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ROPES IN SUCH A SCAR

Diana. I see that men make ropes in such a scar.
That we'll forsake ourselves. Give me that ring.

(All's Well, iv, 2, 38, Globe ed.)

This is one of the four passages in all the plays which Neilson especially signalizes as "hopelessly corrupt."

An appalling list of proposed emendations, beginning with Rowe in 1709, shows the efforts of successive editors and critics to wring a consistent meaning out of the passage. .

At present the attempts seem to be exhausted, and hope of solving the meaning has been finally given up. The Globe editors mark the passage with the obolus to signify its hopelessness.

I have already explained, in my elucidation of "runaway's eyes,” that a girl who is about to give up that condition of maidenhood which has been her very state of existence might naturally feel that she was a deserter. Diana's way of expressing it is that she is about to forsake herself. For as she is a maid, and this maidenhood is her very self, to voluntarily cease to be one is to forsake the Diana that she is. The Italian Diana's deeper feelings as she decides to do so may be seen through the eyes of any woman.

Woman is her own keeper; it is herself that she has been trusted with.

Chastity, her first duty and ideal, is nothing less than a Cause to which she is sworn; she must not desert it despite the world. Therefore, that which a maiden is, and which she has always persisted in being, is her self in the truest sense of the word, for it is the very stuff of her conscious existence. It is what she is in the world. And so Diana, as she put forth her hand to accept the ring from such a man as Bertram (who was already married to another) felt that she was truly forsaking herself. She would no more be the girl she was.

It is probably unnecessary to dwell further upon this point of view — Shakespeare's expression of it is sufficient. The circumstances being understood and the meaning of this word fixed, it now devolves upon us to explain, if possible, the figure of speech by which Shakespeare

wished to make it all more forceful and vivid. And as to what a "scar” is, or scaur (formerly spelled scarre) there ought to be no great doubt about that, especially in the light of the context.

"Scar - A bare and broken place on the side of a mountain, or in the high bank of a river; a precipitous bank of earth.” - Webster's Dictionary (1890).

We are all supposed to understand Tennyson easily enough when he writes:

O, sweet and far, from cliff and scar,

The horns of elfland faintly blowing. In Shakespeare's day we find it spelled scarre, ” and so his conception of the word

was no doubt related to the French escharre; and this means "a dry slough” or ravinelike place worn out by the action of water. It only remains, then, for us to take this simply worded passage and lend our imagination to what Shakespeare is saying. A figure of speech, we sometimes need to remind ourselves, has two sides to it. It is a little allegory, a fable in a word or two; it is an idea, a feeling, illustrated by a mental picture. And in Shakespeare's mind these pictures were always vividly conceived and exactly fitted to the parallel case.

Let us, then, imagine the coast of England. It is a shore faced by steep cliffs like those at Dover; and at the foot of these walls of England is the long smooth strip of strand - "the unnumbered sands" of the shore. A distance from shore, anchored in the offing, is a ship; and walking along the shore is a sailor, now left to an hour of liberty, who belongs to the ship. On the face of the cliff, here and there, are ropes by which samphire gatherers go up and down. Egg-gatherers sometimes come here, too, and fishermen and beach-combers; and the way from the long stretch of beach where “the unnumbered, idle pebble lies," up to the general level of the country is often by means of ropes. They hang down in plain sight on the bald face of the cliff. As the sailor wanders along he comes to where there is a scar or gully. In this dry gully, secluded

in its depths and quite shut off from view, he comes across temptation itself. A rope shows him the way to desert his ship. Here is a secret place where he will be unseen; and some man has prepared the rope for him. In the preparedness of the thing he is tempted, forgets his articles to the ship and his duties of sailorhood, and deserts.

The only difference between such a one and Diana is that she is forsaking her maidenhood, her self — the thing that she is vowed to as a sailor to his ship. The importunate Bertram has been laboring by argument to overcome the difficulties of her own mind; he has been trying to assist her out of the barriers of her character. The arguments he weaves are the

ropes.” Her relations with Bertram are secret; she is to deal with him by stealth. Secretly, away from the eyes of the world, she is to desert, or as she says, to "forsake" her maidenhood. In this pictorial passage the "scar” implies secrecy - a scar being a secluded place.

Commentators have spent their utmost learning and ingenuity arguing what a scar might be and what it is that Diana is supposed to forsake. When we see the word scar in connection with a rope it would seem that there could be little doubt as what sort of a scar it was; and still less as to what the rope was there for.

While we should conceive Shakespeare's

figures of speech as pictorially as our imagination will allow, I do not mean to insist that the reader shall confine himself to the exact details I have used to bring forth the meaning. Shakespeare does not need to go into details; he touches off the imagination with the few vital words which will enforce the idea in its principal aspects. We should at least catch the spirit of the comparison and remember that woman is bound and circumscribed by the strongest barriers of custom and education and the very instincts of her finer nature to regard her womanhood as a trust, a thing which she is bound as a nun to her convent or a sailor to his ship. I have said that the scar, being secluded, implies secrecy. It also depicts a barrier, a place to be gotten out of; and Bertram, by his fine-spun arguments and logical ropes, is showing her the way out. When she says, therefore,

I see that men make ropes in such a scar
That we'll forsake ourselves

she means that men contrive such opportune and secret places, and offer such specious arguments and easy ways to sin, that women are tempted to overcome the barriers of their nature and forsake their womanhood. The figure of speech is useful because it says so much in little. It has never been explained in this way before.

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