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CLEO. Some innocents 'scape not the thunder-
Melt Egypt into Nile! and kindly creatures
I will not hurt him :-
Have given myself the cause.-Come hither, sir.
Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news: Give to a gracious message
Melt Egypt into Nile!] So, in the first scene of this play: "Let Rome in Tyber melt," &c. STEEVENS.
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?
"Art born of gentle blood, and pure descent?
"Was none of all thy lineage hang'd or cuckold?
"As long and wide as mine?—for otherwise
"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.
An host of tongues; but let ill tidings tell
CLEO. Is he married?
I have done my duty.
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
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
To punish me for what you make me do,
were submerg'd,] Submerg'd is whelmed under water. So, in The Martial Maid, by Beaumont and Fletcher: -spoil'd, lost, and submerg'd in the inundation,"
Again, in Reynolds's God's Revenge against Murder, Book III. Hist. xiv: " -as the cataracts of Nilus make it submerge and wash Egypt with her inundation." STEEVENS.
Thou wouldst appear most ugly.] So, in King John, Act III. sc. i:
"Fellow, be gone; I cannot brook thy sight;
CLEO. O, that his fault should make a knave of
That art not!-What? thou'rt sure of't?"—Get thee hence:
• That art not!-What? thou'rt sure of't?] Old copy:) That art not what thou'rt sure of. STEEVENS.
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:
O that his fault should make a knave of thee,
That art-not what?-Thou'rt sure on't. Get thee
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."
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.
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 art not!-What? thou'rt sure of 't?
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:
The merchandise which, thou hast brought from
Are all too dear for me; Lie they upon thy hand, And be undone by 'em! [Exit Messenger.
Good your highness, patience.
CLEO. In praising Antony, I have disprais'd
CHAR. Many times, madam.
Lead me from hence,
I am paid for't now.
I faint; O Iras, Charmian,-'Tis no matter:Go to the fellow, good Alexas; bid him Report the feature of Octavia, her years,
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 blows!
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,
"Of what is to be dreaded."
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.
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. STEEVENS.
9- the feature of Octavia,] By feature seems to be
Her inclination, let him not leave out
meant, the cast and make of her face.
featured thou art, feared thou art.”
"-rich 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,
Again, in B. III. c. ix :
"She also doft her heavy haberjeon,
"Which the fair feature of her limbs did hide."
Our author has already, in As you like it, used feature for the general cast of face. See Vol. VIII. p. 112, n. 4.
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 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 noua Xpoεial; 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