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"As true as steel" is an ancient proverbial simile. "As plantage to the moon" alludes to the old superstitious notion of the influence of the moon over whatever was planted, sown, or grafted. An extract from Scott's “DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT" will illustrate the point :-"The poor husbandman perceiveth that the increase of the moon maketh plants fruitful; so as in the full moon they are in the best strength; decaying in the wane; and in the conjunction do utterly wither and vade."
"But the strong base and building of my love
Is as the very centre of the earth.”—Act IV., Scene 2.
“And ruined love, when it is built anew." And in "AXTONY AND CLEOPATRA :"
“Let not the piece of virtue which is set
Betwixt us as the cément of our love,
-"A strange fellow here
Act III., Scene 3. That is, however excellently endowed; with however dear or precious parts enriched or adorned. Ben Jonson has used the word “parted" in the same manner, in the Dramatis Personæ of "EVERY MAN OUT OF HIS HUMOUR :"-"Macilente, a man well parted, a sufficient scholar," &c.
"Hark! you are called: some say, the Genius so
Act IV., Scene 4. Flatman has expressed a similar thought :
“My soul just now about to take her flight
Into the regions of eternal night,
· Be not fearful; come away.'" Pope is supposed to have imitated Flatman, in one of his most popular productions :
"Hark! they whisper; angels say,
* Sister spirit, come away.'
" And apprehended here immediately
The unknown Ajax.”—Act III., Scene 3. That is, Ajax who has abilities which were never brought into view or use.
"A woful Cressid 'mongst the merry Greeks.”- Act IV., Scene 4.
“Merry Greeks" was a proverbial expression. In "A MAD WORLD, MY MASTERS," 1640, a man gives the watchmen some money; and when they have received it, he says, “ The merry Greeks understand me."
“Made emulous missions 'mongst the gods themselves,
And drave great Mars to faction.”-Act III., Scene 3.
This alludes to the descent of deities to combat on either side before Troy. In the fifth book of “THE ILIAD," Diomed wounds Mars, who, on his return to heaven, is rated by Jupiter for having interfered in the battle.
“For I will throw my glove to death himself,
That there's no maculation in thy heart."-Act IV., Scene 4.
That is, “I will challenge Death himself in defence of thy fidelity."
"'Tis known, Achilles, that you are in love
With one of Priam's daughters." -Act III., Scene 3.
This was Polyxena; in the act of marrying whom Achilles was afterwards killed by Paris.
“Valour and pride excel themselves in Hector;
The one almost as infinite as all,
The other blank as nothing."-Act IV., Scene 5. The meaning of this passage is thus explained by Dr. Johnson: Valour (says Æneas) is in Hector greater than valour in other men, and pride in Hector is less than pride in other men. So that Hector is distinguished by the excellence of having pride less than other pride, and valour more than other valour.
“ There is a mystery (with whom relation Durst never meddle) in the soul of state."-Act III., Scene 3.
Meaning, probably, there is a secret administration of affairs which no history was ever able to discover.
** Omission to do what is necessary,
Seals a commission to a blank of danger."-Act III., Scene 3.
That is, by neglecting our duty, we commission or enable that danger of dishonour to lay hold upon us, which could not reach us before.
"Not Neoptolemus so mirable."-Act IV., Scene 5.
The allusion here is supposed to be to Achilles himself; it could not possibly be to his son Pyrrhus Neoptolemus, who, in a former passage, is spoken of as “Young Pyrrhus, now at home." Shakspere probably thought that Neoptolemus was a family name.
“Enter PANDARUS. “Cres. A pestilence on him! now will he be mocking."
Act IV., Scene 2. The hint for this short conversation between Pandarus and Cressida appears to have been taken from Chaucer's tale on the subject (b. iii.):
“I have, thou gallant Trojan, seen thee oft
Labouring for destiny."—Act IV., Scene 5. That is, as the minister or vicegerent of destiny; so, in "CORIOLANUS:"
—“His sword, death's stamp,
Where it did mark, it took."
"Here, Diomed, keep this sleeve."-Act V., Scene 2.
