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The sort1 to fight with Hector: Among ourselves,
“ Oileus Ajax was right corpulent;
" And but a coward was he of his herte." Ajax Telamonius he thus describes:
“ An other Ajax Thelamonyius
“In compas wise round as any sphere;
“ yet bad he good practike
Lydgate's Auncient Historie, &c. 1555. There is not the smallest ground in Lydgate for what the author of the Rifacimento of this poem, published in 1614, has introduced, concerning his eloquence and adoring learning. See Mr. Steevens's note.
Perhaps, however, The Destruction of Troy led Shakspeare to give this representation; for the author of that book, describing these two persons, improperly calls Ajax Oileus, simply Ajax, as the more eminent of the two:
“ Ajax was of a huge stature, great and large in the shoulders, great armes, and always was well clothed, and very richly; and was of no great enterprize, and spake very quicke. Thelamon Ajax was a marvellous faire knight; he had black hayres, and he hadde great pleasure in musicke, and he sang him selfe very well: he was of greate prowesse, and a valiant man of warre, and without pompe.” Malone.
Mr. Malone observes, that “there is not the smallest ground, &c. concerning his eloquence and adoring learning.” But may we ask what interpretation this gentleman would give to the epithets
" -diserte and virtuous ?” By the first word, (formed from the Latin disertus,) eloquence inust have been designed; and by the latter, the artes ingenue, which in the age of Lydgate were often called the virtuous arts.
Steevens. · The sort ] i.e. the lot. Steevens. So, in Lydgate's Auncient Historie, &c:
Give him allowance for the better man,
ACT 115.....SCENE I.
Another Part of the Grecian Camp.
Enter AJAX and THERSITES.
Ther. Agamemnon-how if he had boils? full, all over, generally?
“ Calchas had experience
“Of sorte also, and divynation.” Malone. 2 — under our opinion – ] Here again opinion means character.
Malone. 3 — Ulysses,
Now I begin &c.] The quarto and folio have Now Ulysses, I begin, &c. The transposition was made by Mr. Steevens.
Malone. 4 Must tarre the mastiffs on,] Tarre, an old English word, signifying to provoke or urge on. See King John, Act IV, sc. i:
“- like a dog,
“Snatch at his master that, doth tarre him on.” Pope. 5 Act II.] This play is not divided into Acts in any of the ori. ginal editions. Johnson.
Ther. And those boils did run ?-Say so, did not the general run then? were not that a botchy core?
Ther. Then would come some matter from him; I see none now.
Ajax. Thou bitch-wolf's son, canst thou not hear? Feel then.
[Strikes him. Ther. The plague of Greece upon thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord !?
Ajax. Speak then, thou unsalted leaven, speak:8 I will beat thee into handsomeness.
6 The plague of Greece upon thee,] Alluding perhaps to the plague sent by Apollo on the Grecian army. Fohnson.
The following lines of Lydgate's Auncient Historie of the Warres between the Trojans and the Grecians, 1555, were probably here in our author's thoughts:
6. And in this whyle a great mortalyte,
“ Without abode graunted his axynge." Malone. Our author may as well be supposed to have caught this circumstance, relative to the plague, from the first Book of Hall's or Chapman's version of the Iliad. Steevens. 7 t hou mongrel beef-witted lord!] So, in Twelfth Night: "~I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.” Steevens.
He calls Ajax mongrel on account of his father's being a Grecian and his mother a Trojan. See Hector's speech to Ajax, in Act IV, sc. v: “Thou art, great lord, my father's sister's son,” &c.
Malone 8 Speak then, thou unsalted leaven, speak:] Unsalted leaven means sour without salt, malignity without wit. Shakspeare wrote first unsalted; but recollecting that want of salt was no fault in leaven, changed it to vinew'd. Fohnson.
The want of salt is no fault in leaven; but leaven without the addition of salt will not make good bread: hence Shakspeare used it as a term of reproach. Malone.
Ther. I shall sooner rail thee into wit and holiness: but, I think, thy horse will sooner con an oration, than chou learn a prayer without book. Thou canst strike, canst thou? a red murrain o'thy jade's trick's!9
Ajax. Toads-stool, learn me the proclamation.
