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Bacon and Shake-speare


From Shake-speare

From Bacon “ After I saw him fumble with “The immediate signs which prethe sheets, and play with flowers, cede death are ... fumbling with and smile upon his fingers' the hands . . . grasping and clutchends, I knew there was but one ing ... the nose becoming sharp, way; for his nose was as sharp the face pallid, . . . coldness of as a pen. He bade me lay more the extremities.” – Historia Vitæ clothes on his feet; I put my hand et Mortis (1623). into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone."

Henry V. ii. 3 (1600). In the first collective edition of the Plays (1623), known as the first folio, the above passage from ‘Henry V' is printed thus :

“After I saw him fumble with the sheets, and play with flowers, and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen on a table of green field ; he bade me lay more clothes on his feet; I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone.”

Hostess Quickly's account of the death of Sir John Falstaff is one of the most famous passages in Shakespeare, though it is one which editors and commentators have failed to interpret correctly. In this speech of an old nurse we find six distinct presages of death, all of them taken from Hippocrates, a Greek writer of the fifth

1 Two slight typographical errors corrected. See p. 3, 2 n.

century B. C., and all but one mentioned also by Bacon in his Historia Vito et Mortis, as quoted above. We give the three versions in tabular form as follows:



1 Handling the bed-Fumbling with the Fumbling with clothes awkwardly. hands.


2 Gathering bits of straw Clutching and grasp- Playing with flowers.

or stems of flowers. ing.

[blocks in formation]

6 The extremities cold. Coldness of the ex- Feet cold as any stone.

| tremities.

Shake-speare could not have copied these passages from Bacon, for the play was first printed in 1600, and the Historia Vito et Mortis not until 1623; nor did Bacon copy them from Shake-speare, for he gives many from Hippocrates which Shake-speare omits. The common source was undoubtedly in the writings of Cardan or Galen, one of whom had previously published a Latin translation of the original Greek work, Prognostica, containing the presages, and the other a commentary upon it. A singular circumstance (for our knowledge of which we are indebted to Dr. C. Creighton of London), points unmistakably to this conclusion.

Hippocrates, in describing the pallor that creeps over the face at such a time, used the word xłwpós to denote it. Xwpós means pale-green, - a term entirely appropriate when applied to the olive-complexioned people of Greece, but easily misunderstood or misinterpreted elsewhere. Accordingly, we find that out of forty-three versions of the Prognostica, published in the languages of Western Europe, including Latin, previously to the date of the play, twentyfive translate this word by the Latin pallidus (pale) or its equivalent, while nine do not translate it at all, but bring it over bodily from the Greek into the new text. Several place it in the margin, as though they were not sure of its true meaning Cardan and Galen, almost alone among their contemporaries and successors, however, take the right view. Galen says:

“ The ancients assumed that ylwpós means merely pale ; it is rather the color of cabbage or lettuce.”

So, also, Cardan:

“ The difficulty is, what does xlwpós mean? It seems to me that it should be interpreted in the sense of the time in which it was used. Who does not know that in Greece the face of a dying man is of a green color ?" ! We find the same fact stated in one of Sappho's poems:

“My face is paler than the grass ;
To die would seem no more.”

To the Beloved.

(Translated by Prof. Thomas Davidson.) Here is very nearly absolute proof that the author of the Play, who in his description of Falstaff's nose — “as sharp as a pen on a table of green field”? (that is, against a green background) — was simply true to the original, had studied Cardan's translation of the Prognostica, or Galen's commentary upon it. We know that Bacon was familiar with both of these authors' works, frequently quoting from them in his own. Perhaps the most striking passage in the Novum Organum is that in which he proclaims man as naturæ minister (servant of nature), taken by Galen from the writings of Hippocrates. In one of his tracts he mentions the Prognostica by name. We know, too, that the author of the Plays was acquainted with them, as Douce and Hunter admit:

1 A very poor, confused translation of the 'Prognostics' appeared in English in 1597. It was based upon a French version by Canappe, Canappe's on one by Rabelais, and Rabelais' on Copus, all of whom rendered the Greek xwpds by pallidus in Latin, pale in French, or pale in English.

3 The printers of the first Shakespeare folio made two slight but perfectly obvious typographical errors in setting up this line. They made it read as follows:

“For his Nose was as sharpe as a Pen, and a Table of greene Fields.” The word Table, beginning with a capital letter, must, of course, be a substantive.

“There is a good deal on this subject (Suicide and Doubt] in Cardan's 'Comfort' (1576), a book which Shakespeare had certainly read.” — Douce's Illustrations of Shakespeare, ii. 238.

“This seems to me to be the book (Cardan's] which Shakespeare placed in the hands of Hamlet." —HUNTER's Illustrations of Shakespeare, ii. 243.

The word field, used by Hostess Quickly in the above passage, signifies merely expanse or surface (of the face), as in the following instances, taken from Shake-speare himself:

“This silent war of lilies and roses,
Which Tarquin viewed in her fair face's field.

“When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field.

Sonnet 2.

Dr. Henry Bradley, the distinguished lexicographer, has shown that the royal court, now known as the Board of Green Cloth, was formerly called, in one at least of the household ordinances (1470), the Board of Green Field or Feald.

It appears, then, that Bacon and Shake-speare quoted the same presages of death from Hippocrates, quoted them

in the same order, and (probably) from the same Latin translation.

From Shake-speare

From Bacon “ It is you that have chalk'd the “Alexander Borgia was wont to way

say of the expedition of the French Which has brought us hither." for Naples, that they came with

Tempest, v. 1 (1623). chalk in their hands to mark “Not propp'd by ancestry, whose up their lodgings, and not with grace

weapons to fight.” – Advancement Chalks successors their way.” of Learning (1603-5). Henry VIII., i. 1 (1623). “To mark with chalk.” – Pro

mus (1594-96).

Bacon was very fond of quoting the above witticism of the Pope, applying it to his own case in the peaceful efforts he was making to introduce into the minds of men a new philosophy. In 1607, he sent one of his tracts to Sir Thomas Bodley with the remark, “If you be not of the lodgings marked up, I am but to pass by your door.” He refers to the subject again in his Redargutio Philosophiarum composed probably in 1608; also in the Novum Organum (1620) and the De Augmentis (1623).

“I like better that entry of truth which comes peaceably, as with chalk to mark up those minds which are capable to lodge and harbor such a guest, than that which forces its way with pugnacity and contention." — Advancement of Learning.

The 'Tempest' was first printed in 1623, but written prob ably in or about 1613. 'Henry VIII.' was also printed for the first time in the folio of 1623, the date of its composition in its present form not having been earlier than May 3, 1621.

1 The dates appended in parentheses to these passages indicate the time either when the passages were written, or (if that be unknown) when they were first printed.

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