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Bidding the law make court'sy to their will ;
A Room in the Prison.
Enter Duke, CLAUDIO, and Provost. Duke. So, then you hope of pardon from lord An
Claud. The miserable have no other medicine, But only hope : I have hope to live, and am prepar'd to die.
Duke. Be absolute 1 for death; either death or life, Shall thereby be the sweeter. Reason thus with
life, If I do lose thee, I do lose a thing That none but fools would keep?: a breath thou art, (Servile to all the skiey influences),
27 i. e. temptation, instigation.
i. e. determined. 2 Keep here means care for, a common acceptation of the word in Chaucer and later writers.
That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st,
valiant; For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork Of a poor worms: Thy best of rest is sleep, And that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st Thy death, which is no more. Thou art not thyself; For thou exist'st on many a thousand grains That issue out of dust: Happy thou art not; For what thou hast not, still thou striv'st to get; And what thou hast, forget'st: Thou art not certain; For thy complexion shifts to strange affects, After the moon: If thou art rich, thou art poor; For, like an ass, whose back with ingots bows, Thou bear'st thy heavy riches but a journey, And death unloads thee: Friend, hast thou none; For thine own bowels, which do call thee sire, The mere effusion of thy proper loins,
3 i. e. dwellest. So, in Henry IV. Part i:
“ 'Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept.' 4 Shakspeare here meant to observe, that a minute analysis of life at once destroys that splendour which dazzles the imagination. Whatever grandeur can display, or luxury enjoy, is procured by baseness, by offices of which the mind shrinks from the contemplation. All the delicacies of the table may be traced back to the shambles, and the dungbill, all magnificence of building was hewn from the quarry, and all the pomp of ornament from among the damps and darkness of the mine.
5 Worm is put for any creeping thing or serpent. Shakspeare adopts the vulgar error, that a serpent wounds with bis tongue, and that his tongue is forked. In old tapestriea and paintings the tongues of serpents and dragons always appear barbed like the point of an arrow.
6 The old copy reads effects. We should read affects, i.e. affections, passions of the mind. See Hamlet, Act iii. Sc. 4.
I humbly thank you. To sue to live, I find, I seek to die: And seeking death, find life: Let it come on.
Enter ISABELLA. Isab. What, ho! Peace here; grace and good
company! Prov. Who's there? come in; the wish deserves
a welcome. Duke. Dear sir, ere long I'll visit you again.
? Serpigo, is a leprous eruption.
8 This is exquisitely imagined. When we are young, we busy ourselves in forming schemes for succeeding time, and miss the gratifications that are before us; when we are old, we amuse the languor of age with the recollection of youthful pleasures or performances; so that our life, of which no part is filled with the business of the present time, resembles our dreams after dinner, when the events of the morning are mingled with the designs of the evening.
9 Old age. In youth, which is or ought to be the happiest time, man commonly wants means to obtain what he could enjoy, he is dependent on palsied eld; must beg alms from the coffers of hoary avarice; and being very niggardly supplied, becomes as aged, looks like an old man on happiness beyond his reach. And when he is old and rich, when he has wealth enough for the purchase of all that formerly excited his desires, he has no longer the powers of enjoyment.
Claud. Most holy sir, I thank you.
Duke. Provost, a word with you.
As many as you please. Duke. Bring me to hear them speak, where I
may be conceal’d 10, Yet hear them. [Exeunt Duke and Provost.
Claud. Now, sister, what's the comfort ?
Isab. Why, as all comforts are, most good indeed : Lord Angelo, having affairs to heaven, Intends
you for his swift embassador, Where you shall be an everlasting leiger 11: Therefore your best appointment 12 make with speed; To-morrow
Is there no remedy? Isab. None, but such remedy, as to save a head, To cleave a heart in twain. Claud.
But is there
Perpetual durance ?
But in what nature ?
10 The first folio reads, bring them to hear me speak, &c.' the second folio reads, ' bring them to speak.' The emendation is by Steevens.
11 A leiger is a resident. 12 i. e. preparation. 13 i. e. vastness of extent.
14 • To a determin'd scope. A confinement of your mind to one painful idea : to ignominy, of which the remembrance can neither be suppressed nor escaped.
Isab. In such a one as (you consenting to't) Would bark your honour from that trunk you bear, And leave you naked 15. Claud.
Let me know the point. Isab. O, I do fear thee, Claudio; and I quake, Lest thou a feverous life should'st entertain, And six or seven winters more respect Than a perpetual honour. Dar’st thou die ? The sense of death is most in apprehension; And the
beetle, that we tread upon,
Why give you me this shame? Think
I can a resolution fetch From flowery tenderness? If I must die, I will encounter darkness as a bride, And hug it in mine arms. * Isab. There spake my brother; there my father's
grave Did utter forth a voice! Yes, thou must die: Thou art too noble to conserve a life In base appliances. This outward-sainted deputy,— Whose settled visage and deliberate word Nips youth i'the head, and follies doth enmew 17, As falcon doth the fowl,—is yet a devil;
15 A metaphor, from stripping trees of their bark. 16 And the poor beetle that we tread upon
In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great
As when a giant dies.' This beautiful passage is in all our minds and memories, but it most frequently stands in quotation detached from the antecedent line :— The sense of death is most in apprehension, without which it is liable to an opposite construction. The meaning is :• fear is the principal sensation in death, which has no pain ; and the giant when he dies feels no greater pain than the beetle ?'
17 'In whose presence the follies of youth are afraid to show themselves, as the fowl is afraid to flutter while the falcon hovers over it. To enmew is a term in Falconry, signifying to restrain, to keep in a mew or cage either by force or terror.