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The song printed here is taken from a masque called Summer's Last Will and Testament. "Very vividly," says Mr. Bullen, "does Nash depict the feeling of forlorn hopelessness caused by the dolorous advent of the dreaded pestilence." There was a fearful outbreak of the plague in London in the very year in which this song was written. Nash must have seen many a house marked with the red cross and the pitiful words, "Lord, have mercy on us!"
IN TIME OF PESTILENCE
LINE 3. Fond, foolish.
4. toys, trifles.
10. Physic, a personification of the skill and wisdom of doctors.
19. Helen, the famous beauty for whose sake Troy was besieged by the Greeks.
23. Hector, the bravest of the Trojan heroes.
25. her gate, the grave.
26. the bells, either the church bells, tolling for funerals, or those rung by the drivers of the death carts, who in the time of pestilence went from door to door of the infected houses, calling, "Bring out your dead!” 29. Wit, genius. - wantonness, sprightliness.
31. Hell's executioner, the plague.
33. vain art, the fruitless skill of the physician.
CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE (1564-1593)
Marlowe, the most famous of the English dramatists before Shakespeare, has left behind him only this specimen of his genius as a lyric poet. This song was very popular in its day; Sir Walter Raleigh wrote a graceful reply to it; Shakespeare quotes it in the Merry Wives of Windsor; Izaak Walton puts it in the mouth of his pretty milkmaid in the Complete Angler; and it was imitated by Herrick, the chief of the Cavalier poets.
THE PASSIONATE SHEPHERD TO HIS LOVE
LINE 4. yields. This use of a singular verb with one or more subjects in the plural was not considered incorrect in Shakespeare's day. II. kirtle, a woman's outer garment.
19. An if, if.
21. shepherd-swains, shepherd boys.
THOMAS DEKKER (1575 (?)–1640 (?))
Dekker was a very busy playwright and pamphleteer in London in Shakespeare's day and for many years after Shakespeare's death. The verses printed here are from a play called The Pleasant Comedy of Patient Grissell.
O SWEET CONTENT
LINE 6. golden numbers, golden coins.
8. crispéd, rippling.
17. This line is a burden, or refrain, such as appears in many songs of that time.
BEN JONSON (1573-1637)
Jonson was the great scholar poet and playwright of the age of Shakespeare. He never attained the general popularity of the great dramatist, and for very good reasons; but he was for many years more admired than Shakespeare by critics of the drama. For twenty years after Shakespeare's death he was the acknowledged head of English letters, and an object almost of veneration to a group of young writers who were proud to boast themselves "of the tribe of Ben." Jonson's lyric poems are sometimes overloaded with his weight of learning, but at his best he is faultlessly polished and very charming.
STILL TO BE NEAT
This is a song in one of Jonson's best plays, Epicone; or, the Silent Woman.
LINE 6. sound, wholesome, genuine.
II. the adulteries of art, the dishonest tricks of art as opposed to
This is one of the best known songs in the English language and one of the loveliest. It has been sung almost without intermission since Shakespeare's day.
LINE 7. nectar, the drink of the gods.
THOMAS HEYWOOD (1575(?)-1650(?))
Heywood was one of the most prolific playwrights of his time. Of the songs scattered through his plays, the one here printed is perhaps the best.
LINE 16. Stare, starling.
17. elves, used here as a pet name for the birds.
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER
Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579–1625) are always spoken of together. For years they lived in the same house and wrote plays in unison. Even those which were written by Fletcher after his friend's death, alone or in partnership with other dramatists, were published under the names of both. Of the two poems here printed the first is certainly by Beaumont.
LINES ON THE TOMBS IN WESTMINSTER
The great abbey of Westminster, begun by Edward the Confessor in the tenth century, and finished in the early part of the eighteenth century, is the most famous church in England. Since the time of Harold it has been the coronation church of English sovereigns, and many of the most famous Englishmen are buried there. Chaucer, Spenser, Beaumont himself, Ben Jonson, Dryden, Addison, Dickens, Tennyson, and Browning are among the men of letters who lie in the Poets' Corner of the abbey.
