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Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him, And like a bold-fac'd suitor 'gins to woo him.
Thrice fairer than myself, (thus she began,)
Nature that made thee, with herself at strife*,
Spenser's description of the hangings in the Lady of Delight's Castle, Faery Queen, b. iii. c. i. st. 34, et seq. 4to, 1590, or by a short piece entitled The Sheepheard's Song of Venus and Adonis, subscribed with the letters H. C. (probably Henry Constable,) which, I believe, was written before Shakspeare's poem; though I have never seen any earlier copy of it than that which we find in England's Helicon, 1600. He had also without doubt read the account of Venus and Adonis in the tenth book of Ovid's Metamorphoses, translated by Golding, 1567, though he has chosen to deviate from the classical story, which Ovid and Spenser had set before him, following probably the model presented to him by the English poem just mentioned. See the notes at the end. MALONE. 2 ROSE-CHEEK'D Adonis -] So, in Timon of Athens : bring down the rose-cheek'd youth
"To the tub-fast and the diet."
Our author perhaps remembered Marlowe's Hero and Leander: "The men of wealthy Sestos every yeare,
"For his sake whom their goddess held so deare,
the field's CHIEF flower,] So the quarto 1593. Modern editions have-sweet flower. MALONE.
4 NATURE that made thee, with herself at STRIFE,] With this contest between art and nature, &c. I believe every reader will be surfeited before he has gone through the following poems. The lines under the print of Noah Bridges, engraved by Faithorne, have the same thought:
"Faithorne, with nature at a noble strife," &c.
It occurs likewise in Timon of Athens. STEEVENS. We have in a subsequent passage a contest between art and nature, but here surely there is none. I must also observe that there is scarcely a book of Shakspeare's age, whether in prose.or
Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed,
And yet not cloy thy lips with loath'd satiety,
With this she seizeth on his sweating palm,
And, trembling in her passion, calls it balm,
verse, in which this surfeiting comparison (as it has been called,) may not be found. MALONE.
5 Saith, that the world hath ending with thy life.] So, in Romeo and Juliet:
"And when she dies, with beauty dies her store."
6 And yet not cloy thy lips with loath'd satiety,
But rather famish them amid their plenty,] So, in Antony and Cleopatra:
other women cloy
"The appetites they feed; but she makes hungry,
she seizeth on his SWEATING PALM,
The PRECEDENT OF PITH AND LIVELIHOOD,] So, in Antony and Cleopatra, Charmian says: "—if an oily palm be not a fruitful prognostication, I cannot scratch mine ear.
Again, in Othello:
"This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart ;
Hot, hot, and moist." MALONE.
Over one arm the lusty courser's rein,
She red and hot, as coals of glowing fire,
The studded bridle on a ragged bough
Backward she push'd him, as she would be thrust,
So soon was she along, as he was down,
He burns with bashful shame; she with her tears
8 Under HER Other -] So the original copy 1693, and 16mo. of 1596. The edition of 1600, and all subsequent, have—under the other. MALONE.
9 she with her TEARS
Doth quench the maiden burning of his cheeks;
Then with her windy SIGHS, and golden hairs,
To fan and blow them DRY again she seeks :] So, in Marlowe's King Edward II. :
"Wet with my tears, and dried again with sighs." Shakspeare, throughout this poem, takes the same liberty as Spenser has done in his Faery Queen; and, for the sake of rhyme, departs from the usual orthography of his time. Thus here we have in the original copy 1593,-golden heares. And so again, below:
He saith, she is immodest, blames her 'miss'
Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,
And where she ends, she doth anew begin *.
"I'll make a shadow for thee of my heares."
Which shews that there is no ground for supposing, as some have done, that the words hairs and tears were formerly pronounced alike.
"Then with her windy sighs,
"To fan and blow them dry again." So, in Antony and Cleopatra : "We cannot call her winds and waters, sighs and tears; they are greater storms and tempests than almanacks can report." Again, ibid. :
"And is become the bellows and the fan,
"To cool a gypsey's lust." MALONE.
her 'MISS;] That is, her misbehaviour. FARMER.
So, in Lily's Woman in the Moon, 1597:
"Pale be my looks, to witness my amiss."
The same substantive is used in the 35th Sonnet. Again, in Hamlet:
"Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss."
she MURDERS with a kiss.] Thus the original copy of 1593, and the edition of 1596. So, in King Richard III. :
"Come, cousin, canst thou quake, and change thy colour? "Murder thy breath in middle of a word?
The subsequent copies have smothers. MALONE.
3 TIRES with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone,] To tire is to peck. So, in Decker's Match Me in London, a comedy, 1631:
the vulture tires
'Upon the eagle's heart."
4 And where she ends, she doth anew begin.] So Dryden, in his Alexander's Feast:
Never ending, still beginning." MALONE.
Forc'd to content 3, but never to obey,
Look how a bird lies tangled in a net,
So fasten'd in her arms Adonis lies;
Pure shame and aw'd resistance made him fret,
Perforce will force it overflow the bank.
5 Forc'd to CONTENT,-] I once thought that the meaning of the latter words was, to content or satisfy Venus; to endure her kisses. So, in Hamlet:
it doth much content me to hear him so inclin'd." But I now believe that the interpretation given by Mr. Steevens is the true one. Content is a substantive, and means acquiescence.
The modern editions read-consent.
It is plain that Venus was not so easily contented. Forc'd to content, I believe, means that Adonis was forced to content himself in a situation from which he had no means of escaping. Thus Cassio in Othello:
"So shall I clothe me in a forc'd content." STEEVENS.
So they were DEW'D with such distilling showers.] So, in Macbeth:
"To dew the sovereign flower, and drown the weeds."
7 Which bred more BEAUTY in his ANGRY eyes :]
O, what a deal of scorn looks beautiful "In the contempt and anger of his lip!
8 to a river that is RANK,] Full, abounding in the quantity
of its waters. So, in Julius Cæsar:
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank? Again, more appositely in King John:
'We will untread the steps of damned flight,
Leaving our rankness and irregular course,
Stoop low within those bounds we have o'erlook'd."