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Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
to deprive me,] To deprive was, in our author's time, synonymous to disinherit. The old dictionary renders exhæredo by this word: and Holinshed speaks of the line of Henry before deprived.
Again, in Warner's Albion's England, 1602, B. III. ch. xvi: "To you, if whom ye have depriv'd ye shall restore again." Again, ibid:
"The one restored, for his late depriving nothing mov'd." STEEVENS.
Lag of a brother?] Edmund inveighs against the tyranny of custom, in two instances, with respect to younger brothers, and to bastards. In the former he must not be understood to mean himself, but the argument becomes general by implying more than is said, Wherefore should I or any man. HANMER.
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, &c.] How much the following lines are in character, may be seen by that monstrous wish of Vanini, the Italian atheist, in his tract De admirandis Naturæ, &c. printed at Paris, 1616, the very year our poet died. "O utinam extra legitimum & connubialem thorum essem procreatus! Ita enim progenitores mei in venerem incaluissent ardentius, ac cumulatim affatimque generosa semina contulissent, è quibus ego forma blanditiam & elegantiam, robustas corporis vires, mentemque innubilem, consequutus fuissem. At quia conjugatorum sum soboles, his orbatus sum bonis." Had the book been published but ten or twenty years sooner, who would not have believed that Shakspeare alluded to this passage? But the divinity of his genius foretold, as it were, what such an atheist as Vanini would say, when he wrote upon such a subject.
As to the legitimate: Fine word,-legitimate!
• Shall top the legitimate.] Here the Oxford editor would show us that he is as good at coining phrases as his author, and so alters the text thus:
Shall toe th' legitimate.
i. e. says he, stand on even ground with him, as he would do with his author. WARBURTON.
Sir T. Hanmer's emendation will appear very plausible to him that should consult the original reading. The quartos read: Edmund the base
Shall tooth' legitimate.The folio:
Edmund the base
Shall to th' legitimate.
Hanmer, therefore, could hardly be charged with coining a word, though his explanation may be doubted. To toe him, is perhaps to kick him out, a phrase yet in vulgar use; or, to toe, may be literally to supplant. The word be [which stands in some editions] has no authority. JOHNSON.
Mr. Edwards would read,-Shall top the legitimate.
I have received this emendation, because the succeeding expression, I grow, seems to favour it, and because our poet uses the same expression in Hamlet:
so far he topp'd my thought," &c. STEEVENS. So, in Macbeth:
66 Not in the legions
"Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn'd,
A passage in Hamlet adds some support to toe, Sir Thomas Hanmer's reading: "-for the toe of the peasant comes so near to the heel of the courtier, that he galls his kybe."
In Devonshire, as Sir Joshua Reynolds observes to me, toe a thing up, is, to tear it up by the roots; in which sense the word is perhaps used here; for Edmund immediately adds-I grow, I prosper." MALONE.
GLO. Kent banish'd thus! And France in choler parted!
And the king gone to-night! subscrib'd his power!"
EDM. So please your lordship, none.
[Putting up the Letter.
GLO. Why so earnestly seek you to put up that letter?
-subscrib'd his power!] To subscribe, is, to transfer by signing or subscribing a writing of testimony. We now use the term, He subscribed forty pounds to the new building.
To subscribe in Shakspeare is to yield, or surrender. So, afterwards: "You owe me no subscription." Again, in Troilus and Cressida:
"For Hector in his blaze of wrath subscribes
The folio reads-prescribed. STEEVENS.
7 — exhibition!] is allowance. The term is yet used in the universities. JOHNSON.
So, in The Two Gentlemen of Verona:
"What maintenance he from his friends receives,
All this done
Upon the gad!] To do upon the gad, is, to act by the sudden stimulation of caprice, as cattle run madding when they are stung by the gad fly. JOHNSON.
Done upon the gad is done suddenly, or, as before, while the iron is hot. A gad is an iron bar. So, in I'll never leave thee, a Scottish song, by Allan Ramsay:
"Bid iceshogles hammer red gads on the studdy." The statute of 2 and 3 Eliz. 6, c. 27, is a "Bill against false forging of iron gadds, instead of gadds of steel." RITSON.
EDM. I know no news, my lord.
GLO. What paper were you reading?
EDM. Nothing, my lord.
GLO. No? What needed then that terrible despatch of it into your pocket? the quality of nothing hath not such need to hide itself. Let's see : Come, if it be nothing, I shall not need spectacles.
EDM. I beseech you, sir, pardon me: it is a letter from my brother, that I have not all o'erread; for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your over-looking.
GLO. Give me the letter, sir.
EDM. I shall offend, either to detain or give it. The contents, as in part I understand them, are to blame.
GLO. Let's see, let's see.
EDM. I hope, for my brother's justification, he wrote this but as an essay or taste of my virtue."
·taste of my virtue.] Though taste may stand in this place, yet I believe we should read-assay or test of my virtue : they are both metallurgical terms, and properly joined. So, in Hamlet:
Bring me to the test." JOHNSON.
Essay and taste, are both terms from royal tables. See note on Act V. sc. iii. Mr. Henley observes, that in the eastern parts of this kingdom the word say is still retained in the same So, in Chapman's version of the nineteenth Iliad: "Atrides with his knife took say, upon the part before;". STEEVENS.
Both the quartos and folio have essay, which may have been merely a mis-spelling of the word assay, which in Cawdrey's Alphabetical Table, 1604, is defined-" a proof or trial." But as essay is likewise defined by Bullokar in his English Expositor, 1616, a trial," I have made no change.
GLO. [Reads.] This policy, and reverence of age,' makes the world bitter to the best of our times; keeps our fortunes from us, till our oldness cannot relish them. I begin to find an idle and fond bondage in the oppression of aged tyranny; who sways, not as it hath power, but as it is suffered. Come to me, that of this I may speak more. If our father would sleep till I waked him, you should enjoy half his revenue for ever, and live the beloved of your brother, Edgar.-Humph-Conspiracy!-Sleep till I waked him, you should enjoy half his revenue,-My son Edgar! Had he a hand to write this? a heart and brain to breed it in?-When came this to you? Who brought it?
EDM. It was not brought me, my lord, there's the cunning of it; I found it thrown in at the casement of my closet.
GLO. You know the character to be your brother's?
EDM. If the matter were good, my lord, I durst swear it were his; but, in respect of that, I would fain think it were not.
GLO. It is his.
EDM. It is his hand, my lord; but, I hope, his heart is not in the contents.
To assay not only signified to make trial of coin, but to taste before another; prælibo. In either sense the word might be used here. MALONE.
1 This policy, and reverence of age,] Butter's quarto has, this policy of age; the folio, this policy and reverence of age.
The two quartos published by Butter, concur with the folio in reading age. Mr. Pope's duodecimo is the only copy that has ages. STEEVens.
idle and fond—] Weak and foolish. JOHNSON.