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ROM. And we mean well, in going to this mask; But 'tis no wit to go.
And so did I.
ROM. Well, what was yours ?
MER. O, then, I see, queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife ; and she comes
* Quarto A, inserts Romeo.
fore that ignorant transcribers should have confounded them. In the modern editions these errors have all been properly amended.
Shakspeare has again mentioned the five wits in Much Ado about Nothing, in King Lear, and in one of his Sonnets. Again, in the play before us: "Thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits, than, I am sure, I have in my whole five." Mercutio is here also the speaker.
In the first quarto the line stands thus:
"Three times in that, ere once in our right wits."
When the poet altered "three times" to " five times," he, without doubt, for the sake of the jingle, discarded the word right, and substituted five in its place. The alteration, indeed, seems to have been made merely to obtain the antithesis.
7 O, then, &c.] In the quarto 1597, after the first line of Mercutio's speech, Romeo says, Queen Mab, what's she?" and the printer, by a blunder, has given all the rest of the speech to the same character. STEEVENS.
Mr. Steevens is not quite accurate. It is to Benvolio, not Romeo, that this speech is given in the quarto 1597. MALONE.
8 O, then, I see, Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the FAIRIES' midwife ;] The fairies' midwife 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 are to judge the king, but persons apppointed by him to judge his subjects. STEEVENS.
I apprehend, and with no violence of interpretation, that by "the fairies' midwife," the poet means, the midwife among the
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
fairies, because it was her peculiar employment to steal the newborn 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 allusions were practised on persons in bed or asleep; for she not only haunted women in childbed, but was likewise the incubus or night-mare. Shakspeare, by employing her here, alludes at large to her midnight pranks performed on sleepers; but denominates her from the most notorions one, of her personating the drowsy midwife, who was insensibly carried away into some distant water, and substituting a new birth in the bed or cradle. It would clear the appellation to read the fairy midwife. The poet avails himself of Mab's appropriate province, by giving her this nocturnal agency. T. WARTON.
Warburton reads the fancy's midwife. BOSWELL.
9 On the fore-finger of an alderman,] The quarto 1597 reads of a burgo-master. 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 burgo-masters, the ring is generally placed on the fore-finger; and from a passage in The First Part of Henry IV. we may suppose the citizens, in Shakspeare's time, to have worn this ornament on the thumb. 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 rest o' the bench; and that lies in his thumb-ring." STEEVENS.
- of little ATOMIES -] Atomy is no more than an obsolete substitute for atom.
So, in The Two Merry Milkmaids, 1620:
"As small as atomies, and throw thee off
Again, in Heywood's Brazen Age, 1613:
"I'll tear thy limbs into more atomies
"Four nimble gnats the horses were,
Fly cranion, her charioteer,
"Than in the summer play before the sun." In Drayton's Nymphidia there is likewise a description of Queen Mab's chariot:
Athwart * men's noses as they lie asleep:
(O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees:(
O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream; Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues, Because their breaths with sweet-meats2 tainted are. Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose §,
* Folio, over.
So quarto A; folio, man.
† Quarto A, The collers.
"The fair Queen Mab becoming well,
"I trow, 'twas simple trimming :
For fear of ratling on the stones,
"With thistle-down they shod it." STEEVENS.
Drayton's Nymphidia was written several years after this tragedy. See vol. v. p. 206, n. 8. MALONE.
with SWEET-MEATS] i. e. kissing-comfits. artificial aids to perfume the breath, are mentioned by Falstaff, in the last Act of The Merry Wives of Windsor. MALONE.
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit": And sometimes comes she with a tithe-pig's tail,
3 Sometime she gallops o'er a coURTIER's nose,
And then dreams he of SMELLING OUT A SUIT: &c.] Mr. Pope reads-lawyer's nose. STEEVENS.
The old editions have it-courtier's nose; and this undoubtedly is the true reading; and for these reasons: First, In the new reading there is a repetition in this fine speech; the same thought having been given in the foregoing line:
"O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees: " Nor can it be objected that there will be the same fault if we read courtier's, it having been said before :
"On courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight: Because they are shown in two places under different views in the first, their foppery; in the second, their rapacity is ridiculed. Secondly, in our author's time, a court-solicitation was called, simply, a suit, and a process, a suit at 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, willed his father to find [i. e. to smell out] a suit for him. Whereupon he became suitor for the reversion of the Custos-brevium office in the Common Pleas which the king willingly granted, it being the first suit he had in his life." Indeed our poet has very rarely turned his satire against lawyers and law proceedings, the common topick of later writers: for, to observe it to the honour of the English judicatures, they preserved the purity and simplicity of their first institution, long after chicane had over-run all the other laws of Europe. WARburton.
As almost every book of that age furnishes proofs of what Dr. Warburton has observed, I shall add but one other instance, from Decker's Guls Hornebooke, 1609: "If you be a courtier, discourse of the obtaining of suits." MALONE.
In these lines Dr. Warburton has very justly restored the old reading, courtier's nose, and has explained the passage with his usual learning; but I do not think he is so happy in his endeavour to justify Shakspeare from the charge of a vicious repetition in introducing the courtier twice. The second folio, I observe, reads:
"On countries knees-."
which has led me to conjecture, that the line ought to be read thus:
On counties knees, that dream on court'sies straight: Counties I understand to signify noblemen in general. Paris, who, in one place, I think, is called earl, is most commonly styled the county in this play.
Tickling a parson's nose as 'a lies asleep,
And so in Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV. we find:
And in All's Well that Ends Well, Act III. :
"A ring the county wears."
The Countie Egmond is so called more than once in Holinshed, p. 1150, and in the Burleigh Papers, vol. i. p. 204. See also p. 7: The Countie Palatine Lowys. However, perhaps, it is as probable that the repetition of the courtier, which offends us in this passage, may be owing (not to any error of the press, but) to the players having jumbled together the varieties of several editions, as they certainly have done in other parts of the play. TYRWHITT.
In the present instance, I think, it is more probable that the repetition arose from the cause assigned by Mr. Steevens.
At the first entry of the characters in the history of Orlando Furioso, played before Queen Elizabeth, and published in 1594 and 1599, Sacripant is called the Countie Sacripant.
Again, Orlando, speaking of himself:
"Surnam❜d Orlando, the Countie Palatine.”
Countie is at least repeated twenty times in the same play.
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 she gallops up and down
Through lovers braines, and then they dream of love :
Shakspeare, as I have observed before, did not always attend
to the propriety of his own alterations. STEEVENS.
This whole speech bears a resemblance to Claudian :
'Omnia quæ sensu volvuntur vota diurno