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CLEO. Some innocents 'scape not the thunderbolt.
Melt Egypt into Nile *! and kindly creatures
Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news: Give to a gracious message
MESS. I have done my duty.
"Doubt not, my lord, we can contain ourselves."
4 Melt Egypt into Nile !] So, in the first scene of this play: "Let Rome in Tyber melt," &c. STEEVENS.
5 These hands do lack nobility, that they strike
A meaner than myself;] This thought seems to be borrowed from the laws of chivalry, which forbad a knight to engage with his inferior. So, in Albumazar:
Stay; understand'st thou well the points of duel?
"Thou wert most unworthy, and 'twere loss of honour
In me to fight." STEEVENS.
Perhaps here was intended an indirect censure of Queen Elizabeth, for her unprincely and unfeminine treatment of the amiable Earl of Essex. The play was probably not produced till after her death, when a stroke at her proud and passionate demeanour to her courtiers and maids of honour (for her majesty used to chastise them too) might be safely hazarded. In a subsequent part of this scene there is (as Dr. Grey has observed) an evident allusion to Elizabeth's enquiries concerning the person of her rival, Mary, Queen of Scots. MALONE.
CLEO. Is he married?
I cannot hate thee worser than I do,
If thou again say, Yes.
He is married, madam. CLEO. The gods confound thee! dost thou hold there still?
MESS. Should I lie, madam ? CLEO. O, I would, thou didst; So half my Egypt were submerg'd, and made A cistern for scal'd snakes! Go, get thee hence; Hadst thou Narcissus in thy face, to me Thou would'st appear most ugly'. He is married? MESS. I crave your highness' pardon.
He is married? MESS. Take no offence, that I would not offend you :
To punish me for what you make me do,
That art not what thou'rt sure of! -Get thee hence:
So, in The Martial Maid, by Beaumont and Fletcher:
spoil'd, lost, and submerg'd in the inundation," &c. Again, in Reynolds's God's Revenge against Murder, book iii. hist. xiv. : "6 -as the cataracts of Nilus make it submerge and wash Egypt with her inundation."
- to me
were SUBMERG'D,] Submerg'd is whelmed under water.
Thou would'st appear most ugly.] So, in King John, Act III. Sc. I.:
Fellow, be gone; I cannot brook thy sight; "This news hath made thee a most ugly man."
8 That art not what thou'rt sure of!] For this, which is not easily understood, Sir Thomas Hanmer has given : "That say'st but what thou'rt sure of!"
I am not satisfied with the change, which, though it affords sense, exhibits little spirit. I fancy the line consists only of abrupt starts:
The merchandise which thou hast brought from
"O that his fault should make a knave of thee,
"That art-not what?-Thou'rt sure on't. Get thee hence.” That his fault should make a knave of thee that art-but what shall I say thou art not? Thou art then sure of this marriage.— Get thee hence.'
Dr. Warburton has received Sir T. Hanmer's emendation. JOHNSON.
In Measure for Measure, Act II. Sc. II. is a passage so much resembling this, that I cannot help pointing it out for the use of some future commentator, though I am unable to apply it with success to the very difficult line before us:
"Drest in a little brief authority,
"Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd, "His glassy essence." STEEVENS. "That art not what thou'rt sure of!" i. e. Thou art not an honest man, of which thou art thyself assured, but thou art, in my opinion, a knave by thy master's fault alone.' TOLLET.
A proper punctuation, with the addition of a single letter, will make this passage clear; the reading of sure of 't, instead of sure of:
"O, that his fault should make a rogue of thee
That is, What? are you sure of what you tell me, that he is married to Octavia?' M. MASON.
I suspect, the editors have endeavoured to correct this passage in the wrong place. Cleopatra begins now a little to recollect herself, and to be ashamed of having struck the servant for the fault of his master. She then very naturally exclaims : O, that his fault should make a knave of thee, "Thou art not what thou'rt sore of!"
for so I would read, with the change of only one letter.-Alas, is it not strange, that the fault of Antony should make thee appear to me a knave, thee, that art innocent, and art not the cause of that ill news, in consequence of which thou art yet sore with my
If it be said, that it is very harsh to suppose that Cleopatra means to say to the Messenger, that he is not himself that information which he brings, and which has now made him smart, let the following passage in Coriolanus answer the objection: "Lest you should chance to whip your information, "And beat the messenger that bids beware "Of what is to be dreaded."
Are all too dear for me; Lie they upon thy hand,
CHAR. Many times, madam.
I am paid for't now.
Lead me from hence,
I faint; O Iras, Charmian,-'Tis no matter :-
The Egyptian queen has beaten her information.
If the old copy be right, the meaning is- Strange, that his fault should make thee appear a knave, who art not that information of which thou bringest such certain assurance.' MALONE.
I have adopted the arrangement, &c. proposed, with singular acuteness, by Mr. M. Mason; and have the greater confidence in it, because I received the very same emendation from a gentleman who had never met with the work in which it first occurred.
the FEATURE of Octavia,] By feature seems to be meant, the cast and make of her face. Feature, however, anciently appears to have signified beauty in general.
So, in Greene's Farewell to Folly, 1617: rich thou art, featured thou art, feared thou art."
Spenser uses feature for the whole turn of the body. Fairy Queen, b. i. c. viii. :
Thus when they had the witch disrobed quite,
"She also doft her heavy haberjeon,
Our author has already, in As You Like It, used feature for the general cast of face. See vol. vi. p. 443. MALone.
I let him not leave out
The colour of her hair:] This is one of Shakspeare's masterly touches. Cleopatra, after bidding Charmian to enquire of the Messenger concerning the beauty, age, and temperament of Octavia, immediately adds, "let him not leave out the colour of
Let him for ever go2:-Let him not-Charmian, Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, The other way he's a Mars :-Bid you Alexas [TO MARDIAN. Bring me word, how tall she is.-Pity me, Charmian,
But do not speak to me.-Lead me to my chamber. [Exeunt.
Enter POMPEY and MENAS, at one side, with Drum and Trumpet: at another, CESAR, LEPIDUS, ANTONY, ENOBARBUS, MECENAS, with Soldiers marching.
POм. Your hostages I have, so have you mine; And we shall talk before we fight.
* First folio, The other wayes.
her hair;" as from thence she might be able to judge for herself, of her rival's propensity to those pleasures, upon which her passion for Antony was founded. HENLEY.
Verily, I would, for the instruction of mine ignorance, that the commentator had dealt more diffusedly on this delectable subject, for I can in no wise divine what coloured hair is to be regarded as most indicative of venereal motions: perhaps indeed the xópai Xpúσaia; and yet, without experience, certainty may still be wanting to mine appetite for knowledge. Cuncta prius tentanda, saith
that waggish poet Ovidius Naso. AMNER.
Let him for ever go:] She is now talking in broken sentences, not of the Messenger, but Antony. JOHNSON.
3 T' other way he's a Mars :] In this passage the sense is clear, but, I think, may be much improved by a very little alteration. Cleopatra, in her passion upon the news of Antony's marriage,
"Let him for ever go :-Let him not-Charmian,-
This, I think, would be more spirited thus:
"Let him for ever go :-let him-no,—Charmian ;