This sleeve, which had been previously given by Troilus to Cressida, appears (says Malone) to have been an ornamented cuff, such as was worn by some of our young nobility at a tilt in Shakspere's age. See Spenser's " VIEW OF IRELAND" (p. 43, edit. 1633):-"Also the deep smock sleive, which the Irish women use, they say was old Spanish, and is used yet in Barbary: and yet that should seem to be rather an old English fashion ; for in armoury, the fashion of the manche which is given in arms by many, being indeed nothing else but a sleive, is fashioned much like to that sleive."
In "MELVIL'S MEMOIRS," we find it stated (p. 165, ed. 1735), “The laird of Grainge offered to fight Bothwell; who answered, that he was neither earl nor lord, but a baron ; and so was not his equal. The like answer made he to Tullibardine. Then my Lord Lindsay offered to fight him, which he could not well refuse; but his heart failed him, and he grew cold in the business."
- "The dreadful Sagittary
Appals our numbers."-Act V., Scene 5. In the “TAREE DESTRUCTIONS OF TROY" we are told, that “Beyond the royalme of Amasonne came an auncyent Kynge, wyse and dyscreete, named Epystrophus, and brought a M. (thousand] Knyghtes, and a mervayllouse beste that was called Sagittayre, that behynde the myddes was an horse, and tofore a man. This beste was heery like an horse, and had his eyen red as a cole, and shotte well with a bowe. This beste made the Grekes sore aferde, and slewe many of them with his bowe."
“Troilus, farewell ! one eye yet looks on thee; But with my heart the other eye doth see."-Act V., Scene 2.
"One eye,” says Cressida, “looks on Troilus; but the other follows Diomed, where my heart is fixed." Steevens ! observes that the characters of Cressida and Pandarus are more immediately formed from Chaucer than from Lydgate; for though the latter mentions them both characteris- i tically, he does not sufficiently dwell on either to have furnished Shakspere with many circumstances to be found in this tragedy. Lydgate, speaking of Cressida, says only:
“ She gave her heart and love to Diomed,
For she of her new love no sooner sped,
As if she never had him known or seen;
“Now, here he fights on Galathé, his horse."-Act V., Scene 5.
The name of Hector's horse is taken from Lydgate or Caxton. In Lydgate (p. 175), we find,
“And sought, by all the means he could, to take
"And there they fly, or die, like scaléd sculls
Before the belching whale."--Act V., Scene 5.
"And with another knol, five-finger tied."-Act V., Scene 2.
That is, a knot tied by giving her hand to Diomed. So, in Massinger's “FATAL DOWRY" (1632) :" Your fingers tie my heartstrings with this touch,
In true knots, which nought but death shall loose."
The term "scull" signifies what is now called a shoal of fish. In Knox's “HISTORY OF FISH" (1787), we find this passage: "The cod from the banks of Newfoundland (says a late writer) pursues the whiting, which flies before it even to the southern shores of Spain. The cachalot, a species of whale, is said in the same manner to pursue a shoal of herrings, and to swallow hundreds in a mouthful."
"Stand fast, and wear a castle on thy head.”—Act V., Scene 2.
A particular kind of close helmet was called a "castle.” In the “ HISTORY OF PRINCE ARTHUR" (1634, ch. 158), we find, “Do thou thy best,' said Sir Gawaine; therefore hie thee fast that thou wert gone, and wit thou well we shall soon come after, and break the strongest castle that thou hast upon thy head.'"
“He is my prize; I will not look upon"-Act V., Scene 6.
Equivalent to saying, “I will not be a looker-on;" as, in “ HENRY VI.," Part 3 :
“Why stand we here
Wailing our losses-
“The dragon wing of night o'erspreads the earth,
And, stickler like, the armies separates."-Act V., Scene 9.
“Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you, Which better fits a lion than a man.”—Act V., Scene 3.
