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Kent. Did your letters pierce the queen to any demonstration of grief?
Gent. Ay, sir;1 she took them, read them in my pre
And now and then an ample tear trill'd down
Sought to be king o'er her.
O, then it mov'd her.
Gent. Not to a rage: patience and sorrow strove2 Who should express her goodliest. You have seen Sunshine and rain at once: her smiles and tears Were like a better day:3 Those happy smiles,1
he had appropriated the same appellation to a common soldier, who was fer'd, ferreted, and ferk'd, by Pistol in King Henry V. Steevens. 1 Ay, sir;] The quartos read—I say. The correction was made by Mr. Theobald.
- patience and sorrow strove --] The quartos for strove have streme. Mr. Pope made the correction. Malone.
Were like a better day:] It is plain, we should read-a wetter May, i. e. A spring season wetter than ordinary. Warburton.
The thought is taken from Sidney's Arcadia, p. 244. Her tears came dropping down like rain in sunshine." Cordelia's behaviour on this occasion is apparently copied from Philoclea's. The same book, in another place, says," that her tears followed one another like a precious rope of pearl." The same comparison also occurs in a very scarce book, entitled A courtlie Controversie of Cupid's Cautels: &c. Translated from the French, &c. by H. W. [Henry Wotton] 40. 1578, p. 289, "Who hath viewed in the spring time, raine and sunne shine in one moment, might behold the troubled countenance of the gentlewoman, after she had read and over-read the letters of her Floradin with an eye now smilyng, then bathed in teares." The quartos read, -a better way, which may be an accidental inversion of the M.
A better day, however, is the best day, and the best day is a day more favourable to the productions of the earth. Such are the days in which there is a due mixture of rain and sunshine.
It must be observed that the comparative is used by Milton and others, instead of the positive and superlative, as well as by Shakspeare himself, in the play before us:
"The safer sense will ne'er accommodate
"Its master thus."
Again, in Macbeth:
it hath cow'd my better part of man."
Go not my horse the better."
Mr. Pope makes no scruple to say of Achilles, that-
That play'd on her ripe lip, seem'd not to know
"The Pelian javelin in his better hand
"Shot trembling rays," &c.
i. e. his best hand, his right. Steevens.
Doth not Dr. Warburton's alteration infer that Cordelia's sorrow was superior to her patience? But it seemed that she was a queen over her passion; and the smiles on her lip appeared not to know that tears were in her eyes. "Her smiles and tears were like a better day," or "like a better May," may signify that they were like such a season where sunshine prevailed over rain. So, in All's Well that Ends Well, Act V, sc. iii, we see in the king sunshine and hail at once, but to the brightest beams distracted clouds give way: the time is fair again, and he is like a day of season," i. e. a better day. Tollet.
Both the quartos read-a better way; which being perfectly unintelligible, I have adopted part of the emendation introduced by Dr. Warburton. The late editions have given-a better day, a reading which first appeared in a note of Mr. Theobald's. A better day, however it be understood, is, in my opinion, inconsistent with the context. If a better day means either a good day, or the best day, it cannot represent Cordelia's smiles and tears; for neither the one nor the other necessarily implies rain, without which, there is nothing to correspond with her tears; nor can a rainy day occasionally brightened by sunshine, with any propriety be called a good or the best day. We are compelled therefore to make some other change.
A better May, on the other hand, whether we understand by it, a good May, or a May better than ordinary, corresponds exactly with the preceding image; for in every May rain may be expected, and in a good, or a better May than ordinary, the sunshine, like Cordelia's smiles, will predominate. With respect to the corrupt reading, I have no great faith in the inversion of the w at the press, and rather think the error arose in some other way.
Mr. Steevens has quoted a passage from Sidney's Arcadia, which Shakspeare may have had in view. Perhaps the following passage, in the same book, p. 163, edit. 1593, bears a still nearer resemblance to that before us: "And with that she prettily smiled, which mingled with her tears, one could not tell whether it were a mourning pleasure, or a delightful sorrow; but like when a few April drops are scattered by a gentie zephyrus among fine-coloured flowers." Malone. Mr. Malone reads-a better May. As objections may be started against either reading, I declare my inability to decide between them. I have therefore left that word in the text which I found in possession of it.
Again, in Antony and Cleopatra:
he will weep you, an 'twere a
The April's in her eyes: it is love's spring, "And these the showers to bring it on."
As pearls from diamonds dropp'd.5-In brief, sorrow
Could so become it.
Made she no verbal question?6
Gent. 'Faith, once, or twice, she heav'd the name of father
Pantingly forth, as if it press'd her heart;
Cried, Sisters! sisters!-Shame of ladies! sisters!
The holy water from her heavenly eyes,
smiles,] The quartos read-smilets. This may be a diminutive of Shakspeare's coinage. Steevens.
