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Edm. How, my lord, I may be censured, that nature thus gives way to loyalty, something fears me to think of.
Corn. I now perceive, it was not altogether your brother's evil disposition made him seek his death; but a provoking merit, set a-work by a reprovable badness in himself.
Edm. How malicious is my fortune, that I must repent to be just! This is the letter he spoke of, which approves him an intelligent party to the advantages of France. O heavens! that this treason were not, or not I the detector.
Corn. Go with me to the duchess.
Edm. If the matter of this paper be certain, you have mighty business in hand.
Corn. True, or false, it hath made thee earl of Gloster. Seek out where thy father is, that he may be ready for our apprehension.
Edm. [aside] If I find him comforting the king, it will stuff his suspicion more fully.-I will persevere in my course of loyalty, though the conflict be sore between that and my blood.
Corn. I will lay trust upon thee; and thou shalt find a dearer father in my love. [Exeunt
A Chamber in a Farm-House, adjoining the Castle. Enter GLOSTER, LEAR, KENT, Fool, and EDGAR. Glo. Here is better than the open air; take it thank
but a provoking merit,] Provoking, here means stimulating ; a merit he felt in himself, which irritated him against a father that had none. M. Mason.
Cornwall, I suppose, means the merit of Edmund, which, being noticed by Gloster, provoked or instigated Edgar to seek his father's death. Dr. Warburton conceived that the merit spoken of was that of Edgar. But how is this consistent with the rest of the sentence?
7 ·comforting ] He uses the word in the juridical sense for supporting, helping, according to its derivation; salvia confortat nervos. Schol. Sal. Johnson.
Johnson refines too much on this passage; comforting means merely giving comfort or assistance. So Gloster says, in the beginning of the next scene: "— - I will piece out the comfort with what addition M. Mason.
fully: I will piece out the comfort with what addition I can: I will not be long from you.
Kent. All the power of his wits has given way to his impatience:-The gods reward your kindness!
[Exit GLO. Edg. Frateretto calls me; and tells me, Nero is an anglers in the lake of darkness. Pray, innocent, and beware the foul fiend.
Fool. Pr'ythee, nuncle, tell me,1 whether a madman be a gentleman, or a yeoman?
Lear. A king, a king!
Fool. No; he's a yeoman, that has a gentleman to his son for he's a mad yeoman, that sees his son a gentleman before him.
Lear. To have a thousand with red burning spits Come hizzing in upon them:
Edg. The foul fiend bites my back.
Frateretto calls me; and tells me, Nero is an angler &c.] See p. 253, n. 9.
Mr. Upton observes that Rabelais, B. II, c. xxx, says that Nero was a fidler in hell, and Trajan an angler.
Nero is introduced in the present play above 800 years before he was born.
The History of Gargantua had appeared in English before 1575, being mentioned in Langham's Letter, printed in that year. Ritson. Pray, innocent,] Perhaps he is here addressing the Fool. Fools were anciently called Innocents. So, in All's Well that Ends Well: "the Sheriff's Fool, -a dumb innocent, that could not say him nay." See Vol. V, p. 271, n. 7.
Again, in The Whipper of the Satyre his Pennance in a white Sheete,
"A gentleman that had a wayward foole,
"To passe the time, would needes at push-pin play;
"The innocent had spi'd him, and cri'd stay," &c. Steevens.
1 Fool. Prythee, nuncle, tell me,] And before, in the same Act, se. iii:"Cry to it, nuncle." Why does the Fool call the old King nuncle? But we have the same appellation in The Pilgrim, by Fletcher:
"Farewel, nuncle, -"Act IV, sc. i.
And in the next scene, alluding to Shakspeare:
"What mops and mowes it makes." Whalley.
See Mr. Vaillant's very decisive remark on this appellation, p. 170, Steevens.
2 Fool.] This speech is omitted in the quartos. Steevens.
3 Edg.] This and the next thirteen speeches (which Dr. Johnson had enclosed in crotchets) are only in the quartos. Steevens.
Fool. He's mad, that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath.
Lear. It shall be done, I will arraign them straight:Come, sit thou here, most learned justicer;5-[To EDG. Thou, sapient sir, sit here. [To the Fool.]-Now, you she
Edg. Look, where he stands and glares!Wantest thou eyes at trial, madam ?7
Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me :8
Her boat hath a leak,
And she must not speak
Why she dares not come over to thee.
a horse's health,] Without doubt we should read heels, i. e. to stand behind him. Warburton.
Shakspeare is here speaking not of things maliciously treacherous, but of things uncertain and not durable. A horse is above all other animals subject to diseases. Johnson.
Heels is certainly right. " Trust not a horse's heel, nor a dog's tooth," is a proverb in Ray's Collection; as ancient at least as the time of our Edward II.
5 most learned justicer;] The old copies read-justice. The correction was made by Mr. Theobald. Malone.
Wantest &c.] I am not confident that I understand the meaning of this desultory speech. When Edgar says, Look where he stands and glares! he seems to be speaking in the character of a mad man, who thinks he sees the fiend. Wantest thou eyes at trial, Madam? is a question which appears to be addressed to the visionary Goneril, or some other abandoned female, and may signify, Do you want to attract admiration, even while you stand at the bar of justice? Mr. Seward proposes to read, wanton'st' instead of wantest. Steevens.