In Philemon Holland's translation of "PLINY'S NATURAL HISTORY" (c. 16), we find, “The lion alone, of all wild beasts, is gentle to them that humble themselves before him, and will not touch any such upon their submission, but spareth what creature soever lieth prostrate before him." « The traditions and stories of the darker ages," says Johnson, "abounded with examples of the lion's generosity. Upon the supposition that these acts of clemency were true, Troilus reasons, that to spare against reason, by mere instinct of pity, became rather a generous beast than a wise
The business of a "stickler" was to part the combatants when victory could be determined without bloodshed. They are said to have been called "sticklers" from carrying sticks or staves in their hands, with which they interposed between the duellists. Minshew gives this explanation in his “DrcTIONARY" (1617):-"A stickler between two; so called as putting a stick or staff between two fencing or fighting together."
PEN-HANDED, open-hearted Timon is the type and representative of a
class too numerous with reference to their own happiness, and not enough so for the happiness and tranquillity of the world. Were all men Timons in disposition, we might soon see, in great part, the realisation of good old Glo'ster's noble wish, that “distribution should undo excess, and each man have enough.” Nor could any harm result from an ultra-generosity thus universal; since, though all would be willing to give even more than they could afford, yet none would be willing to take but those who actually wanted. Beings like the crazy Misanthrope before us (for crazed he is, in his bewildering misery), feeling themselves at the outset all goodness and transparent innocence, are absolutely unfurnished with any criterion by which they can estimate the curiously-compounded clay of ordinary mortals; they have no plummet by which they may sound the depths and shoals of human nature; no diving-bell, furnished by their own consciences, by whose aid they might descend to view the “dirt and sea-weed” that lie so wondrously intermingled with “inestimable stones, unvalued jewels," at the bottom of that fearful ocean. The natural consequence is that, finding their first pure thoughts erroneous, they have no resource but to rush to the opposite extreme, and end with seeing nothing but what is base and ungenerous in the race whom they heretofore imagined to be all perfection.—The true theory appears to be, that man is naturally an imperfect being, neither all vice nor all virtue; furnished, for the most part, with a preponderating portion of good qualities, which may, under favourable circumstances, be increased to an indefinite extent: yet still, by the very law of his being, doomed to remain imperfect at the best. Those amiable enthusiasts who adopt the hypothesis that all the viler qualities of mankind are the result of vicious training, will find their conclusions no less unsound, though less pernicious, than those of the Swifts and Rochefoucaults, who would fain persuade us, in defiance both of sensation and observation—nay, in despite of their own conduct and character —that all apparent virtue is but selfishness in masquerade.
The minor characters in the present drama are all excellently adapted to bring out the one great purpose of the Poet; and we have to thank his unfailing good-nature that,
in the midst of its disgust and indignation with the false friends, he has allowed the mind to repose with complacency on the tenderness and fidelity of the steward, Flavius, and the minor servants of " so noble a master" as hapless Timon.–Apemantus, the cynic, is the character second in importance to the principal, and it is delineated with equal felicity. His spontaneous misanthropy, compared with the woe-induced frenzy of the fine-natured Timon, is as the natural bitterness of the sloe to the generous grape that has been killed and withered by untimely frost; or as the sterile, branchless poplar to the noble, sheltering oak, which, in the very prime of its picturesque beauty, has been stripped and prostrated by the ruthless storm.
The story of the Misanthrope is stated, by Dr. Farmer, to be told in almost every collection of Sbakspere's time; and particularly in two books with which the Poet was intimately acquainted Painter's “PALACE OF PLEASURE," and North's translation of “PLUTARCH.” Malone is of opinion that the play is founded on the following passage in the “ LIFE OF ANTONY," as given in the last-named work:-"Antonius forsook the city, and company of his friends ; saying that he would lead Timon's life, because he had the like wrong offered him that was offered unto Timon; and for the unthankfulness of those he had done good unto, and whom he took to be his friends, he was angry with all men, and would trust no man.” Lucian's dialogue of “ TIMON” is generally supposed to have had some influence over the composition of the Poet, “although,” says Mr. Skottowe, “the channel through which that influence was communicated is no longer to be traced ;”—as it is not known that any translation of the dialogue existed in Shakspere's age.
“Timon op Athens” was first published in the original folio, (1623). The date of its composition can be but conjectured. Malone assigns it to the year 1610.