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such as the arrangements of the Calendar, the usages of the Lupercalia, etc. The expression, however, is what I have chiefly dwelt upon.
The labours of scores of expositors, embodied in hundreds of volumes, attest the existence in the writings of Shakespeare of numerous words, phraseologies, and passages the import of which is, to say the least, not obvious to ordinary readers of the present day. This comes partly from certain characteristics of his style, which would probably have made him occasionally a difficult author in any circumstances; but much more from the two facts, of the corrupted or at least doubtful state of the text in many places, and the changes that our national speech has undergone since his age. The English of the sixteenth century is in various respects a different language from that of the nineteenth. The words and constructions are not throughout the same, and when they are they have not always the same meaning. Much of Shakespeare's vocabulary has ceased to fall from either our lips or our pens ; much of the meaning which he attached to so much of it as still survives has dropt out of our minds. What is most misleading of all, many words and forms have acquired senses for us which they had not for him. All such cases that the Play presents I have made it my object to notice. Wherever there seemed to be any risk of the true meaning being mistaken, I have, in as few words as possible, stated what I conceived it to be. Where it was not clear to myself, I have frankly confessed my inability to explain it satisfactorily.
In so far as the Commentary relates to the particular Play which it goes over, and professes to elucidate, it is intended to be as complete as I could make it, in the sense of not leaving any passage unremarked upon which seemed to be difficult or obscure. But, of course,
it puts forward no pretensions to a similar completeness, or thoroughness, in respect of any further purpose. It is far from embracing the whole subject of the English of Shakespeare, or making any attempt to do so. It is merely an introduction to that subject. In the Prolegomena, nevertheless, I have sought to lay a foundation for the full and systematic treatment of an important department of it in the exposition which is given of some principles of our prosody, and some peculiarities of Shakespeare's versification, which his editors have not in general sufficiently attended to. Such investigations are, I conceive, full of promise of new light in regard to the history both of the Plays and of the mind of their author.
Still less can the Commentary pretend to any completeness in what it may contain in reference to the history and constitution of the language generally, or of particular classes of words and constructions. Among the fragments, or specimens, however—for they can be nothing more—which occur in it of this kind of speculation are a few which will be found, perhaps, to carry out the examination of a principle, or the survey of a group of connected facts, farther than had before been done; such as those in the notes on Merely (45), on Its (54), on Shrew and Shrewd (186), on Statue (246), on Deliver (348), on the prefix Be (390), on The in combination with a comparative (675), etc.
* I may add a remark on the word business, noticed in 496. Whether our busy be or be not the same with the German böse, signifying wicked (even as both wicked and weak have been supposed to be identical with quick,-Vid. 267), and whatever may be the origin of the French besogne and besoin, and the Italian bisogna and bisogno, there can, I conceive, be no doubt that our business, which never (at
I least in modern English) means the condition or quality of being busy, is really nothing more than the French besoins or besognes, formerly
This new edition has been revised throughout with the greatest care; and it will be found to present a considerable number of alterations, additions, and improvements as compared with the former. A difference between the two conspicuous at first sight is that the Text of the Play is now much more conveniently placed for all the purposes of such a book by being incorporated with the Commentary.*
busoignes, -as, for example, in the Stat. of the 25th of Edward I. (Confirmatio Chartarum) :-“les aides e les mises les queles il nous unt fait avaunt ces houres pur nos guerres e autres busoignes ;” or in an answer of Edward III. to Archbishop Stratford in 1341 :—“Queu chose le Roi ottreia. Mes il dit, q'il voleit que les busoignes touchantes l'estat du Roialme et commune profit fussent primes mys en exploit, et puis il ferroit exploiter les autres ” (Rot. Par. II. 127). The ness, therefore, is here not the substantival affix, but merely a misrepresentation of the final letters of the word in its plural form. “Go about your business” is go about your (own) needs, occasions, affairs. We speak of the busy bee, and of a busy man, or a man who is busy, but we do not (now at least) call the condition or the natural quality the business of either the man or of the bee. What we understand by a man's business is (grammatically or logically) something of the same kind, not with his goodness, but rather with his goods. The irregular or exceptional pronunciation of the word business would alone indicate some peculiarity of origin or formation. Business, pronounced in two syllables, is evidently not a word of the same kind with heaviness, for instance, pronounced in three.
