An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star

Edmund in 1.2 of King Lear:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

My personal locus classicus for such observations is Zeus in Odyssey 1.30ish, on the troubles Aegisthus has brought upon himself – even though there he wobbles a bit in conceding a different manner of predestination.

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται:
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι, οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν,

Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust, destroy our friends and after weep their dust

From All’s Well That Ends Well (5.3.58):

but love that comes too late,
Like a remorseful pardon slowly carried,
To the great sender turns a sour offence,
Crying, ‘That’s good that’s gone.’ Our rash faults
Make trivial price of serious things we have,
Not knowing them until we know their grave:
Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust,
Destroy our friends and after weep their dust.
Our own love, waking, cries to see what’s done,
While shameful hate sleeps out the afternoon.

The last line has a notable alternate reading – curiously not acknowledge by the editors of the Arden 3rd – ‘shame full late’…

It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks

From All’s Well That Ends Well (2.2):

LAVATCH
Truly, madam, if God have lent a man any manners, he
may easily put it off at court: he that cannot make
a leg, put off’s cap, kiss his hand and say nothing,
has neither leg, hands, lip, nor cap; and indeed
such a fellow, to say precisely, were not for the
court; but for me, I have an answer will serve all
men.
COUNTESS
Marry, that’s a bountiful answer that fits all
questions.
LAVATCH
It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks,
the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn
buttock, or any buttock.
COUNTESS
Will your answer serve fit to all questions?
LAVATCH
As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney,
as your French crown for your taffeta punk, as Tib’s
rush for Tom’s forefinger, as a pancake for Shrove
Tuesday, a morris for May-day, as the nail to his
hole, the cuckold to his horn, as a scolding queen
to a wrangling knave, as the nun’s lip to the
friar’s mouth, nay, as the pudding to his skin.
COUNTESS
Have you, I say, an answer of such fitness for all
questions?
LAVATCH
From below your duke to beneath your constable, it
will fit any question.
COUNTESS
It must be an answer of most monstrous size that
must fit all demands.
LAVATCH
But a trifle neither, in good faith, if the learned
should speak truth of it: here it is, and all that
belongs to’t. Ask me if I am a courtier: it shall
do you no harm to learn.
COUNTESS
To be young again, if we could: I will be a fool in
question, hoping to be the wiser by your answer. I
pray you, sir, are you a courtier?
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! There’s a simple putting off. More,
more, a hundred of them.
COUNTESS
Sir, I am a poor friend of yours, that loves you.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! Thick, thick, spare not me.
COUNTESS
I think, sir, you can eat none of this homely meat.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! Nay, put me to’t, I warrant you.
COUNTESS
You were lately whipped, sir, as I think.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! spare not me.
COUNTESS
Do you cry, ‘O Lord, sir!’ at your whipping, and
‘spare not me?’ Indeed your ‘O Lord, sir!’ is very
sequent to your whipping: you would answer very well
to a whipping, if you were but bound to’t.
LAVATCH
I ne’er had worse luck in my life in my ‘O Lord,
sir!’ I see things may serve long, but not serve ever.
COUNTESS
I play the noble housewife with the time
To entertain’t so merrily with a fool.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! why, there’t serves well again.
COUNTESS
An end, sir; to your business.

Who, with our spleens, would all themselves laugh mortal

From Measure for Measure (2.2.115ish), Isabella to Angelo:

Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would ne’er be quiet,
For every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder;
Nothing but thunder! Merciful Heaven,
Thou rather with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt
Split’st the unwedgeable and gnarled oak
Than the soft myrtle: but man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.

Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons

From Othello (3.3.329-332):

Dangerous conceits are, in their natures, poisons.
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,
But with a little act upon the blood.
Burn like the mines of Sulphur

And a similar notion, less direly construed – from Tristram Shandy v.2 ch.19:

I mention this, not only as matter of hypothesis or conjecture upon the progress and establishment of my father’s many odd opinions,—but as a warning to the learned reader against the indiscreet reception of such guests, who, after a free and undisturbed entrance, for some years, into our brains,—at length claim a kind of settlement there,——working sometimes like yeast;—but more generally after the manner of the gentle passion, beginning in jest,—but ending in downright earnest.

