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and at length because it has so utterly disappeared from the text, in the relations which “airy” gives it, that the whole weight of editorial authority is against me; and I am desirous of having it restored permanently.
The only real “authority” in such a case is that of internal evidence. If we change “airy air,” we have not only lost the soft suggestion of that mild and dewy morning when the lion rose and shook himself, but we have given the actor's arm no medium to move in and no course to follow. The words “airy air” are susceptible of the most expressive flourish of a bandmaster's wand – so also of the motioning hand. But the ending "to air” is all too
SOUL AND DUTY
King. Thou still hast been the father of good news.
Polonius. Have I, my lord? Assure you, my good liege,
(Hamlet, ii, 2, 45, Modern editions)
The one of this last line, because it has proved impossible to construe it into any evident sense, has long been considered an error. Modern editions have substituted and for the original one of the Folios. Furness, acceding to the general opinion that one was an error of the early printers, makes the following comment in his Variorum:
“Dyce (Strictures, etc., 187) truly says that the attempts to explain the error, one, of the Ff have proved unsuccessful.”
If we will only have regard for what Polonius naturally would say, both in respect of his character and the common sense of the case, it is not difficult to see that Shakespeare wrote the word one in this place. Polonius, with his usual way of making fine distinctions, comes before the king and says: “I hold my duty as I hold my soul; both to my God, one to my gracious king.” In other words, Polonius holds or owes both his soul and his duty to his
God, whereas he holds but one of them, his duty, to his king. For it would be manifestly absurd to tell a king that you owe your soul to him in the same sense that you owe it to the Creator. The king would not be very strongly convinced of your sincerity. The flattery would be too rank. Therefore Polonius' one, which makes this exception, would seem to be dictated by mere common sense.
Polonius, who is not entirely a fool and is not intended as such, has assiduously built up for himself a character of wisdom, of weighty mentality and acute and subtle insight, and he has attained to a court office in that capacity. He is a diplomat, the king's professional adviser. As a matter of fact, however, the everyday run of affairs at court does not make very frequent call for his profound services; there is not enough occasion to keep his reputation with the king always to the fore. Therefore he is always watching for the smallest opportunity to make an impression. His whole standing in life depends upon his keeping up the idea that his great insight makes him indispensable, and in lack of anything else to work upon, he seizes upon the merest trifles and handles them after the manner of the weightiest affairs. This habit has so grown upon him that in his old age it makes him a somewhat ridiculous figure — Shakespeare uses him in that capacity. Usually, as in the present case, his duties make of him little more
than a sort of sublimated office boy carrying a message, and when he expands such service into the most sapient achievement and works in at the same time the highest declarations of loyalty, it makes him laughable and frequently such a bore that the queen has to remind him to tell, in direct plain language, what it is that he wishes to say. He is a travesty on the diplomatic cast of mind with its profundity, insincerity and wire-drawn distinctions. Polonius' anxiety to make an impression is a point of character which Shakespeare is always keeping before us. With regard to this line, therefore, that rendition must be correct which carries this point in the depiction of character. If we change it so that it loses its exceedingly logical, closely reasoned point and its involute construction, we have lost what Shakespeare
Besides which there is the apposition between one and both, a method that is characteristic of Shakespeare's work throughout. The amended text loses all this. In short it is one which makes good sense while and does not. Substitute the latter and look at the statement closely. Besides being too tame and flat for Polonius, the whole statement becomes loose and uncertain.
But there is a more important point. The passage as a whole is a study in the art of flattery. Shakespeare has kept in mind certain subtle truths regarding human nature, and by choosing Polonius to put them in practice
he has kept the wily and doddering old diplomat delightfully in character. There are certain fundamental facts in human nature which I would advise anyone to study who wishes to become an adept in the art of flattery.
First. If you wish to flatter anyone in reality, you must seem to be telling the truth; and no form of truth-telling is so convincing as that of making reservations. Nothing gives the appearance of honest truth-telling so much as the taking of a statement that, upon second thought, you find too large for exact verity and then trimming it down conscientiously to the size of the truth itself. For there truth-telling is a complicate matter which goes on in the open; the conscientiousness is evident. And if the reservations would seem, from the teller's private point of view, to detract, candidly, from the importance of the other person, the statement becomes all the more effective as flattery, for he must indeed be an honest soul who would go so far as openly to take away anything from his meed of praise. It is important however that this seeming detraction should not, as a matter of fact, be any detraction at all. Polonius, by his way of putting it, very conscientiously denies the king a certain power of possession over him. He does not owe his soul to him. That he owes to his God. It would seem, to the person addressed, that anything so conscientious, even at the risk of coming close to detraction, could not be in