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Ben. Come, knock, and enter; and no sooner in, But every man betake him to his legs.
Rom. A torch for me : let wantons, light of heart, Tickle the senseless rushes with their heels; For I am provérb'd with a grandsire phrase, I'll be a candle-holder, and look on : 8 The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done. Mer. Tut! dun's the mouse, the constable's own
furnished the following hint towards the Mercutio of the play ;
And on the other syde there sat one cald Mercutio ;
holde.” 7 It has been before observed that the apartments of our ancestors were strewed with rashes, and so was the ancient stage.
8 To hold the candle is a common proverbial expression for being an idle spectator. Among Ray's proverbial sentences we have, “ A good candle-holder proves a good gamester.” This is the “grandsire phrase" with which Romeo is proverbed. There is another old maxim alluded to, which advises to give over when the game is at the fairest.
9 Dun is the mouse is a proverbial saying of vague signification, alluding to the colour of the mouse; but frequently employed with no other intent than that of quibbling on the word done. Why it is attributed to a constable we know not. So in The Two Merry Milkmaids, 1620 : “Why, then, 'tis done, and dun's the mouse, and undone all the courtiers." To draw dun out of the mire was a rural pastime, in which dun meant a dun horse, supposed to be stuck in the mire, and sometimes represented by one of the persons who played, at others by a log of wood. Mr. Gifford has described the game, at which he remembers often to have played, in a note to Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas : « A log of wood is brought into the midst of the room ; this is dun (the cart horse) and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the com
If thou art dun, we'll draw thee from the mire
Rom. Nay, that's not so.
I mean, sir, in delay We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day. Take our good meaning; for our judgment sits Five times in that, ere once in our five wits.12
Rom. And we mean well in going to this mask,
Why, may one ask ?
And so did I.
That dreamers often lie. Rom. In bed, asleep, while they do dream things
true. Mer. O! then, I see, queen Mab hath been with
you. She is the fairies' midwife ; 13 and she comes
pany advance, either with or without ropes, to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till all the company take part in it, when dun is extricated of course ; and the merriment arises from the awkward and affected efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and sundry arch contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes.”
10 The quartos of 1599 and 1609 have, “ Or save you reverence love ;” the folio, “ Or save your reverence love." The correction is derived from the quarto of 1597.
H. 11 That is, use a candle when the sun shines ; an old proverbial phrase for superfluous actions in general. See The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act ii. sc. 1, note 3.
H. 12 The quartos of 1599 and 1609 read “fine wits." Malone made the correction. - In the second line before, the folio has, “ lights, lights, by day," instead of, “like lamps by day." H.
13 The fairies' midwife does not mean the midwife to the fairies, but that she was the person among the fairies whose department it was to deliver the fancies of sleeping men of their dreams, those
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
children of an idle brain. When we say the king's judges, we do not mean persons who judge the king, but persons appointed by him to judge his subjects. — STEEVENS.
14 So all the old copies except the first quarto, which has Athwart instead of Over. The metrical arrangement of this speech is found only in the quarto of 1597 ; the other old copies printing it all as prose except the last four lines.
15 Maid is from the first quarto; the other old copies reading man. The next three lines are not in the first quarto. H.
16 This line also is wanting in the quarto of 1597, which has lawyer's lap instead of courtier's nose in the fourth line below.
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail, .
Peace, peace ! Mercutio, peace ! Thou talk'st of nothing.
17 This alludes to a singular superstition, not yet forgotten in some parts of the continent. It was believed that certain malig. nant spirits assumed occasionally the likenesses of women clothed in white; that in this character they sometimes haunted stables in the night, carrying in their bands tapers of wax, which they dropped on the horses manes, thereby plaiting them into inextri. cable knots, to the great annoyance of the poor animals, and the vexation of their masters. There is a very uncommon old print, by Hans Burgmair, relating to this subject. A witch enters the stable with a lighted torch ; and, previously to the operation of entangling the horse's mane, practises her enchantments on the groom, who is lying asleep on his back, and apparently influenced by the night-mare. The belamites or elf-stones were regarded as charms against the last-mentioned disease, and against evil spirits of all kinds. - The next line, “ And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs," seems to be unconnected with the preceding, and to mark a superstition which, as Dr. Warburton has observed, may have originated from the plica Polonica, which was supposed to be the operation of the wicked elves; whence the clotted hair was called elf-locks, or elf-knots. Thus Edgar talks of “elfing all his hair in knots." - DOUCE.
True, I talk of dreams Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy; . Which is as thin of substance as the air ; And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes Even now the frozen bosom of the north, And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence, Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.18 Ben. This wind, you talk of, blows us from our
selves : Supper is done, and we shall come too late.
Rom. I fear, too early ; for my mind misgives, Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, Shall bitterly begin his fearful date . . With this night's revels; and expire the term Of a despised life,' clos’d in my breast, By some vile forfeit of untimely death :
18 Face, in this line, is from the quarto of 1597 ; the other old copies having side, which Mr. Collier's second folio changes to tide. - Coleridge has the following on Mercutio : “0! how shall I describe that exquisite ebullience and overflow of youthful life, wafted on over the laughing waves of pleasure and prosperity, as a wanton beauty that distorts the face on which she knows her lover is gazing enraptured, and wrinkles her forehead in the triumph of its smoothness? Wit ever wakeful, fancy busy and procreative as an insect, courage, an easy mind that, without cares of its own, is at once disposed to laugh away those of others, and yet to be interested in them, — these and all congenial qualities, melting into the common copula of them all, the man of rank and the gentleman, with all its excellences and all its weaknesses, constitute the character of Mercutio !”
H. 19 This way of using expire was not uncommon in the Poet's time. So in Daniel's Complaint of Rosamond :
“ Thou must not think thy flow'r can always flourish,
And that thy beauty will be still admir'd;