5 As pearls from diamonds dropp'd. &c.] In The Two Gentlemen of Verona we have the same image:
"A sea of melting pearl, which some call tears." Malone. The harshness of the foregoing line, in the speech of the Gentle man, induces me to believe that our author might have written:
Like pearls from diamonds dropping.
This idea might have been taken from the ornaments of the ancient carcanet or necklace, which frequently consisted of table diamonds with pearls appended to them, or in the jewellers' phrase, dropping from them. Pendants for the ear are still called-drops. A similar thought to this of Shakspeare, occurs in Middleton's Game at Chess, no date :
the holy dew lies like a pearl
"Dropt from the opening eye-lids of the morn
Milton has transplanted this image into his Lycidas:
"Under the opening eye-lids of the morn."
6 Made she no verbal question?] Means only, Did she enter into no conversation with you? In this sense our poet frequently uses the word question, and not simply as the act of interrogation. Did she give you to understand her meaning by words as well as by the foregoing external testimonies of sorrow?
So, in All's Well that Ends Well: 66- she told me
"In a sweet verbal brief," &c.
7 'Faith, once, or twice,] Thus the quartos. Mr. Pope and the sub sequent editors read-Yes, once, &c. Regan, in a subsequent scene, in like manner, uses the rejected word, however inelegant it may now appear:
"Faith, he is posted hence on serious matter." Malone.
8 Let pity not be believed!] i. e. Let not such a thing as pity be supposed to exist! Thus the old copies; but the modern editors have hitherto read
Let pity not believe it ; ----. Steevens.
And clamour moisten'd:9 then away she started
It is the stars,
The stars above us, govern our conditions ;1
Else one self mate and mate2 could not beget
Such different issues. You spoke not with her since?
Kent. Was this before the king return'd?
No, since. Kent. Well, sir; the poor distress'd Lear is i' the town; Who sometime, in his better tune, remembers
What we are come about, and by no means
Will yield to see his daughter.
Why, good sir?
Kent. A sovereign shame so elbows him: his own unkindness,
That stripp'd her from his benediction, turn'd her
To his dog-hearted daughters, these things sting
9 And clamour moisten'd:] It is not impossible but Shakspeare might have formed this fine picture of Cordelia's agony from holy writ, in the conduct of Joseph; who, being no longer able to restrain the vehemence of his affection, commanded all his retinue from his presence; and then wept aloud, and discovered himself to his brethTheobald.
clamour moisten'd:] That is, her out-cries were accompanied with tears. Johnson.
The old copies read-And clamour moisten'd her. I have no doubt that the word her was inserted by the compositor's eye glancing on the middle of the preceding line, where that word occurs; and therefore have omitted it. It may be observed that the metre is complete without this word. A similar error has happened in The Winter's Tale. See Vol. VI, p 302, n. 3. She moisten'd clamour, or the exclamations she had uttered, with tears. This is perfectly intelligible; but clamour moisten'd her, is certainly nonsense. Malone.
govern our conditions ;] i. e. regulate our dispositions. See Vol. IX, p. 374, n. 9.
one self mate and mate-] The same husband and the same wife. Johnson.
Self is used here, as in many other places in these plays, for self
these things sting
His mind so venomously, that burning shame-] The metaphor is here preserved with great knowledge of nature, The renom of poi
Detains him from Cordelia.
Alack, poor gentleman!
Kent. Of Albany's and Cornwall's powers you heard
Gent. 'Tis so; they are afoot.*
Kent. Well, sir, I'll bring you to our master Lear, And leave you to attend him: some dear cause5 Will in concealment wrap me up awhile; When I am known aright, you shall not grieve Lending me this acquaintance. I pray you, go Along with me.]
The same. A Tent.
Enter CORDELIA, Physician, and Soldiers.
sonous animals being a high caustick salt, that has all the effect of fire upon the part. Warburton.
4 'Tis so; they are afoot.] Dr. Warburton thinks it necessary to read, 'tis said; but the sense is plain, So it is that they are on foot.
Johnson. 'Tis so, means, I think, I have heard of them; they do not exist in report only; they are actually on foot.
some dear cause-] Some important business. See Timon of Athens, Act V, sc. ii, Vol. XV. Malone.
So, in Romeo and Juliet:
66 a ring, that I must use
"In dear employment." Steevens.
6 fumiter,] i. e. fumitory: by the old herbalists written fumit
7 With harlocks, hemlock, &c.] The quartos read-With hordocks ; the folio-With hardokes. Malone.
I do not remember any such plant as a hardock, but one of the most common weeds is a burdock, which I believe should be read here; and so Hanmer reads. Johnson.
Hardocks should be harlocks. Thus Drayton, in one of his Eclogues: "The honey-suckle, the harlocke,
"The lilly, and the lady smocke," &c. Farmer.
One of the readings offered by the quartos (though misspelt) is perhaps the true one. The hoar-dock, is the dock with whitish woolly leaves. Steevens.