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ROMEO AND JULIET.
Scene 1. Page 325.
SAM. Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.
Of the various conjectures on the origin and real meaning of this phrase, that by Mr. Steevens seems deserving of the preference. In a rare little pamphlet, entitled, The cold yeare, 1614, 4to, being a dialogue in which the casualties that happened in the great fall of snow are enumerated, one of the interlocutors, a North-country man, relates that on his approach to London he overtooke a collier and his team, "walking as stately as if they scorned to carry coales." It was therefore a term of reproach to be called a collier; and thence, to carry coals was metaphorically used for any low or servile action. Barnaby Googe, in his New yeares gift to the Pope's holinesse, 1579, 4to, says he "had rather be a collyer at Croydon than a Pope at Rome."
A hint had been given, by a gentleman whose opinions are on all occasions entitled to the highest respect and attention, that the phrase in question might have originated from Proverbs, xxv. 22. "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink; for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head." But this is a metaphor expressive of the pain which a man shall suffer from the reproaches of his conscience, and as such, has been adopted into our language. Thus, in Newes from the North, otherwise called The conference between Simon Certain and Pierce Plowman, 1579, 4to, "Now God forbid that ever a lawyer should heap coales upon a merchant's head, or that a merchant should not be as willing and as ready to doo a goodly deed as a lawyer.'
Sc. 2. p. 347.
CAP. Such comfort, as do lusty young men feel
Two of the commentators would read lusty yeomen, and make the passage refer to the sensations of the farmer on the return of spring. One of them, Dr. Johnson, to render the present text objectionable, has been obliged to invert the
comparison. Capulet, in speaking of the deligh which Paris is to receive in the society of the young ladies invited to his house, compares it to that which the month of April usually afforded to the youth of both sexes, when assembled in the green fields to enjoy their accustomed recreations. Independently of the frequent allusions in the writings of our old poets to April as the season of youthful pleasures, and which probably occurred to Shakspeare's recollection, he might besides have had in view the decorations which accompany the above month in some of the manuscript and printed calendars, where the young folks are represented as sitting together on the grass; the men ornamenting the girls with chaplets of flowers. From the following lines in one of these, the passage in question seems to derive considerable illustration.
The next VI. yere maketh foure and twenty
That tyme of pleasures man hath moost plenty
Sc. 4. pp. 364. 367.
ROM. Give me a torch
I'll be a candle-holder, and look on.
Froissart, describing a dinner on Christmas day
in the hall of the castle of Gaston Earl of Foix at Ortern, in the year 1388, has these words: "At mydnyght when he came out of his chambre into the halle to supper, he had ever before hym twelve torches brennyng, borne by twelve varlettes standyng before his table all supper." In Rankin's Mirrour of monsters, 1587, 4to, is the following passage: "This maske thus ended, wyth visardes accordingly appointed, there were certain petty fellows ready, as the custome is, in maskes to carry torches, &c." In the Weiss kunig, being a collection of wood engravings representing the actions of Maximilian the First, there is a very curious exhibition of a masque before the emperor, in which the performers appear with their visards, and one of them holds a torch in his hand. There is another print on the same subject by Albert Durer. The practice of carrying torch lights at entertainments continued even after the time of Shakspeare. See a future note on Hamlet, Act iii. Sc. 2.
Sc. 4. p. 368.
MER. If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire.
There is no doubt that this is an allusion to some now forgotten sport or game, which gave
rise to a proverbial expression, Dun is in the mire, used when a person was at a stand, or plunged into any difficulty. We find it as early as Chaucer's time in the Manciple's prologue,
"Ther gan our hoste to jape and to play,
And sayde; sires, what? Dun is in the mire."
How the above sport was practised we have still to learn. Dun is, no doubt, the name of a horse or an ass. There is an equivalent phrase, Nothing is bolder than blynde Bayard which falleth oft in the mire. See Dr. Bullein's dialogue between soarenesse and chirurgi, fo. 10; and there is also a proverb, As dull as Dun in the mire.
Sc. 4. p. 376.
This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night.
No attempt has hitherto been made to explain this line, which alludes to a very singular superstition not yet forgotten in some parts of the country. It was believed that certain malignant spirits, whose delight was to wander in groves and pleasant places, assumed occasionally the likenesses of women clothed in white; that in this character they sometimes haunted stables in