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Mer. A challenge, on my life.
letter. Ben. Nay, he will answer the letter's master, how he dares, being dared.
Mer. Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead! stabbed with a white wench's black eye; shot thorough the ear with a love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft?: And is he a man to encounter Tybalt?
Ben. Why, what is Tybalt?.
Mer. More than prince of cats?, I can tell you. 0, he is the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk button", a duellist, a duellist; a
1 The allusion is to archery. The clout, or wbite mark at which the arrows were directed, was fastened by a black pin, placed in the centre of it. To bit this was the highest ambition of every marksman. So in No Wit like a Woman's, a comedy by Middleton, 1657:
• They have shot two arrows without heads,
And I'll cleave the black pin i’the midst of the white.'
For kings are clouts that every man shoots at,
Our crown the pin that thousands seek to cleave.' See vol. ii. p. 348, note 10.
Tybert, the name given to a cat in the old story book of Reynard the Fox. So in Decker's Satiromastix :
• Tho' you were Tybert, prince of long tailed cats.' Again, in Have With You to Saffron Walden, by Nash:- Not Tibalt prince of cats.' 3 So in The Return from Parnassus :
Strikes his poinado at a button's breadth.' The phrase also occurs in the Fantaisies de Bruscambile, 1612, p. 181 :-- Un coup de mousquet sans fourchette dans le sixième bouton.'
gentleman of the very first house,-of the first and second cause* : Ah, the immortal passado ! the punto reverso ! the hay5!
Ben. The what?
Mer. The pox of such antick, lisping, affecting fantasticoes; these new tuners of accents !-By Jesu, a very good blade !-a very tall man !-a very good whore !—Why, is not this a lamentable thing, grandsire®, that we should be thus afflicted with these strange flies, these fashion-mongers, these pardonnez-moys, who stand so much on the new form, that they cannot sit at ease on the old bench??. 0, their bons, their bons !
Mer. Without his roe, like a dried herring :-0, flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified !-Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura, to his lady, was but a kitchen wench;marry, she had a better love to be-rhyme her: Dido, a dowdy; Cleopatra, a gipsy; Helen and Hero, hildings and barlots ; Thisbé, a grey eye or so 8, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bon jour ! there's a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.
4 i. e. a gentleman of the first rank, or highest eminence, among these duellists; and one who understands the whole science of quarrelling, and will tell you of the first cause, and the second cause for which a man is to fight. The clown, in As You Like It, talks of the seventh cause in the same sense.
5 All the terms of the fencing school were originally Italian : the rapier, or small thrusting sword, being first used in Italy. The hay is the word hai, you have it, used when a thrust reaches the antagonist. Our fencers on the same occasion cry out ha!
6 Humorously apostrophising his ancestors, whose sober times were unacquainted with the fopperies here complained of.
7 Daring the ridiculous fashion which prevailed of great • boulstered breeches' (See Strutt's Manners and Customs, vol. iii. p. 86 ; Strype's Annals, vol. i. p. 78, Appendix; vol. ii. Appendix, note 17), it is said that it was necessary to cut away hollow places in the benches of the House of Commons, to make room for those monstrous protuberances, without which those who stood on the new FORM could not sit at ease on the old bench.
Rom. Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you ?
Mer. The slip, sir, the slip 10 : Can you not conceive?
Rom. Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and, in such a case as mine, a man may strain courtesy.
Mer. That's as much as to say—such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams.
Rom. Meaning—to court'sy.
Mer. Well said: Follow me this jest now, till thou hast worn out thy pump; that, when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing, solely singular.
Rom. O single-soled 12 jest, solely singular for the singleness.
8 A grey eye appears to have meant what we now call a blue eye. He means to admit that Thisbe had a tolerable fine eye.
9 The slop was a kind of wide kneed breeches, or rather trowsers. See vol. ii. p. 358.
10 See vol. vii. p. 365, note 3.
11 Here is a vein of wit too thin to be easily found. The fundamental idea is, that Romeo wore pinked pumps, that is punched with holes in figures. It was the custom to wear ribbons in the shoes formed in the shape of roses or other flowers. Thus in The Masque of Gray's Inn, 1614:- Every inasker's pump was fastened with a flower suitable to his cap.'
12 Malone and Steevens have made strange work with their
Mer. Come between us, good Benvolio; my wits fail. · Rom. Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a match.
Mer. Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase 13, I have done; for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits, than, I am sure, I have in my whole five: Was I with you there for the goose ?
Rom. Thou wast never with me for any thing, when thou wast not there for the goose.
Mer. I will bite thee by the ear for that jest.
Mer. Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting 14; it is a most sharp sauce.
Rom. And is it not well served in to a sweet goose? .
conjectures of the meaning of single-soled. I have shown (vol. v. p. 270, note 20) that single meant simple, silly. Single soled had also the same meaning :-- He is a good sengyll soule, and can do no harm; est doli nescius non simplex.'-Horman's Vulgaria. So in Hall's Second Satire of his second book :
• And scorne contempt itselfe that doth excite
Each single sold squire to set you at so light.' The single soule kings,' in the passage from Holinshed, the
single sole fidler,' and the single soald gentlewoman,' in the other extracts, were all simple persons. It sometimes was synonymous with THREADBARE, coarse spun, and this is its meaning here. The worthy Cotgrave explains · Monsieur de trois au boisseau et de trois à un épée : a threadbare, coarse-spun, singlesoled gentleman.?
13 One kind of horserace which resembled the flight of wild geese, was formerly known by this name. Two borses were started together, and which ever rider could get the lead, the other rider was obliged to follow him wberever he choose to go. This explains the pleasantry kept up here. "My wit fails,' says Mercutio. Romeo exclaims briskly, · Switch and spurs, switch and spurs. To which Mercutio rejoins, ` Nay, if thy wits run the wild goose chase,' &c. Burton mentions this sport, Anat. of Melan. p. 266, edit. 1632. See also the article Chace in Chambers's Dictionary.
14 The allusion is to an apple of that name.
Mer. O, here's a wit of cheverel 15, that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad!
Rom. I stretch it out for that word—broad: which added to the goose, proves thee far and wide a broad goose.
Mer. Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature: for this drivelling love is like a great natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole 16.
Ben. Stop there, stop there.
Mer. Thou desirest me stop in my tale against the hair 17.
Ben. Thou would'st else have made thy tale
Mer: 0, thou art deceiv'd, I would have made it short: for I was come to the whole depth of my tale : and meant, indeed, to occupy the argument no longer. Rom. Here's goodly geer!
Enter Nurse and PETER. Mer. A sail, a sail, a sail! Ben. Two, two; a shirt, and a smock. Nurse. Peter! Peter. Anon? Nurse. My fan, Peter 18. 15 Soft stretching leather, kid leather. See vol. vii. p. 218, note 6.
16 See vol. iii. p. 315, note 4.
17 This phrase, which is of French extraction, à contre poil, occurs again in Troilus and Cressida, vol. vii. p. 324 :- Merry against the hair.'
18 The business of Peter carrying the Nurse's fan, seems ridiculous to modern manners, but it was formerly the practice. In The Serving Man's Comfort, 1598, we are informed “The