LINE 3. how many royal bones. Among other English monarchs, Edward the Confessor, Edward III, Henry V, Henry VII, and Queen Elizabeth are buried in Westminster Abbey.
5. The relative pronoun 'who' is understood as the subject of "had." 13. bones of birth, bodies of men of high birth.
ROSES, THEIR SHARP SPINES BEING GONE
This beautiful song in honor of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta opens the play of the Two Noble Kinsmen, a drama which is thought to be the joint work of Shakespeare and Fletcher. It is not
quite certain which of them wrote this song, but the weight of authority inclines to assign it to Fletcher.
LINE 5. quaint, dainty.
7. Ver, the Spring.
9. bells, blossoms.
10. Oxlips, a popular name for the greater cowslip. It seems to grow out of a cradle of leaves.
II. death-beds. The marigold seems to have been a favorite flower to strew on coffins or to plant on graves. -blowing, blooming.
12. Lark's-heels, a kind of nasturtium, or else the larkspur.
13. Nature's children, flowers.
15. their sense, their senses of sight and smell.
16. angel, here used for bird.
19-21. The birds named in these lines are all birds of ill omen. 22. bride-house, the house in which the bridal feast was held.
MICHAEL DRAYTON (1563-1631)
Drayton was one of the most voluminous poets of Shakespeare's time. His longer poems are little read now, but he is still famous as the author of the two poems printed here. Of his Ballad of Agincourt, Lowell says, "it runs, it leaps, clashing its verses like swords upon bucklers, and moves the pulse to a charge." Rossetti, himself one of the greatest of English sonnet writers, called the famous sonnet "one of the best in the language, if not quite."
TO THE CAMBRO-BRITONS AND THEIR HARP, HIS BALLAD OF AGINCOURT
The Cambro-Britons were the Welsh. Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, was born at Monmouth, on the border of Wales, and the Welsh claimed him as their countryman.
The battle of Agincourt (1415), one of the most famous of English victories, was gained by Henry V over a French army of vastly superior numbers. The victory was mainly due to the splendid English archery and to the recklessness and disorder of the French.
LINE 2. advance, hoist.
6. Caux, a village at the mouth of the Seine, the chief river of northern France.
17. Which, who. It refers to "the French gen'ral" in line 15.
21 Which, which order.
28. amazed, dazed with fear.
34. rest, resolution.
40. redeem, ransom.
41. Poitiers and Cressy, two great victories gained over the French by Edward III of England and his son, the Black Prince, in the century preceding the battle of Agincourt.
45. our grandsire-great. Edward III was Henry's great-grandfather. 46. the regal seat, the throne of France, claimed by Edward III. 48. the French lilies, the fleur-de-lis, the emblem of the French monarchy.
49. The Duke of York, King Henry's cousin, who fell in the battle. 50. vaward, vanguard.
51. the main, the chief division of the army.
53. Exeter, an English nobleman.
66. Erpingham, Sir Thomas Erpingham, a white-haired veteran, the commander of the English archery.
73. Spanish yew, the favorite wood for bows.
74. a cloth yard long, twenty-seven inches, an old measure for cloth. This was the regulation length of arrows for the longbow.
81-88. After the first charge of the French horsemen was stopped by the hail of English arrows, they attempted to retreat. In doing so they fell into inextricable confusion, and the English archers threw down their bows, charged on them with swords and axes, and killed them like sheep. 82. bilbos, swords.
87. peasants, here used as a term of derision. Many of the French slain at Agincourt were nobles or gentlemen.
89-96. After the fight between the archers and the French cavalry, there was a short but fierce struggle between the main army under Henry and a French division that attempted by a desperate charge to retrieve the day. In this combat Henry fought in the front rank and distinguished himself by his personal bravery. He was beaten to his knees by a blow from a French sword, which cleft the crown on his helmet, but he escaped without a wound.
91. ding, beat.
94. besprent, sprinkled.
97, 101. Gloucester, Clarence, two brothers of King Henry, who distinguished themselves in the fight.
102. a maiden knight, an untried soldier.
105-112. The names in these lines are those of English nobles who fought at Agincourt. Suffolk was killed there.