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Than still contemn'd and flatter'd. To be worst,
Enter GLOSTER, led by an old Man.
My father, poorly led?-World, world, O world! But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee, Life would not yield to age.
The meaning of Edgar's speech seems to be this. Yet it is better to be thus, in this fixed and acknowledged contemptible state, than, living in affluence, to be flattered and despised at the same time. He who is placed in the worst and lowest state, has this advantage; he lives in hope, and not in fear, of a reverse of fortune, The lamentable change is from affluence to beggary. He laughs at the idea of changing for the worse, who is already as low as possible. SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS.
— lives not in fear:] So, in Milton's Paradise Regained, B. III:
"For where no hope is left, is left no fear." STEEvens. -Welcome then,] The next two lines and a half are omitted in the quartos. STEEVENS.
World, world, O world!
But that thy strange mutations make us hate thee,] The sense of this obscure passage is, O world! so much are human minds captivated with thy pleasures, that were it not for those successive miseries, each worse than the other, which overload the scenes of life, we should never be willing to submit to death, though the infirmities of old age would teach us to choose it as a proper asylum. Besides, by uninterrupted prosperity, which leaves the mind at ease, the body would generally preserve such a state of vigour as to bear up long against the decays of time. These are the two reasons, I suppose, why he said—
Life would not yield to age.
OLD MAN. O my good lord, I have been your tenant, and your father's tenant, these fourscore years.
GLO. Away,get thee away; good friend, be gone: Thy comforts can do me no good at all, Thee they may hurt.
OLD MAN. Alack, sir, you cannot see your way. GLO. I have no way, and therefore want no eyes; I stumbled when I saw: Full oft 'tis seen, Our mean secures us; and our mere defects
And how much the pleasures of the body pervert the mind's judgment, and the perturbations of the mind disorder the body's frame, is known to all. WARBURTON.
O world! if reverses of fortune and changes such as I now see and feel, from ease and affluence to poverty and misery, did not show us the little value of life, we should never submit with any kind of resignation to the weight of years, and its necessary consequence, infirmity and death. MALONE.
9 Our mean secures us;] Mean is here a substantive, and signifies a middle state, as Dr. Warburton rightly interprets it. So, again, in The Merchant of Venice: "It is no mean happiness therefore to be seated in the mean." See more instances in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. STEevens.
Both the quartos and the folio read-our means secure us. The emendation was made by Mr. Pope. I am not sure that it is necessary. In Shakspeare's age writers often thought it necessary to use a plural, when the subject spoken of related to more persons than one. So, in the last Act of this play-O, our lives' sweetness!" not, "O, our life's sweetness." Again: O, you mighty gods,
"This world I do renounce, and, in your sights," &c. Again, in King Richard III:
"To worry lambs, and lap their gentle bloods."
Means, therefore, might have been here used as the plural of mean, or moderate condition. Gloster's meaning is, that in a moderate condition or middle state of life, we are secure from those temptations to which the more prosperous and affluent are exposed; and our very wants prove in this respect an advantage. MALONE.
I believe, means is only a typographical error. STEEVENS.
Prove our commodities.-Ah, dear son Edgar,
How now? Who's there? EDG. [Aside.] O gods! Who is't can say, I am at the worst?
I am worse than e'er I was.
OLD MAN. 'Tis poor mad Tom. EDG. [Aside.] And worse I may be worst is not,
So long as we can say, This is the worst.2
GLO. Is it a beggar-man? OLD MAN. Madman and beggar too. GLO. He has some reason, else he could not beg. I' the last night's storm I such a fellow saw; Which made me think a man a worm: My son Came then into my mind; and yet my mind Was then scarce friends with him: I have heard more since:
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;
-to see thee in my touch,] So, in another scene, I see it feelingly. STEEvens.
Who is't can say, I am at the worst?
The worst is not,
So long as we can say, This is the worst.] i. e. While we live; for while we yet continue to have a sense of feeling, something worse than the present may still happen. What occasioned this reflection was his rashly saying, in the beginning of this
-To be worst,
"The lowest, and most dejected thing of fortune, &c.
They kill us for their sport.3
How should this be?Bad is the trade must play the fool to sorrow, Ang'ring itself and others. [Aside.]-Bless thee,
GLO. Is that the naked fellow?
Ay, my lord.
GLO. Then, pr'ythee, get thee gone: If, for my sake,
Thou wilt o'ertake us, hence a mile or twain,
Alack, sir, he's mad.
GLO. 'Tis the times' plague, when madmen lead the blind.
Do as I bid thee, or rather do thy pleasure;
OLD MAN. I'll bring him the best 'parrel that I have, Come on't what will.
GLO. Sirrah, naked fellow.
EDG, Poor Tom's a-cold.-I cannot daub it further.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods;
Dii nos quasi pilas homines habent."-Plaut. Captiv.
Thus, also, in Sidney's Arcadia, Lib. II:
66 wretched human kinde,
The quartos read-They bit us for their sport. MALONE.
GLO. Come hither, fellow.
EDG. [Aside.] And yet I must.-Bless thy sweet eyes, they bleed.
GLO. Know'st thou the way to Dover?
EDG. Both stile and gate, horse-way, and footpath. Poor Tom hath been scared out of his good wits: Bless the good man from the foul fiend!5 [Five fiends have been in poor Tom at once; of Just, as Obidicut; Hobbididance, prince of dumbness; Mahu, of stealing; Modo, of murder; and Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing; who since pos
So, in King Richard III:
"So smooth he daub'd his vice with show of virtue." Again, in one of the Paston Letters, Vol. III. p. 173: “—and saith to her, there is good craft in dawbing."
The quartos read, I cannot dance it further. STEEVENS.
Bless the good man from the foul fiend!] Thus the quartos. The folio reads:
Bless thee, good man's son, from the foul fiend!
MALONE. Bless the good man from the foul fiend!] This is sense, but I think we should read-bless thee, good man, &c. M. MASON.
• Five fiends &c.] The rest of this speech is omitted in the folio. In Harsnet's Book, already quoted, p. 278, we have an extract from the account published by the exorcists themselves, viz. "By commaundement of the exorcist... the devil in Ma. Mainy confessed his name to be Modu, and that he had besides himself seaven other spirits, and all of them captains, and of great fame." "Then Edmundes (the exorcist) began againe with great earnestness, and all the company cried out, &c.... so as both that wicked prince Modu and his company, might be cast out." This passage will account for five fiends having been in poor Tom at once. PERCY.
7 Flibbertigibbet, of mopping and mowing;] "If she have a little helpe of the mother, epilepsie, or cramp, to teach her role her eyes, wrie her mouth, gnash her teeth, starte with her body, hold her armes and handes stiffe, make antike faces, grinne, mow and mop like an ape,-then no doubt-the young girle is owleblasted and possessed." Harsnet's Declaration, p. 136.