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been worrying him. His reply is substantially as follows:
What I meant was that your brother, having spent all his life in the hiding place in the mountains, and knowing little of human nature "being scarce made up, I mean, to man had no understanding of a loud-mouthed bully — "had no apprehension of roaring terrors” — for it is often the case that though a man is no coward a misjudgment of what is before him is the cause of fear - "For defect of judgment is oft the cause of fear.” Guiderius was brave and an excellent swordsman; but such an outlandish pretender, to a boy whose experience had given him no means of judging such people, might put him in a panic.
I have here described the characters and the general situation and have quoted all the words of the refractory passage. As will be seen, I think, it is perfectly plain English. What, indeed, could Shakespeare write that would be more true to nature in this case? The trouble has been simply a failure to follow Belarius' natural course of thought. We should drop Theobald's unnecessary emendation, forget all about the commentators who have since worked over the supposed corrupt text, and get back to the exact words of the Folio. None of their emendations makes sense, and this does.
Knight explains his own text: “In this reading of as for is, Belarius says that Cloten, before he arrived to man's estate, had not
apprehension of terrors on account of defect of judgment, which defect is as often the cause of fear.” Note that he thinks that the words refer to Cloten“ before he arrived to man's estate.” Although I am not writing essays on the plays, I probably ought to add, to make sure that there will be no further emendation, that my interpretation is organic. That is to say, it is the one which is required by the interactions of the play and its effect upon the spectators. When Guiderius comes in to meet the other two, and we find that he has not only killed Cloten but cut his head off, we are surprised and not unpleasantly. But an audience also enjoys surprise upon the part of the characters on the stage; and this gives an interesting turn to Belarius' fears for the inexperienced boy. If we have understood what he said, we understand what a surprise it is to Belarius; and this is the effect which Shakespeare was (organically) engaged upon.
IGNORANCE A PLUMMET
Falstaff. Ignorance itself is a plummet over me.
(Merry Wives of Windsor, v, 5, 172)
LANGUAGE is “fossil poetry,” or, to put it more plainly, it is dead poetry. Our forefathers, the first talkers, had to invent ways of expressing themselves, and they frequently had to get around a new idea by means of comparison, live images, poetry in essence. We inherit these ready-made phrases; the fittest survived; but we are so used to them that they are mere signs of ideas; we do not have to look them over curiously and inspect the comparison in order to get the idea as would a man to whom it was said for the first time. A man speaking English does not think of the etymology, the derivation or poetic origin, of a familiar word. It is the same with our readymade phrases as with words; we would no more think of looking into them and thinking what it is they are really saying than we would think of questioning why man means man. We already know the idea they stand for the moment they are said, and that is enough; but originally that was not enough; they had to be literally understood to catch the comparison or poetry. Thus language is dead poetry. It is
dead because we are no longer alive to the meanings. Some of these original meanings have become so lost in the back recesses of the human mind that they are beyond recovery.
For the sake of illustration, let us look in the face one of our everyday expressions “He is sunk in the depths of ignorance.” Why this "sunk” and why this “depths”? There was originally an allusion, a comparison to something; and every figure of speech has two sides else it would fail of its very purpose. What mental picture, then, is it supposed to call up? It means of course that a man is very ignorant, but what was the exact vivid and visual concept which was supposed to come before the mind in order to enforce the meaning? “Sunk” would naturally remind us of water as being the thing we usually sink in; and “depths would seem to have the same allusion. It certainly had some tacit reference; and can it be that an ignorant man is depicted as one whose nature is such that he seems to be in a semi-darkness, as in the depths of water, and that he there sits in the obscurity and gropes around in the darkness of his own mind? Or possibly sunk in a strange unexplored pit beneath the light and level of the average man? Such inquiries are so far from our everyday common-sense concern that they seem almost foolish — especially to the unimaginative mind.
But Shakespeare was not an unimaginative mind, nor an unthoughtful one. One of the
most interesting phases of his work is his curious interest in words with regard to their historical underlying poetry. The study of words is, in fact, a study in human nature and in psychology, for they tell interesting tales of the natural and fundamentally poetic mind; and to a poet and a worker in words it is all a matter to be deeply looked into. It is remarkable how often his ways of speech are simply current phrases put in different words to make them strike the mind anew; he had great confidence in the power of the original poetry of the mind. Most often, too, those allusions which we so easily call “puns” are a word-worker's curious interest in words per se.
I have made the above excursion merely by way of getting the reader's mind out of the normal everyday mood for a moment and into a Shakespearean attitude. Shakespeare's figures of speech are often so ingeniously fit that they illustrate more than we are accustomed to. It might be so in the famous obscurity "Ignorance is a plummet” which let us now examine.
When Shakespeare wrote this line he had a little problem before him, namely, to express not merely ignorance but extreme ignorance upon the part of Falstaff. It must have the humorous exaggeration characteristic of Falstaff, but at the same time, when seriously viewed from Falstaff's standpoint, it must convey an idea of his extreme feeling of humiliation. Falstaff was ignorant; extremely