The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief

Some polonian platitudes from Othello (1.3), as the Duke soothes Brabantio over Desdemona’s elopement:

DUKE OF VENICE
Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence,
Which, as a grise or step, may help these lovers
Into your favour.
When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
Is the next way to draw new mischief on.
What cannot be preserved when fortune takes
Patience her injury a mockery makes.
The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief;
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.

I want to connect the bolded line with Juvenal 10.22 (cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator – ‘the empty-handed traveler will sing in the robber’s face’) but it feels too weak a link.

At least Brabantio gets his own back in his reply:

BRABANTIO
So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile;
We lose it not, so long as we can smile.
He bears the sentence well that nothing bears
But the free comfort which from thence he hears,
But he bears both the sentence and the sorrow
That, to pay grief, must of poor patience borrow.
These sentences, to sugar, or to gall,
Being strong on both sides, are equivocal:
But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
I humbly beseech you, proceed to the affairs of state.

A pelting kind of thersitical satire, as black as the very ink ’tis wrote with

A history of the reception of Thersites would be a fun project.

A prepping quote from Tristram Shandy:

And first, it may be said, there is a pelting kind of thersitical satire, as black as the very ink ’tis wrote with——(and by the bye, whoever says so, is indebted to the muster-master general of the Grecian army, for suffering the name of so ugly and foul-mouth’d a man as Thersites to continue upon his roll——for it has furnish’d him with an epithet)

And a sample of Shakespeare’s indulging in the thersitical vein, from Troilus and Cressida (5.1):

THERSITES
Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk:
thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.
PATROCLUS
Male varlet, you rogue! what’s that?
THERSITES
Why, his masculine whore. Now, the rotten diseases
of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs,
loads o’ gravel i’ the back, lethargies, cold
palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing
lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas,
limekilns i’ the palm, incurable bone-ache, and the
rivelled fee-simple of the tetter, take and take
again such preposterous discoveries!

Arden adds these enlightening but effect-deflating glosses:

guts-griping … palsies ‘colic or other spasms of the abdoment, hernias, common colds or other infections of nose and throat, severe cases of kidney stones, illnesses like stroke that result in torpor or inertness, severe termor and paralysis

(From Longer notes) …The list comprises: chronic eye inflammation, liver ailments like hepatitis, asthma, bladder infections caused by cysts or abscesses (impostumes), lower back pain (sciaticas), gout (which can produce white lumps in the joints and knuckles) or else psoriasis (causing dry, reddish itchy patches on the skin of the hand), bone-ache (including the ‘Neapolitan bone-ache’ or syphilis), and pustular outbreaks of the skin caused by herpes, impetigo, ringworm, etc. This last, the tetter, produces a rivelled fee-simple or irreversible wrinkling.

And give to dust that is a little gilt more laud than gilt o’er-dusted.

From Troilus and Cressida (3.3), somewhat ironically (given his tradition) spoken by Ulysses:

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
That all with one consent praise new-born gawds,
Though they are made and moulded of things past,
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.

The wordplay requires activating two senses of both gilt (the adjective – thinly covered in gold – and the noun – gold itself) and dust (the noun – worthless matter – and the adjective – lightly covered in such).

And, like the haggard, check at every feather that comes before his eye

From Twelfth Night (3.1), a unique image here of the high-strung and restless nature of a constantly exercised wit :

VIOLA
This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
The quality of persons, and the time,
And, like the haggard, check at every feather
That comes before his eye. This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man’s art
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fallen, quite taint their wit.

A haggard is a female hawk caught as an adult and difficult to train. Check is a more difficult word and since we should all take any available chance to improve our knowledge of technical hawking and falconry terms, I give the full OED entry below for definitions 6A and 6B:

Hawking.
a. to check at the fist: to refuse to come to, recoil from, ‘shy’ at the fist.

a1529 J. Skelton Why come ye nat to Courte (?1545) 732 Till he cheked at the fist.

1557 Earl of Surrey et al. Songes & Sonettes (new ed.) f. 94v The hauke may check, that now comes fair to fiist.

1618 S. Latham New & 2nd Bk. Falconrie xi. 37 She will neuer vnderstand what it is to checke at the fist: but..wil proue a certaine and bold commer.

b. See quot. 1615, 1852; and cf. check n.1 6a.
Sir Walter Scott’s archaic use appears to be erroneous, since one falcon does not ‘check’ at another, and Marmion would not figure himself as ‘base game’ crossing the path of nobler quarry.

