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ignorant. He was in fact worse than ignorant; so emphatically so that if Ignorance itself, ignorance absolute, were used as a standard of measurement, Falstaff would be found lower down in the scale.

Now how would Shakespeare go about expressing this so that the figure of speech would have the definiteness and at the same time the atmosphere and feeling required? First he considered facts. We measure entirely by comparison; therefore we have an established standard of comparison. In this case Ignorance itself, or ignorance absolute and to its final length of measurement, is the standard. And if the average man, familiar with ignorance itself, were thus to try to measure Falstaff's state of mind by comparison, Falstaff would be so far down that that standard of measurement would not reach the place.

The realm or atmosphere into which the comparison is put is in the deep obscurity of

- down there on the lowest level of things. And Falstaff was feeling like an outlandish creature when he said it; he had been so egregiously humiliated. Therefore, if the average intelligent person, one of the general run of folks, wished to conceive his mental position, ignorance itself, let down into the depths like a plummet into the sea, would fail to reach the spot and give an idea of his sunkenness. Ignorance itself, the standard of comparison, would be “a plummet over me.'

the sea

Commentators, in struggling with this crux, have tried to see some aptness in the uses of a plumb-line as used by a mason to rectify and adjust. But plummet does not mean that in Shakespeare. It is not the name of the mason's tool but of the sailor's, and Shakespeare observed the distinction in his works. When he means the mason's tool he calls it a "line," as in the Tempest, where Trinculo says “we steal by line and level.” That is to say, a mason then as today adjusted things with a line and bob, the latter being the lead on the end of the line. And when Shakespeare meant a plummet, a quite different thing as used for different purposes, he said so; as for instance in the Tempest— “I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded,” and “deeper than did ever plummet sound I'll drown my book.” And so, entirely regardless of whether my explanation is acceptable or not, we have got to accept what Shakespeare says. Being a plummet, it is a matter of depth. The plummet proper is the piece of lead on the end of the line; and this it is, according to the statement itself, that represents Ignorance itself, which is over him. Nothing could be plainer; and if we can follow no farther it is for lack of Shakespearean imagination.

The important point of the figure is that it is the average human being who is supposed to be measuring Falstaff; it is not Ignorance itself. The latter is only the standard of comparison, the plummet at its lowest. Philo

sophically it is a recognition of the fact that we measure by comparison. Psychologically, or in respect of the mind itself, the figure is very true; for the intelligent mind cannot descend to the level even of Ignorance; but being familiar with it he might try to measure Falstaff's depth comparatively; and fail because Ignorance itself does not descend so low.

Samuel Johnson was so baffled here that he came to the conclusion that the word plummet was an error; he thought it ought to be plume.

The present state of conjecture is summed up in Professor C. F. Johnson's Shakespeare and his Critics (1909): “The exact meaning of this passage is obscure, but it is difficult to see how plume' enlightens it. Falstaff may mean, I am so shallow that ignorance can sound me with a plummet, or, ignorance can hold a plumb line to rectify my errors. The difficulty lies in the word 'over.

This last remark is to the point — the difficulty is in the word “over.” And also, I might add, in the fact that "ignorance is a plummet over me.” Holding a plumb-line and being a plummet are two different things.

POMPEY

Biron. Greater than great, great, great, great Pompey. Pompey the huge.

(Love's Labour's Lost, v, 2, 691)

A GREAT deal is lost here through the failure of editors to perceive what is being said. The line needs to be repunctuated in order to bring out the point of view.

The passage occurs where the fun-loving companions of the French Princess and the king of Navarre are stirring up the clown Costard to fight Armado the braggart. In the little theatrical entertainment which these vainglorious and ridiculous characters have been presenting before the royal party, Costard has acted the part of Pompey while Armado has strutted forth as Hector. In order to get Costard to take off his coat and fight Armado, the members of the royal party vie with each other in inflating his vanity still more. Printed as Shakespeare evidently wrote it, the line would come as follows:

Dumain. Most rare Pompey.
Boyet. Renowned Pompey.

Biron. Greater than great. Great great great Pompey. Pompey the Huge.

Besides making the words say the right thing, this accords with the Shakespearean art of

writing. The first short statement of Biron's brings out at once the point of view, namely, that Costard is greater than Pompey the Great. The audience having now caught the idea, the egregious title of great-great-great rolls up with increasing ridiculousness as applying to the mock Pompey before us.

It is a main point of literary art to have a sentence or passage anticipate its construction or point of view. When anything requiring a slightly unusual point of view is to be conveyed, the art of anticipation is most important. The point of view is indicated at once, and then follows the richer unfolding.

But the trouble with this line, principally, is that after you have held the words in mind and got to the end it has not said the right thing. As universally printed, the four greats are made to refer to the Roman Pompey himself, than whom this mock Pompey is said to be greater. But Shakespeare did not intend to burlesque the historical Pompey. The ridiculous and grandparent-like title was intended to come in such a way as to refer to our countryclown Pompey of the stage. And as to the other objection which I find here, Shakespeare understood his art too well to have an actor come forth and deliver that mere string of words — great, great, great, great.

No particular editor or critic is responsible for the line as it stands. It has always been printed in this way.

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