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BRAKES OF ICE
Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall:
(Measure for Measure, ii, 1, 39)
The central fact of this play is that Angelo, the strict judge, was as guilty as the man he condemned; or rather more so. But while Claudio had been apprehended Angelo's deeper misdeed had never been brought to light. The one was caught and the other was not.
Hunting is done by two means, sight and scent. On ice it is difficult to hunt with hounds because ice will not retain the scent. brake it is impossible to hunt by sight because you cannot see nor make any speed if you did. Therefore, the most hopeless of all places to follow the fox or other beast of prey would be a frozen fen or a brake of ice.
The law catches some culprits for little faults committed in the open and fails to hunt down crafty malefactors who have succeeded in hiding their trail. A fox in an icy brake might run from the place where he had eaten his prey and never be caught.
The words of the passage have been changed in every conceivable way, but without success.
Possibly the above, which keeps the wording of the original and fits the general scheme of the plot, might be the solution. In the Globe it is marked with the obolus — hopelessly corrupt.
THE TERRIBLE PISTOL
SCENE IV. The field of battle. Alarum. Excursions.
Enter Pistol, French Soldier, and boy. Pist. Yield cur. Fr. Sold. Je pense que vous étes le gentilhomme de bonne qualité.
Pist. Qualtitie calmie custure me! Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name? Discuss.
(Henry V, iv, 4, 4)
Qualtitie calmie custure me'; probably Pistol catches the last word of the French soldier's speech, repeats it and adds the refrain of a popular Irish song, 'Calen, 0 custure me'
colleen og astore,' i.e. 'young girl my treasure.' The popularity of the song is evidenced by the following heading of one of the songs in Robinson's Hanful of Pleasant Delights (cp. Arber's reprint, p. 33): ‘A Sonet of a Lover in praise of his lady. To Calen o custure me; sung at euerie line's end’; first pointed out by Malone.
(The present-day interpretation as given by Gollancz) Pistol is simply doing his best to speak French, as follows:- Quel titre comme accoster me. This inquiry, if he had not got it garbled into semi-English, his French prisoner could easily enough have understood to mean, