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LOVE'S LABOUR'S LOST.'
ACT I.....SCENE I.
Navarre. A Park, with a Palace in it.
Enter the King, BIRON, LONGAVILLE, and DUMAIN.
King. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Therefore, brave conquerors!-for so you are,
And the huge army of the world's desires,—
You three, Birón, Dumain, and Longaville,
Your oaths are past, and now subscribe your names;
If you are arm'd to do, as sworn to do,
1 I suspect that there is an error in the title of this play, which I believe, should be-" Love's Labours Lost." M. Mason.
your deep oath,] The old copies have-oaths. Corrected by Mr. Steevens.
Dum. My loving lord, Dumain is mortified;
Biron. I can but say their protestation over,
King. Your oath is pass'd to pass away from these. Biron. Let me say no, my liege, an if you please; I only swore, to study with your grace,
And stay here in your court for three years' space. Long. You swore to that, Biron, and to the rest. Biron. By yea and nay, sir, then I swore in jest.—
3 With all these living in philosophy.] The style of the rhyming scenes in this play is often entangled and obscure. I know not certainly to what all these is to be referred; I suppose he means, that he finds love, pomp, and wealth, in philosophy. Johnson.
By all these, Dumain means the King, Biron, &c. to whom he may be supposed to point, and with whom he is going to live in philosophical retirement. A. C.
4 Not to see ladies, study, fast, not sleep.] The words as they stand, will express the meaning intended, if pointed thus:
Not to see ladies-study-fast—not sleep.
Biron is recapitulating the several tasks imposed upon him, viz. not to see ladies, to study, to fast, and not to sleep; but Shakspeare, by a common poetical licence, though in this passage injudiciously exercised, omits the article to, before the three last verbs, and from hence the obscurity arises.
What is the end of study? let me know.
King. Why, that to know, which else we should not
Biron. Things hid and barr'd, you mean, from com-
King. Ay, that is study's god-like recompense.
If study's gain be thus, and this be so,
Study knows that, which yet it doth not know:
King. These be the stops that hinder study quite, And train our intellects to vain delight.
Biron. Why, all delights are vain; but that most vain, Which, with pain purchas'd, doth inherit pain: As, painfully to pore upon a book,
To seek the light of truth; while truth the while
Light seeking light, doth light of light beguile:
When I to feast expressly am forbid;] The copies all have: "When I to fast expressly am forbid;"
But if Biron studied where to get a good dinner, at a time when he was forbid to fast, how was this studying to know what he was forbid to know? Common sense, and the whole tenour of the context, require us to read-feast, or to make a change in the last word of the verse:-"When I to fast expressly am fore-bid;" i. e. when I am enjoined before-hand to fast. Theobald.
6 If study's gain be thus, and this be so,] Read:
If study's gain be this
while truth the while
Doth falsely blind-] Falsely is here, and in many other places, the same as dishonestly or treacherously. The whole sense of this gingling declamation is only this, that a man by too close study may read himself blind; which might have been told with less obscurity in fewer words. Johnson.
Study me how to please the eye indeed,
By fixing it upon a fairer eye;
Who dazzling so, that eye shall be his heed,
That will not be deep-search'd with saucy looks;
Have no more profit of their shining nights,
Than those that walk, and wot not what they are. Too much to know, is, to know nought but fame; And every godfather can give a name.9
King. How well he's read, to reason against reading! Dum. Proceeded well, to stop all good proceeding!1 Long. He weeds the corn, and still lets grow the weeding.
Biron. The spring is near, when green geese are a breeding.
8 Who dazzling so, that eye shall be his heed,
And give him light that was it blinded by.] This is another passage unnecessarily obscure; the meaning is: that when he dazzles, that is, has his eye made weak, by fixing his eye upon a fairer eye, that fairer eye shall be his heed, his direction or lode-star, (See Midsummer Night's Dream,) and give him light that was blinded by it. Johnson.
The old copies read-it was.
Corrected by Mr. Steevens.
9 Too much to know, is, to know nought but fame; And every godfather can give a name.] The consequence, says Biron, of too much knowledge, is not any real solution of doubts, but mere empty reputation. That is, too much knowledge gives only fame, a name which every godfather can give likewise. Johnson.
1 Proceeded well, to stop all good proceeding!] To proceed is an academical term, meaning, to take a degree, as he proceeded bachelor in physick. The sense is, he has taken his degrees in the art of hindering the degrees of others. Johnson.
So, in a quotation by Dr. Farmer: "such as practise to proceed in all evil wise, till from Batchelors in Newgate, by degrees they proceed to be Maisters, and by desert be preferred at Ty borne." I cannot ascertain the book from which this passage was transcribed. Steevens.
I don't suspect that Shakspeare had any academical term in contemplation, when he wrote this line. He has proceeded well, means only, he has gone on well. M. Mason.
Fit in his place and time.
Dum. How follows that?
Dum. In reason nothing.
Something then in rhyme.
Long. Biron is like an envious sneaping frost,
Before the birds have any cause to sing?
Why should I joy in an abortive birth?
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled shows;
2 sneaping frost,] So, sneaping winds in The Winter's Tale: To sneap is to check, to rebuke. Thus also, Falstaff, in King Henry IV, P. II: “I will not undergo this sneap, without reply."
3 Why should I joy in an abortive birth? At Christmas I no more desire a rose,
Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled shows;
But like of each thing, that in season grows.] As the greatest part of this scene (both what precedes and follows) is strictly in rhymes, either successive, alternate, or triple, I am persuaded, that the copyists have made a slip here. For by making a triplet of the three last lines quoted, birth in the close of the first line is quite destitute of any rhyme to it. Besides, what a displeasing identity of sound recurs in the middle and close of this verse!
"Than wish a snow in May's new-fangled shows,"
Again, new-fangled shows seems to have very little propriety. The flowers are not new-fangled, but the earth is new-fangled by the profusion and variety of the flowers, that spring on its bosom in May. I have therefore ventured to substitute earth, in the close of the third line, which restores the alternate measure. It was very easy for a negligent transcriber to be deceived by the rhyme immediately preceding; so mistake the concluding word in the sequent line, and corrupt it into one that would chime with the other. Theobald.
I rather suspect a line to have been lost after "an abortive birth." For an in that line the old copies have any. Corrected by Mr. Pope. Malone.
By these shows the poet means Maygames, at which a snow would be very unwelcome and unexpected. It is only a periphrasis for May. T. Warton.
I have no doubt that the more obvious interpretation is the true So, in Chaucer's Knightes Tale:
"And fresher than May with floures new —.”
So also, in our poet's King Richard II:
"She came adorned hither, like sweet May."