Ther. Dost thou think, I have no sense, thou strikest me thus?
Ajax. The proclamation,
Ther. I would, thou didst itch from head to foot, and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece. When thou art forth in the incursions, thou strikest as slow as another.
Ajax. I say, the proclamation,
Ther. Thou grumblest and railest every hour on Achilles; and thou art as full of envy at his greatness, as Cerberus is at Proserpina's beauty, ay, that thou barkest at him.2
Ajax. Mistress Thersites!
Unsalted is the reading of both the quartos. Francis Beaumont, in his letter to Speght on his edition of Chaucer's works, 1602, says: “Many of Chaucer's words are become as it were vinew'd and hoarie with over long lying.” Again, in Tho. Newton's Herbal to the Bible, 8vo. 1587 :
"For being long kept they grow hore and vinewed.” Steevens. In the Preface to James the First's Bible, the translators speak of fenowed (i. e, vinewed or mouldy) traditions. Blackstone.
The folio bas-mthou whinid'st leaven; a corruption undoubtedly of vinnewedst, or winniedst: that is, thou most mouldy leaven. In Dorsetshire they at this day call cheese that is become mouldy vinny cheese. Malone.
9 — ared murrain &c.) A similar imprecation is found in The Tempest: “— The red plague rid you !" Steevens.
i in Greece.] [Thus far the folio. 1 The quarto adds-when thou art forth in the incursions, thou strikest as slow as another.
Johnson. ? — ay, that thou barkest at him.] I read,- that thou barkedst at hiin. Johnson.
The old reading is I, which, if changed at all, should have been changed into ay. Tyrwhitt.
3 Cobloaf!] A crusty, uneven, gibbous loaf, is in some counties called by this name. Steevens.
Ther. He would pun thee into shivers4 with his fist, as a sailor breaks a biscuit. Ajax. You whoreson cur!
[Beating him. Ther. Do, do. Ajax. Thou stool for a witch !5
Ther. Ay, do, do; thou sodden-witted lord! thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows; an assinego
A cob-loaf, says Minsheu, in his Dictionary, 1617, is "a bunne. It is a little loaf made with a round head, such as cob-irons which support the fire. G. Bignet, a bigne, a knob or lump risen after a knock or blow.” The word Bignets Cotgrave, in his Dictionary, 1611, renders thus: “Little round loaves or lumps, made of fine meale, oyle, or butter, and reasons : bunnes, lenten loaves.”
Cob-loaf ought, perhaps, to be rather written cop-loaf. Malone.
4 pun thee into shivers - Pun is in the midland counties the vulgar and colloquial word for-pound. Johnson.
It is used by P. Holland, in his translation of Pliny's Natural History, Book XXVIII, ch. xii: “- punned altogether and reduced into a liniment.” Again, Book XXIX, ch, iv: “ The gall of these lizards punned and dissolved in water.” Steevens.
Cole, in his Dictionary, renders it by the Latin words contero, contundo. Mr. Pope, who altered whatever he did not understand, reads-pound, and was followed by three subsequent editors.
Malone. 5 Thou stool for a witch!] In one way of trying a witch they used to place her on a chair or stool, with her legs tied across, that all the weight of her body might rest upon her seat; and by that means, after some time, the circulation of the blood would be much stopped, and her sitting would be as painful as the wooden horse. Grey.
6 an assinego -] I am not very certain what the idea conveyed by this word was meant to be. Asinaio is Italian, says Sir T. Hanmer, for an ass-driver: but, in Mirza, a tragedy, by Rob. Baron, Act III, the following passage occurs, with a note annexed to it:
“ the stout trusty blade,
" Asunder like a thread. “ This (says the author) is the usual trial of the Persian shamsheers, or cemiters, which are crooked like a crescent, of so good metal, that they prefer them before any other, and so sharp as any razor.”
I hope, for the credit of the prince, that the experiment was rather made on an ass than an ass-driver. From the following passage I should suppose asinego to be merely a cant term for a foolish fellow, an idiot : “ They apparelled me as you see, made a fool or an asinego of me." See The Antiquary, a comedy, by S. Marmion, 1641. Again, in Beauinont and Fletcher's Scornful Lady: “ - ali