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this all corresponds to the three requirements which I have mentioned. In a democracy, the people must have these qualities in order to choose officers rightly; in a monarchy, such as Shakespeare is considering, these must be the qualities of the ruler himself if government is to prosper — power, intellect and character.
Now if Shakespeare is writing a drama which deals with the problems of government, and if he has given deep and able consideration to his theme, we may expect him to keep strictly in view this fundamental truth. Let us see whether he does.
The first scene opens with the venerable Escalus stepping upon the stage and the Duke coming in to confer with him. As the Duke steps into view we see that he bears in his hand two rolls of parchment — “commissions” (see lines 14 and 48). These important-looking documents are intended to catch the eye and arouse our curiosity at once: They represent the power which the Duke is going to confer upon Escalus and Angelo, each in his respective station; and the conferring of this power is the particular business of the opening scene. The Duke in a few words makes it clear that Escalus is a man of great experience and ability, his “science” of government being so great that the Duke considers advice unnecessary. Escalus' mental equipment, as thus described, is shown to be sufficient. But how about the other qualifications? The Duke is
about to confer the power. He selects one of the commissions by which authority is to be conferred and bringing it more prominently into view he says to Escalus:
“Put that (the power), to your sufficiency (your experience and mental ability) as your worth (your character or moral nature) is able, And let them work."
Shakespeare here speaks plainly of the three things which always have determined, and always must determine, the true success of a public officer. And this trinity of qualifications we now have split up and separated by a row of dots upon the supposition that part of the text is missing and that something comes between! This could only be because editors and commentators have failed to see, in these opening lines, Shakespeare's prompt announcement of the theme of the play as a whole. Nothing has been lost out of this line. Nothing could be added without spoiling it. It is the exact truth of government. To split it up with rows of dots puts an understanding reader entirely astray.
It will be observed that I have emended the first word by changing the B to P. It is very easy for a typesetter, in distributing type, to throw a b into the p box; and such a mischance would result in an error like this. In any modern edition, the original text, which was very faulty in type-setting, has been corrected in more than ten thousand places. I
think that when we view this line in the light of what it is saying, the present emendation will be found as authoritative as any of them.
In fact this very mischance (the throwing of a p into the b box) has been known to change the text of Shakespeare in comparatively recent times. For generations, up to the time of Knight, a certain line in “Troilus and Cressida” was printed, “thou art here put to thrash Trojans” (ii, 2, 50). This however was incorrect, for the First Folio had it, “thou art here but to thrash Trojans.” For years, through edition after edition, the alteration in the text was not noticed. This is a thing which frequently happens in typesetting; and it probably accounts for the “But” in the place where, as I believe, Shakespeare wrote Put.
This emendation, which I merely suggest, may be adopted and it may not; it is not the important point. The point is that we should understand what is being said here and grasp it in its larger aspect as related to the play as a whole. If we do this we cannot allow this line to be disrupted by a row of dots upon the supposition that it is the meaningless remainder of a lost passage.
There can be no doubt as to the sense in which each word is intended to be taken. The meaning which we are to gather from Escalus' “sufficiency” is carefully tended to in the two preceding lines. It consists of Escalus' profound "science” of government, his mental
equipment; and the word “sufficiency” refers back to that meaning. Power is being conferred upon him by the commission or parchment; and his “worth,” by being mentioned as distinct from his intellectual equipment and his authority, can only mean his moral nature or character. The significance of the words, besides carrying their meanings in themselves, is made very exact by their apposition; and it will be noted that the greatest weight is put upon the moral qualification by the word chosen to express it — "worth.” “Sufficiency" is merely that which suffices; it is enough in its kind. This is the word chosen to express Escalus' great intellectual attainments. Now this serves to throw our principal attention upon what is called his worth — a much larger thing.
The passage as a whole makes temporal power and intellectual power wholly dependent upon a man's moral nature, or intrinsic worth, for good results. Now this is just what the play shows us in the end. Angelo failed, with Escalus as chief adviser, not because he was not a good reasoner, or inexperienced, or because he lacked power, but because his moral nature was at fault. As to the acting of this opening scene.
In the opening scene of a play, where the action may not rise to any great height because there cannot be the accumulated interest to build up a tense situation, a dramatist has to use great
art to arouse interest at once. There is need of clever "stage business” to catch the attention and start something of interest at once. Shakespeare makes subtle use of these official-looking parchments documents no doubt be-sealed and beribboned to make them seem important. They enchain the attention at once. We find that he soon reveals the nature of one of them, not in mere statement but dramatically:
Put that to your sufficiency, as your worth is able,
He does not hand it over and designate it as
“commission” till four lines later, meantime he holds it before him and indicates it thus as being important. The Duke still has one left, and Angelo is now called in.
Theobald (1733) emended the passage —
then no more remains
As if such details as “due diligency” were not included in the larger meaning of the line! Such emendation is not warranted; but Theobald's fame is still of such power that this emendation is still used in widely-read editions.