Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk with candle-wasters

From Much Ado About Nothing, Leonato’s speech following the accusation against Hero (5.1.3-31). The play’s text is generally unproblematic but one line in this passage has apparently forced a lot of discussion over the centuries.

I pray thee cease thy counsel,
Which falls into mine ears as profitless
As water in a sieve. Give not me counsel;
Nor let no comforter delight mine ear
But such a one whose wrongs do suit with mine.
Bring me a father that so loved his child,
Whose joy of her is overwhelmed like mine,
And bid him speak of patience;
Measure his woe the length and breadth of mine
And let it answer every strain for strain,
As thus for thus, and such a grief for such,
In every lineament, branch, shape, and form:
If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
And sorrow; wag, cry ‘hem!’ when he should groan,
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters; bring him yet to me,
And I of him will gather patience.
But there is no such man: for, brother, men
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief
Which they themselves not feel; but tasting it,
Their counsel turns to passion which before
Would give preceptial medicine to rage,
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread,
Charm ache with air and agony with words:
No, no; ’tis all men’s office to speak patience
To those that wring under the load of sorrow,
But no man’s virtue nor sufficiency
To be so moral when he shall endure
The like himself. Therefore give me no counsel:
My griefs cry louder than advertisement.

Alternate readings include but are far from limited to:

Quarto – And sorrow, wagge, crie hem
3rd Folio – And hallow, wag, cry hem
4th Folio – And Hollow, wag, cry hem
Theobald – And Sorrow wage; cry, hem
Hanmer – And sorrow waive, cry hem
Halliwell – And sorrowing, cry ‘hem’
Johnson – And, Sorrow wag! cry; hem
Cappell – Bid sorrow, wag; cry, hem
(conjecture from an Arden note) – And, sorry wag, cry hem

The main debte here is whether ‘sorrow’ should be taken as a verb (parallel to the preceding line’s ‘stroke his beard’) or an object of the verb ‘wag’ – used under OED’s definition 7A ‘To go, depart, be off. Now colloquial’. The OED, following Cappell’s emendation, cites this passage as one of only a few instances of that sense (“And sorrow, wagge [read Bid sorrow wagge], crie hem”), and this emendation has now generally won out except where editors prefer to follow the Quarto text, as in the 2nd ed. of the Cambridge Shakespeare and, using that edition’s proposal, the new Arden I’ve given here. Those punctuate to keep ‘sorrow’ and ‘wag’ as separate verbs, relying for the latter on the second definition of the noun ‘wag’ (‘Any one ludicrously mischievous; a merry droll’ – Johnson) and supplying an implied sense of ‘play the wag’ (= pretend to be light-hearted). ‘Cry ‘hem” is taken as covering the suppressed emotion with a cough and fits either of the above readings. So we get two options:

If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
And bid sorrow be off; cover his emotion with a cough when he should groan,


If such a one will smile and stroke his beard,
And inwardly sorrow; play light-hearted, cover his emotion with a cough when he should groan,

Both are workable, but I tend to favor the second since it better connects with a second element of what made this crux so difficult for so long – a now-resolved debate over the meaning of the extremely rare ‘candle-wasters’ a few lines later:

Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk
With candle-wasters

Some 19th century editors (following one named Staunton) took the word to mean ‘revellers’ or something like ‘those who burn down candles by staying up too late [drinking]’. The line of thought seems to have been literalizing the metaphorical ‘make misfortune drunk’ into something like ‘drink enough to forget your misfortune’ and then taking ‘with candle-wasters’ as a phrase of accompaniment rather than instrument. But fortunately there is a contemporary use from Ben Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels (3.2.2 – the only other instance recorded by the OED) that snuffs the argument:

HEDON. Heart, was there ever so prosperous an invention thus
unluckily perverted and spoiled, by a whoreson book-worm, a

ANA. Fough! he smells all lamp-oil with studying by candle-light.

‘Candle-waster’ can only be a dismissive term for a scholar (who wastes candles by studying all night) and ‘make misfortune drunk with candle-wasters’ must be largely parallel to the sentiment of the preceding ‘patch grief with proverbs.’ It is reminiscent of a favorite line of Melville’s from early in Moby Dick – ‘requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it.’

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