* I have retained, it will be observed, in speech 363 the emendation of Mr Collier's MS. annotator—"A curse shall light upon the loins of
But since this part of the volume has been printed off I confess that I have, although at first very much opposed to it, been more and more impressed, the more I consider it, in favour of a new reading for which a strong case has been made out, and urged upon my attention, by a distinguished literary friend,—“A curse shall fall upon these impious men.” In the first place, on looking at the passage, every reader will, I think, be struck with something incongruous and improbable in the denunciation here of a curse upon men generally,—upon the whole human race,—let it be regarded with reference whether to the occasion, and to the circumstances on which Antony founds it, or to the calamities about to fall merely upon Italy
Although very much disinclined to depart from established usage in such a matter as mere expression, I have
to which the prophecy immediately narrows itself. It is an exordium followed up by no adequate amplification or specification, but rather the contrary. These men—the murderers of his friend Cæsar—and not either the limbs or the loins of mankind universally_must, one would say, have been uppermost at such a moment in his mind and in his impassioned words. Without something more, however, such general considerations as this would hardly entitle us to touch the passage. There would be no end of conjectural emendation if it were permitted us, in the text of Shakespeare or of any other writer, to disturb an authorized or accepted reading on no other ground than that it might, as we may think, be improved. This is the sort of wild disorganizing work with which so many would be reformers and restorers, male and female, busy themselves, without so much as a suspicion, in many cases, of the nature of a single canon or principle of critical science, or that such a science exists. But here, secondly, we have, almost universally admitted, what is the almost indispensable preliminary to any attempt at emendation,-a manifest flaw in the ordinary reading. “ Limbs of men ” pleases nobody, or hardly anybody. Thirdly and lastly, then-for, if that can be made out, nothing more in the way of mere conjecture is possible,—can it be shown to be at all probable that the supposed words “ these impious men,” if written by Shakespeare, would or might have been mistaken by the printer of the First Folio for what he has given us—"the limbs of men?" It is not necessary to assume that he has adhered to the exact spelling of what he believed himself to have before him in his copy or manuscript. What he set up as “the limbs of” may have seemed to him to be written “the Limbes of.” Only, now, suppose farther that the writing was somewhat close or crowded, or rather that it appeared to him to be so, and it would not be very unlikely that what he took for a “the” followed by a capital L, with its final curve running possibly below the line, was really a “these," written, of course, with a long s; and then it would not be difficult for him, thus misled, to convert the “impious into “imbs of,” or “imbes of.” It may be thought that some confirmation is lent to this conjecture by the fact that Zachary Jackson, the printer, who published in 1818 a work entitled “A Few Concise Examples of Seven Hundred Errors in Shakespeare's Plays, now corrected and elucidated” (reprinted the following year under the title of “Shakespeare's Genius Justified,”), proposes to read “these imps of men.”
I am not blind to the bearing which this ingenious emendation, if
in the new editions both of the present and of another elementary philological work felt it indispensable to abandon the ordinary fashion of designating our national speech as Saxon or Anglo-Saxon before, and as English only since, the Norman Conquest. I cannot call to mind another customary form of words which involves so much at once of unfounded or questionable assumption and of positive misstatement as this. The common name for the language among the people themselves always has been, not Saxon, but English. It was so before the Conquest, as it is so still. Modern philologists, who call the earlier form of it Saxon or Anglo-Saxon, do so on the assumption that the portion of the population distinguished as the Saxons had a language of their own, known by their own name, before they left the continent for Britain, and that the common language of England before the Norman Conquest was identical with that. But nothing of all this is either proved or probable. There is much more reason for believing that the language was called English than that it was called Saxon on the continent as well as afterwards in Britain. In fact, there is no reason at all for supposing that it was ever at any time commonly or properly known as Saxon. There is, indeed, a Germanic dialect which philologists have baptised Old Saxon, or Continental Saxon, and of which their system supposes what it calls
it were held to be established, might be alleged to have upon the hypothesis that has been proposed in the Prolegomena in regard to the authority belonging to the corrections of Mr Collier's manuscript annotator. Can he, it may be argued, have had the author's or any other authentic copy of the Plays before him, if he has passed over so important a restoration as ought to have been made here? Of this particular passage, at least, he could not be supposed to have had any such copy. On the other hand, however, this necessary consequence would obviously tell as much against the proposed reading as that does against the hypothesis.