier, which offends us in this passage, may be owing to the players having jumbled together the varieties of several cditions, as they certainly have done in other parts of the play."
In the presene instance I think it is more probable that the repe. tition arose from the cause assigned by Mr. Steevens. MALONE.
This speech at different times received much alteration and improvement. The part of it in question, stands thus in the quarto, 1597 :
And in this sort the gallops up and down
Of healths five fadome deepe, &c. Shakspeare, as I observed before, did not always attend to the propriety of his own alterations. STEEVENS.
1-Spanish blades,] A sword is called a toledo, from the excellence of the Toletan steel. So Grotius:
Of healths five fathom deep $ ; and then anon
Rom. Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace;
Mer. True, I talk of dreams:
« Utilis in cives est ibi lamna suos.” JOHNSON. The quarto, 1597, instead of Spanism blades, reads countermines. STIEV.
In the paffage quoted from Grotius, alio has been constantly printed instead of uns, which makes it nonsense; the whole point of the couplet depending on that word. I have corrected it from the original. MALONE.
Of bealebs five fatbom deep ;] So, in Weftward Hoe, by Decker and Webster, 1607: “-troth, fir, my maiter and fir Gonin are guzzling; they are dabbling together forbom deep. The knight has drunk so much bealtb to the gentleman yonder, on his knees, that he hath almost loft the use of his legs.” MALONE.
9 And bakes ibe elf.locks, &c.] This was a common superstition; and seems to have had its rise from the horrid disease called the Plica Polonica. WARBURTON. So, in Heywood's Iron Age, 1632 :
“ And when I thouk these locks, now knotted all,
“ As bak'd in blood,''-, MALONE.
" And Mab, bis merry queen, by nigbo
« Wbicb plagues tbem out of measure." So, in Gervase of Tilbury, Dec. 1. c. 17. “Vidimus quosdam dæmones tanto zelo mulieres amare, quod ad inaudita prorumpunt ludibria, et cum ad concubitum earum accedunt, mirá mole eas opprimunt, nec ab aliis videntur." ANONYMUS. -of good carriage.)
. So, in Love's Labour's Losi, A& I. sc. ii. u let them be men of good repute and carriage." Morb. Sampson, master; he was a man of good carriage; great carriage; for he carried the town-gates," &c. STELVENS.
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;
Ben. This wind, you talk of, blows us from ourselves; Supper is done, and we shall come too late.
Rom. I fear, too early : for my mind misgives,
[Exeunt, SCENE V.
A Hall in Capulet's House. Muficians waiting. Enter Servants. 1. Serv. Where's Potpan, that he helps not to take away? he shift a trencher?! he scrape a trencher!
2 -- from thence,] The quarto, 1997, reads :-in haste. STEEVENS.
*-bis face-] So the quarto, 1597. The other ancient copies have fide. MaLONE. 3 --and expire the term Of a depiled life,] So, in :he Rape of Lucrece:
" An expir'd date, cancellid ere well begun." See Vol. X. p. 87, n. 8. MALONE.
4 Direet my fail!] I have restored this reading from the elder quarto, as being more congruous to the metaphor in the preceding line. Suit is the reading of the folio. STE E VENS.
Suir is the corrupt reading of the quarto 1599, from which it got into all the subsequent copies. MALONE.
5 Strike, drum ] Here the folio adds: Tkey marob about the page, and serving men come forth with their napkins. STEEVENS.
6 This scene is added since the first copy. STEEVENS.
7-be shift a trencher !] Trenobers were still used by persons af good fashion in our author's time. In the houshold-book of the earls of Northumberland, compiled at the beginning of the same century, it appears that they were common to the tables of the first nobility. Percy.