1615 S. Latham Falconry (new ed.) Words of Art expl. Checke, or to kill Checke, is when Crows, Rooks, Pies, or other birds comming in the view of the Hawke, she forsaketh her naturall flight to flie at them.

a1616 W. Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) iii. i. 63 Like the Haggard, checke at euery Feather That comes before his eye.

1808 W. Scott Marmion i. vi. 28 E’en such a falcon, on his shield. The golden legend bore aright, ‘Who checks at me, to death is dight.’

1852 R. F. Burton Falconry in Valley of Indus iii. 31 She ‘checked’ first at one bird, then at the other. [Note] To ‘check’ is to forsake the quarry, and fly at any chance bird that crosses the path.

The 1852 gloss – “to ‘check’ is to forsake the quarry, and fly at any chance bird that crosses the path” – is a very pretty capturing of wit’s hyperactive and undisciplined (but not ineffective) response to the things around it.



Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit

From Twelfth Night (1.5):

Feste
Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

The Arden note says:

An invented Latin authority, probably inspired – given the context of rhetorical and logical discussion (cf. syllogism, 46) – by Quintilian(us), author of the Institutio Oratoria, a book much studied in Elizabethan schools and universities. This allusion may be ‘contaminated’ by another Latin auctoritas, Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass, and by the name of the Roman coin quinarius or quinary, worth five bronze ‘asses’ and bearing the type of the victoriate, whose ‘weight standard had come from Illyria.’ Shakespeare seems to be imitating Rabelais’ pseudo-pedantic way with invented auctoritates. In any case, as Mahood observes, ‘this no longer gets a laugh.’

The pseudo authority feels right but I’ll add another comically farfetched possibility that just occurred to me. Continuing the Latin theme of the Arden note, start with the definition of the word palus in Lewis and Short:

I Lit. (very freq. and class.; syn.: sudes, stipes): ut figam palum in parietem, Plaut. Mil. 4, 4, 4; id. Men. 2, 3, 53: damnati ad supplicium traditi, ad palum alligati, Cic. Verr. 2, 5, 5, § 11: palis adjungere vitem, Tib. 1, 8 (7), 33; Ov. F. 1, 665: palos et ridicas dolare, Col. 11, 2, 11; Varr. 1. 1.—The Roman soldiers learned to fight by attacking a stake set in the ground, Veg. Mil. 1, 11; 2, 23; hence, aut quis non vidit vulnera pali? Juv. 6, 246.—And, transf.: exerceamur ad palum: et, ne imparatos fortuna deprehendat, fiat nobis paupertas familiaris, Sen. Ep. 18, 6.—In the lang. of gladiators, palus primus or palusprimus (called also machaera Herculeana, Capitol. Pert. 8), a gladiator’s sword of wood, borne by the secutores, whence their leader was also called primus palus, Lampr. Commod. 15; Inscr. Marin. Fratr. Arv. p. 694.—Prov.: quasi palo pectus tundor, of one astonished, stunned, Plaut. Rud. 5, 2, 2.—
II Transf., = membrum virile, Hor. S. 1, 8, 5.

The element I want is option 2, the unique transferred meaning of membrum virile. The single passage is from Horace’s Satires and quoted below:

Once I was a fig-wood stem, a worthless log, when the carpenter, doubtful whether to make a stool or a Priapus, chose that I be a god. A god, then, I became, of thieves and birds the special terror; for thieves my right hand keeps in check, and this red stake, protruding from unsightly groin…..

Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum,cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum,maluit esse deum. deus inde ego, furum aviumque maxima formido; nam fures dextra coercet obscenoque ruber porrectus ab inguine palus;…..

The English disguises this but the narrating Priapus describes itself as possessed of an ‘ab inguine palus‘ – which produces a sound sequence ‘guinepalus‘ terribly close to Shakespeare’s ‘quinapalus.’ Which would then turn the reference to a learned but bawdy citation of his own dick as his source of wisdom. I have now proven the undesirability of a foolish wit.