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cherish it; and I will break with her;
I will open the matter to her. And again, in the same scene, Then after to her father will I break.” So in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (iii. 1), “ I am to break with thee of some affairs ” [and (i. 3), “Now will we break with him"]. But when, in The Merry Wives of Windsor (iii. 2), Slender says to Ford, in answer to his invitation to dinner, “We have appointed to dine with Mistress Anne, and I would not break with her for more money than I'll speak of,” he means he would not break his
engagement with her. The phrase is nowhere, I believe, used by Shakespeare in the only sense which it now bears, namely, to quarrel with.
186. A shrewd contriver. — The adjective shrewd is generally admitted to be connected with the substantive shrew; and according to Horne Tooke (Div. of Purley, 457-9), both are formations from the Saxon verb syrwan, syrewan, or syrewian, meaning to vex,. to molest, to cause mischief to, from which he also deduces sorrow, sorry, sore, and sour. Bosworth (who gives the additional forms syrwian, syrwyan, searwian, searwan, searian, serian) interprets the old verb as meaning to prepare, endeavor, strive, arm, to lay snares, entrap, take, bruise. A shrew, according to this notion, might be inferred to be one who vexes or molests; and shrewd will mean endowed with the qualities or disposition of a shrew. Shrew, as Tooke remarks, was formerly applied to a male as well as to a female. So, on the other hand, paramour and lover, now only used of males, were formerly also applied to females ; and in some of the provincial dialects villain is still a common term of reproach for both sexes alike. [See 259.]
Both to shrew and to beshrew are used by our old writers in the sense of to curse, which latter verb, again (originally cursan or cursian), also primarily and properly signifies to vex or torment. Now, it is a strong confirmation of the derivation of shrewd from the verb to shrew that we find shrewd and curst applied to the disposition and temper by our old writers in alınost, or rather in precisely, the same sense. Shakespeare himself affords us several instances. Thus, in Much Ado About Nothing (ii. 1), Leonato having remarked to Beatrice, " By my troth, niece, thou wilt never get a husband if thou be so shrewd of thy tongue,” his brother Antonio adds, assentingly, “In faith, she's too curst.” So, in A Midsummer Night's Dream (iii. 2), Helena, declining to reply to a torrent of abuse from Hermia, says, “I was never curst; I have no gift at all in shrewishness.” And in The Taming of the Shrew (i. 2), first we have Hortensio describing Katharine to his friend Petruchio as “ intolerable curst, and shrewd, and froward,” and then we have Katharine, the shrew, repeatedly designated “Katharine the curst.” At the end of the Play she is called " curst shrew,” that is, as we might otherwise express it, an ill-tempered shrew.
Shrew, by the way, whether the substantive or the verb, always, I believe, and also shrewd very frequently, appear throughout the First Folio with ow as the diphthong, instead of ew; and in The Taming of the Shrew the word shrew is in various places made to rhyme with the sound of o; so that there can be little doubt that its common pronun- . ciation in Shakespeare's day was shrow, and also chat the same vowel sound was given to shrewd or shrowd in at least some of its applications. It is the
reverse of what appears to have happened in the case of the word which probably was formerly pronounced shew (as it is still often spelled), but now always show. Thus Milton, in his 7th Sonnet,
How soon hath Time, the subtle hief of youth,
But my late spring no bud or blossom shew'th.
Of every star that heaven doth shew,
And every herb that sips the dew. In the case, again, of strew, or strow, neither mode either of spelling or of pronunciation can perhaps be said to have quite gone out, although the dictionaries, I believe, enjoin us to write the word with an e, but to give it the sound of an o. In the
before us the First Folio has 66 a shrew'd contriver.”
As it is in words that ill-temper finds the readiest and most frequent vent, the terms curst and shrew, and shrewd, and shrewish are often used with a special reference to the tongue. But sharpness of tongue, again, always implies some sharpness of understanding as well as of temper. The terms shrewd and shrewdly, accordingly, have come to convey usually something of both of these qualities, - at one time, perhaps, most of the one, at another of the other. The sort of ability that we call shrewdness never suggests the notion of anything very high : the word has always a touch in it of the sarcastic or disparaging. But, on the other hand, the disparagement which it expresses is never without an admission of something also that is creditable or flattering. Hence it has come to pass that a person does not hesitate to use the terms in question even of himself and his own judgments or conjectures. We say, “ I shrewdly suspect or guess,” or “I have a shrewd guess, or suspicion,” taking the liberty of thus asserting or assuming our own intellectual acumen under cover of the modest confession at the same time of some little ill-nature in the exercise of it.
Even when shrewd is used without any personal reference, the sharpness which it implies is generally, if not always, a more or less unpleasant sharpness. “ This last day was a shrewd one to us,” says one of the Soldiers of Octavius to his comrade, in Antony and Cleopatra, iv. 9, after the encounter in which they had been driven back by Antony near Alexandria. Shrewdness is even used by Chaucer in the sense of evil generally; as in The House of Fame, iii. 537:
Speke of hem harm and shreuednesse,
Instead of gode and worthinesse. And so too Bacon: “ An ant is a wise creature for itself; but it is a shrewd thing in an orchard or garden.” Essay 23d, “Of Wisdom for a Man's Self.”
186. If he improve them. - That is, if he apply them, if he turn them to account. It is remarkable that no notice is taken of this sense of the word either by Johnson or Todd. Many examples of it are given by Webster under both Improve and Improvement. They are taken from the writings, among others, of Tillotson, Addison, Chatham, Blackstone, Gibbon. We all remember
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour. Even Johnson himself, in The Rambler, talks of a man “capable of enjoying and improving life," — by which he can only mean turning it to account. The im of improve must be, or must have been taken to be, the preposition or the intensive particle,
not the in negative, although it is the latter which we have both in the Latin improbus and improbo, and also in the French improuver, the only signification of which is to disapprove, and although in the latinized English of some of our writers of the sixteenth century to improve occurs in the senses both of to reprove and to disprove. In Much Ado About Nothing, ii. 3, when Benedick, speaking to himself of Beatrice, says, “ They say the lady is fair; . . . and virtuous; 'tis
So, I cannot reprove it,” he seems to mean that he cannot disprove it. The manner in which the word improve was used in the middle of the seventeenth century may be seen from the following sentences of Clarendon's : " This gave opportunity and excuse to many persons of quality ... to lessen their zeal to the King's cause ; . . and those contestations had been lately improved with some sharpness by the Lord Herbert's carriage towards the Lord Marquis of Hertford” (Hist. Book vi.). “Though there seemed reasons enough to dissuade her from that inclination, and his majesty heartily wished that she could be diverted, yet the perplexity of her mind was so great, and her fears so vehement, both improved by her indisposition of health, that all civility and reason obliged everybody to submit” (Id. Book viii.).
187. And envy afterwards. — Envy has here the sense often borne by the Latin invidia, or nearly the same with hatred or malice, the sense in which it is almost always used by Shakespeare.
187. Let us be sacrificers. - I cannot think that the Let's be of the First Folio indicates more, at most, than that it was the notion of the original printer or editor that sacrificers should be pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable.