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"You know the course is common.”—Act IV. Sc. 2.
P. Mathieu, in his Heroyke Life and Deplorable Death of Henry the Fourthe of France, says, that Ravaillac, in the midst of his tortures, lifted up his head and shook a spark of fire from his beard. “This unprofitable care (he adds) to save it, being noted, afforded mater to divers to praise the custome in Germany, Switzerland, and divers other places, to shave off, and then to burn, all the haire from all parts of the bodies of those who are convicted for any notorious crimes."—Reed.
“First, here's young master Rash; he's in for a commodity of brown paper and old ginger, ninescore and seventeen pounds."—Act IV. Sc. 3.
An allusion is here made to the abominable practices of money-lenders in our poet's age, of which an account is given by Nashe in a pamphlet called Christ's Tears over Jerusalem, 1594. He (a usurer) falls acquainted with gentlemen, frequents ordinaries and dancing-houses dayly, where when some of them at play have lost all their money, he is very diligent at hand, on their chaines, bracelets, or jewels, to lend them half the value. Now this is the nature of young gentlemen, that where they have broke the ice, and borrowed once, they will come againe the second time; and that these young foxes know as well as the beggar knows his dish. But at the second time of their coming, it is doubtful to say whether they shall have money or no. The world goes hard, and wee all are mortal; let him make any assurance before a judge, and they shall have some hundred pound per consequence, in silks and velvets. The third time if they come, they shall have baser commodities; the fourth time, lute-strings and grey paper.”—MALONE.
"Show your sheep-biting face, and be hang'd an hour.” — Act V. Sc. 1.
The poet evidently refers to the ancient mode of punishing by collistrigium, or the original pillory, 'made like that part of the pillory at present, which receives the neck, only it was placed horizontally, so that the culprit hung suspended in it by his chin and the back of his head.
"Stand like the forfeits in a barber's shop,
Barber's shops were at all times the resort of idle people: formerly with us the better sort of folks went to the barber's to be trimmed, who then practised the under parts of surgery, so that he had occasion for numerous instruments, which lay there ready for use; and the idle persons, with whom his shop was crowded, would be perpetually handling and misusing them. To remedy which, there was placed up against the wall a table of forfeitures, adapted to every offence of this sort; which it is not likely would long preserve its authority.-WARBURTON.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
"At the bird-bolt."— Act I. Sc. 1.
The bird-bolt is a short thick arrow without a point, and spreading at the extremity so much as to leave a flat surface about the breadth of a shilling.-STEEVENS.
"And he that hits me, let him be clapped on the shoulder, and called Adam."-Act I. Sc. 1.
Why should he be called Adam? A quotation or two may explain: In Law Tricks, or, Who Would Have Thought It? we find this speech: "Adam Bell, a substantial outlaw, and a passing good archer, yet no tobacconist." Adam Bell, Clyme of the Cloughe, and Wyllyam of Cloudesle, were, says Dr. Percy, three noted outlaws, whose skill in archery rendered them as famous in the north of England, as Robin Hood and his fellows were in the midland counties.
STEEVENS and THEOBALD.
"If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat."—Act I. Sc. 1.
In some counties of England, a cat was formerly closed up with a quantity of soot in a wooden bottle, (such as that in which shepherds carry their liquor) and was suspended on a line. He who beat out the bottom as he ran under it, and was nimble enough to escape its contents, was regarded as the hero of this inhuman diversion.—STEEVENS.
"Smoking a musty room.”—Act I. Sc. 3.
The neglect of cleanliness among our ancestors rendered such precautions too often necessary. In a paper of directions drawn up by Sir John Pickering's steward, relative to Suffolk Place, before Elizabeth's visits to it in 1594, the fifteenth article is, "The swetynynge of the house in all places by any meanes." Again, in Burton's Anatomie of Melancholie, 1632: "The smoake of juniper is in great request with us at Oxford, to
sweeten our chambers."-Steevens.
“Hundred merry tales.”—Act II. Sc. I.
In the London Chaunticleres, 1659, this work, among others, is cried for sale by a ballad man: "The Seven Wise Men of Gotham; a Hundred Merry Tales; Scoggin's Jests, &c." Of this collection there are frequent entries in the register of the Stationers' Company.-STEEVENS.
"Carving the fashion of a new doublet."-Act II. Sc. 3.
"We are almost as fantastic as the English gentleman, that is painted naked, with a paire of sheares in his hand, as not being resolved after what fashion to have his coat cut."-GREENE'S FAREWELL TO FOLLY, 1617.
"Her hair shall be of what colour it please God.”—Act II. Sc. 3.
The practice of dying the hair was so common a fashion in Elizabeth's reign, as to be thought a fit subject of animadversion from the pulpit. In a homily against gaudy apparel, 1547, the preacher breaks out into the following invective: Who can paynt her face, and curle her heere, and change it into an unnatural colour, but therein doth work reprofe to her Maker, who made her? as thoughe she could make herselfe more comelye than God hath appointed the measure of her beautie. What do these women, but go about to reforme that which God hath made? not knowinge that all things naturall is the worke of God; and thynges disguysed and unnaturall be the workes of the devyll.”—REED.
"Press me to death."-Act III. Sc. 1.
The allusion is to an ancient punishment of our law, called peine-fort et dure, which was formerly inflicted on those persons who, being indicted, refused to plead. In consequence of their silence, they were pressed to death by a heavy weight laid on the stomach.-MALONE.
"Or in the shape of two countries at once."-Act III. Sc. 2.
"For an Englishman's suit is like a traitor's bodie that hath been hanged, drawne, and quartered, and is set up in several places; his codpiece is in Denmarke, the collor of his dublet and the belly in France, the wing and narrow sleeve in Italy, the short waste hangs o'er a Dutch botcher's stall in Utrich, his huge sloppes speaks Spanish; Polonia gives him the bootes; and thus we mocke eurie nation for keeping one fashion, yet steale patches from eurie one of them, to peece out our pride, and are now laughing-stocks to them, because their cut so scurvily becomes us. SEVEN DEADLIE SINNES OF LONDON, 1606.
"Have a care that your bills be not stolen."—Act III. Sc. 3.
A bill is still carried by the watchmen at Lichfield. It was the old weapon of the English infantry, which, says Temple, gave the most ghastly and deplorable wounds.”—JOHNSON.
"Side-sleeves."—Act III. Sc. 4.
"This time was used exceeding pride in garments, gowns with deepe and broad sleeves, commonly called poke sleeves; the servants ware them as well as their masters, which might well have been called the receptacles of the devil, for what they stole they hid in their sleeves, whereof some hung downe to the feete, and at least to the knees, full of cuts and jagges, whereupon were made these verses (by Tho. Hoccleve):"
"Now hath this lande little neede of broomes,
Wile it up licke be it drie or weete."
"He wears a key in his ear, and a lock hanging by it."
Act V. Sc. 1.
In Shakspeare's age, fashionable persons of the male sex wore earrings; there was also a silly custom of wearing a single lock of hair preposterously long, which was called a love-lock. Fynes Moryson, in his account of Lord Montjoy's dress, says, "That his haire was thinne on the heade, where he wore it short, except a locke under his left ear, which he nourished the time of the warre, and being woven up, hid it in his necke under his ruffe." When he was not on service, he probably wore it in a different fashion. The portrait of Sir Edward Sackville, Earl of Dorset, painted by Vandyke, exhibits this lock, with a large knotted ribband at the end of it: it hangs under the ear on the left side, and reaches as low as where the star is now worn by knights of the garter.
MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM.
"Your eyes are lode-stars." -Act I. Sc. 1.
This was a compliment not unfrequent among the old poets. The lode-star is the leading or guiding-star, that is, the pole-star. The magnet is for the same reason called the lode-stone, either because it leads iron, or because it guides the sailor.-JOHNSON.
"Gawds."-Act I. Sc. 1.
In the north, a gawd is a child's plaything, and a baby-house is called a gawdy-house.
"Or to her death; according to our law."-Act I. Sc. 1.
By a law of Solon's, parents had an absolute power of life and death over their children.
“Robin Goodfellow.”—Act II. Sc. 1.
"Your grandame's maids were wont to set a bowl of milk for him, for his pains in grinding malt and mustard, and sweeping the house at midnight; this white bread and bread and milk was his standing-fee." DISCOVERIE OF WITCHCRAFT, 1584.
"Puck."-Act II. Sc. 1.
In the Fairy Mythology, Puck, or Hobgoblin, was the trusty servant of Oberon, and always employed to watch or detect the intrigues of Queen Mab. Mab has an amour with Pigwiggen: Oberon being jealous, sends Puck to catch them, and one of Mab's nymphs opposes him by a spell. In Drayton's Nymphidia, we find a close resemblance to much of the fairy machinery employed by Shakspeare in this play.-JOHNSON.
"In maiden meditation fancy free.”—Act II. Sc. 2.
Thus in Queen Elizabeth's Entertainment in Suffolke and Norfolke, written by Churchyard, Chastity deprives Cupid of his bow, and presents it to her majesty:-"and bycause that the queene had chosen the best life, she gave the queene Cupid's bow, to learne to shoote at whome she pleased; since none could wound her highnesse hart, it was meete (said Chastitie) that she should do with Cupid's bowe and arrowes what she pleased."-STEEVENS,
"God shield us! a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing."
There is an odd coincidence between what our author has here written for Bottom, and a real occurrence at the Scottish court, in 1594.-Prince Henry, the eldest son of James I., was christened in August in that year. While the king and queen were at dinner, a triumphal chariot, with several allegorical personages on it, was drawne in by "a black-moore. This chariot should have been drawne in by a lyon, but because his presence might have brought some feare to the nearest, or that the sight of the lighted torches might have commoved his tameness, it was thought meete that the Moore should supply that room."-A true Account of the most triumphal and royal Accomplishment of the Baptism of the most excellent right high, and mighty Prince, Henry Frederick, &c., as it was solemnized, the 30th of August, 1594. 8vo. 1603.—Malone.
“Of hindring knot-grass made."—Act III. Sc. 2.
It appears that knot-grass was anciently supposed to prevent the growth of any animal or child. Beaumont and Fletcher mention this property of it in the Knight of the Burning Pestle : "Should they put him into a straight pair of gaskins, 't were worse than knot-grass; he would never grow after it."-STEEVENS.
"Thou painted may-pole.”—Act III. Sc. 2.
So in Stubbe's Anatomie of Abuses, 1583:-" But their chiefest iewell thei bryng from thence is their Maie-pole, whiche thei bryng home with
great veneration, as thus:-- Thei have twentie or fourtie yoke of oxen, everie oxe hauyng a sweete nosegaie of flowers placed on the tippes of his hornes; and these oxen drawe home this Maie-pole (this stinckyng idol rather), whiche is couered all ouer with flowers and hearbes, bounde rounde aboute with strynges, from the top to the bottome, and some tyme painted with variable colours."-STEEVENS.
"Two of the first, like coats in heraldry,
Due but to one and crowned with one crest."
Act III. Sc. 2.
In heraldry, every branch of a family is called a house, and none but the first of the first house can bear the arms of the family without some distinction. Two of the first, therefore, means two coats of the first house, which are properly due but to one.—MASON.
"The rite of May."—Act. IV. Sc. 1.
The rite of this month was once so universally observed, that even authors thought their works would obtain a more favourable reception, if published on May-day. The following is the title-page to a metrical performance by a once celebrated poet, Thomas Churchyard:
"Come bring in Maye with me,
My Maye is fresh and greene;
"A Discourse of Rebellion, drawne forthe for to warne the wanton wittes how to kepe their heads on their shoulders. Imprinted at London, in Flete-street, by William Griffith, Anno Domini, 1570. The first of Maye."-STEEVENS.
"The tongs."-Act IV. Sc. 1.
The old rustic music of the tongs and key. The folio has this stage direction:-" Musicke tongs, Rurall Musicke.”—STEEVENS.
“Dian's bud, o'er Cupid's flower."—Act IV. Sc. 1.
Dian's bud is the bud of the agnus castus, or chaste tree. Thus in Macer's Herball, "The vertue of this herbe is, that he wyll keepe man and woman chaste. Cupid's flower is the viola tricolor, or love in idleness."-STEEVENS.
"Good strings to your beards.”—Act IV. Sc. 2.
As no false beard could be worn without a ligature to fasten it on, Bottom's caution must mean more than the mere security of his comrade's beards. The good strings he recommends, were probably ornamental, and employed to give an air of novelty to the countenance of the performers. Thus, in Measure for Measure (where the natural beard is spoken of), the duke, intent on disfiguring the head of Ragozine, says, O, death's a great disguiser; and you may add to it. Shave the head, and tie the beard."-STEEVENS.
"To the best bride-bed will we,
Which by us shall blessed be.”—Act V. Sc. 2.
We learn from articles ordained by Henry VIII. for the regulation of his household, that the ceremony of blessing the bridal-bed was thus observed at the marriage of a princess: "All men at her coming in to bee