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AIRY AIR

(TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, III, 3, 225)

And like a dewdrop from a lion's mane
Be shook to airy air.

(First Folio)
And like a dewdrop from a lion's mane
Be shook to air.

(Modern editions)

THIS alteration of the First Folio text is wrong for a multitude of reasons.

First. A play is intended to be acted. Certain lines are therefore especially fitted for gesture. In this scene Achilles is sulking in his tent, and Patroclus, thinking his strange inactivity could only be due to love-sickness, comes in to remonstrate with him. With vivid and compelling imagery he compares Achilles to the lion that shakes this trifle from him. The argument would naturally be enforced by gesture, for actors have got to act; and for this purpose we have the quick abruptive shook followed by the flowing airy air. The gesture begins on “shook” by jerking the fist forcefully out from the left shoulder, and then the limp hand, rotating lightly on the wrist, describes two curves to depict the flowing air. We see the dewdrop thrown forth to evaporate — so light a trifle is love. The words airy air are what the careless hand follows as it swings

idly on the wrist. As there is a contrast in pictorial idea between the strong lion and the inert pendent dewdrop, so there is contrast between the forceful half of the gesture and the part that deals with air; and the words fit it. With the mere words “to air” this cannot be done. As a well-known dramatic critic said, to whom I demonstrated the dramatic idea of the line, “It would cut the gesture off at the elbow.'

Second. As there is a contrast in pictorial idea between the masterful lion and the airwandering drop of dew, and as this is enforced by contrast in gesture, so the words must also present a contrast from the standpoint of the ear alone. And each half of this contrast must be a true sound-picture. This is here accomplished by means of two flowing r's with mere vowels between; and right there a zephyr touches the imagination; we see it flow and turn and veer. This is the very art whịch "gives to airy nothing a local habitation and

And this is raised in value by juxtaposition with shook. Try to say shook in a soft and flowing way or to gesture it as such a word. You cannot do it, for its sounds are essentially abrupt and forceful. For this purpose of poetic drama, “Be shook to air” will not do. The air does not flow. It falls flat.

Third. Editors from the first have preferred the abbreviated line because they have thought the other was not logical. The theory is that

a name.”

to describe a noun by an adjective made out of itself does not add anything to it. The theory would be good if it were true. But air is not always airy. Mere atmospheric air is not airy air. On that dewy morning when the lion rose and shook himself, it was a time when the air was in motion; the zephyrs of morning were abroad. The adjective “airy” has become incorporated in the language as expressing light and changeful qualities. Why then should not a poet who wishes to make live air be allowed to robe it in its qualities? Nothing else will do to describe it, for air is unique. Without this adjective it is not a moving morning.

Fourth. In editing Shakespeare we should be guided by his own practice more than by our logical theory. In “Lucrece" Shakespeare unquestionably uses the expression “dear dear,the first word being an adjective and the second a noun (line 1602). Any theory as to what Shakespeare would do must be discountenanced by what he did do; and this would warrant us in letting “airy air” alone. Moreover, when Shakespeare wished to convey the idea of mere air, simple scientific atmosphere, motionless and still, he was careful to use words that would say it; therefore we have in “Macbeth," "the casing air.” That is to say, the globeencircling or surrounding air. The idea conveyed to the mind is motionless; the attention is concentrated on atmosphere itself. And so, as Shakespeare was so particular, it is reason

able to suppose that if he wished to depict the lightsome breezes he would say the “airy air.”

Then too, as to the art of contrast in the line, - ideal, phonetic and dramatic, — we find that he has a particular penchant for the abrupt poetic uses of shook, and this especially in contrast with flowing r's and the open vowel sounds. In Antony and Cleopatra he describes an earthquake in two lines. You can feel the very shock and jolt of it.

the round world

Should have shook.

Open the ear to the complete fullness of the round world (note the two o's working with vowels) and then the sudden oscillating effect of should-have-shook. There is no ro-0-0-u-uund wor-r-r-ld about that; the actor would give his fist a motion calculated to jar creation. Shakespeare is doing the same thing here that he is in the passage from “Troilus and Cres

or would be if we printed what he

sida

wrote.

I might remark in passing that the lines from Antony and Cleopatra are marked with the obolus signifying that there is editorial doubt as to whether their present form is a typographical error or not (Globe edition). The reason it is suspected of loss or error is that the words do not smoothly fill out the regular pentameter measure that Shakespeare was supposed to write in; and the obolus is placed before “round

world.” Clark and Wright, our modern standard authorities, evidently did not know that the particular vocalization of the words, to give the intended effect, would have to be something different from

mere pentameter measure.

When an editor has no ear for dramatic poetry he naturally fails in all such places. Then we have the text altered according to his idea, or else it is queried as being the mistake of an early type-setter.

Fifth. Shakespearean scholarship accounts for the superfluous “airy” by a very good typographical theory. One of the common errors of a type-setter is that of setting a word twice. He has his attention called away from his work and when he resumes he sets the word he last had in mind instead of continuing where he left off.

But, let us ask — If a compositor set the word air, and then left off and resumed on the same word, what would the result be? It would be "air air," not "airy air.” So also with the compositor of three hundred years ago. He set up “ayrie ayre” as we now find it in the First Folio. Here the adjective and the noun differences are observed, which would hardly be the case if it were such an error. It shows care and attention. The theory by which the word is discarded is the very one by which it should be kept.

I have dealt with this line somewhat formally

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