7 — at trial, madam?] It may be observed that Edgar, being supposed to be found by chance, and therefore to have no knowledge of the rest, connects not his ideas with those of Lear, but pursues his own train of delirious or fantastick thought. To these words, at trial, madam? I think therefore that the name of Lear should be put. The process of the dialogue will support this conjecture. Johnson.
8 Come o'er the bourn, Bessy, to me:] Both the quartos and the folio have-o'er the broome. The correction was made by Mr. Steevens. Malone.
As there is no relation between broom and a boat, we may better read:
Come o'er the brook, Bessy, to me. Johnson.
At the beginning of A very mery and pythie Commedie, called, The longer thou livest, the more Foole thou art, &c. Imprinted at London by Wyllyam How, &c. black letter, no date, "Entreth Moros, counterfaiting a vaine gesture and foolish countenance, synging the foote of
Edg. The foul fiend haunts poor Tom in the voice of a nightingale. Hopdance cries in Tom's belly1 for two white herring. Croak not, black angel; I have no food for thee.
many songs, as fooles were wont ;" and among them is this passage, which Dr. Johnson has very justly suspected of corruption :
"Com over the boorne, Bessé,
"My little pretie Bessé,
"Com over the boorne, Bessé, to me."
This song was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company in the year 1564.
A bourn in the north signifies a rivulet or brook. Hence the names of many of our villages terminate in burn, as Milburn, Sherburn, &c. The former quotation, together with the following instances, at once confirm the justness of Dr. Johnson's remark, and support the reading. So, in Drayton's Polyolbion, Song 1:
"The bourns, the brooks, the becks, the rills, the rivulets." Again, in Spenser's Fairy Queen, B. II, c. vi:
"My little boat can safely passe this perilous bourne.” Shakspeare himself, in The Tempest, appears to have discriminated bourn from bound of land in general :
"Bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none. Again, in The Vision of Pierce Plowman, line 8:
"Under a brode banke by bourne syde."
To this I may add, that bourn, a boundary, is from the French borne. Bourne, or (as it ought to be spelt) burn, a rivulet, is from the German burn, or born, a well. Steevens.
There is a peculiar propriety in this address, that has not, I believe, been hitherto observed. Bessy and Poor Tom, it seems, usually tra velled together. The author of The Court of Conscience, or Dick Whippers Sessions, 1607, describing beggars, idle rogues, and counterfeit madmen, thus speaks of these associates:
"Another sort there is among you; they
"Do rage with furie as if they were so frantique "They knew not what they did, but every day
"Make sport with stick and flowers like an antique;
"Stowt roge and harlot counterfeited gomme;
"One calls herself poor Besse, the other Tom."
The old song of which Mr. Steevens has given a part, consisted of nine lines, but they are not worth insertion. Malone.
9 in the voice of a nightingale.] Another deponent in Harsenet's book, (p. 225) says, that the mistress of the house kept a nightingale in a cage, which being one night called and conveyed away into the garden, it was pretended the devil had killed it in spite. Perhaps this passage suggested to Shakspeare the circumstance of Tom's being haunted in the voice of a nightingale. Percy.
Hopdance cries in Tom's belly-] In Harsenet's book, p 194, 195, Sarah Williams (one of the pretended demoniacks) deposeth, that if at any time she did belch, as often times she did by rea
Kent. How do you, sir? Stand you not so amaz❜d: Will you lie down and rest upon the cushions?
Lear. I'll see their trial first :-Bring in the evidence.
Thou robed man of justice, take thy place; [To EDG. And thou, his yoke-fellow of equity,
[To the Fool.
Bench by his side :-You are of the commission,
Sit you too.
Edg. Let us deal justly.
Sleepest, or wakest thou, jolly shepherd 23
Thy sheep be in the corn;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,
Thy sheep shall take no harm.
Pur 4 the cat is grey.
Lear. Arraign her first; 'tis Goneril. I here take my oath before this honourable assembly, she kicked the poor king her father.
son that shee was troubled with a wind in her stomacke, the priests would say at such times, that then the spirit began to rise in her. and that the wind was the devil." And "as she saith, if they heard any croaking in her belly.... then they would make a wonderful matter of that." Hoberdidance is mentioned before in Dr. Percy's note.
"One time shee remembereth, that shee having the said croaking in her belly, they said it was the devil that was about the bed, that spake with the voice of a toad" Ibidem. Malone
white herring White herrings are pickled herrings. See The Northumberland Household Book, p. 8 Steevens.
Sleepest, or wakest &c.] This seems to be a stanza of some pastoral song. A shepherd is desired to pipe, and the request is enforced by a promise, that though his sheep be in the corn, i. e. committing a trespass by his negligence, implied in the question, Sleepest thou or wakest? ye a single tune upon his pipe shall secure them from the pound. Johnson.
Minikin was anciently a term of endearment. So, in the enterlude of The Repentance of Marie Magdalaine, 1567, the Vice says, "What mynikin carnal concupiscence !" Barrett, in his Alvearie, or Quadru. ple Dictionary, 1580, interprets feat, by " proper, well-fashioned,
In The Interlude of the Four Elements, &c. printed by Rastell, 1519. Ignorance sings a song composed of the scraps of several others. Among them is the following line, on which Shakspeare may have designed a parody:
Sleepyst thou, wakyst thou, Geffery Coke." Steevens.
4 Pur!] This may be only an imitation of the noise made by a cat. Purre is, however, one of the devil's mentioned in Harsenet's book, p. 50.