Page images

(a work unknown to the public for a period of more than two hundred years after it was written) and the great tragedy as close as there is between a seed and its plant. Indeed, Shake-speare itself is a vast field in which the Baconian philosophy is white unto harvest. Fortunate will he be who first enters it with his sickle.

ANDOVER, MASS., January, 1902.


[blocks in formation]

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;1 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 Vita et Mortis, as quoted above. We give the three versions in tabular form as follows:



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

3 Raising the hand aim

lessly to the face.

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

4 The nose sharp.


5 The whole face of a The face pallid. pale-green color.

The nose becoming Nose as sharp as a

Smiling upon his fingers' ends.

On a table of green field.

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 Vita 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 xλwpós to denote it. xλapós 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 xλwpós means merely pale; it is rather the color of cabbage or lettuce."

So, also, Cardan:

"The difficulty is, what does xλwpós 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?" 1

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 "2 (that is, against a green back

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 xλwpós by pallidus in Latin, pâle in French, or pale in English.

2 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.

« PreviousContinue »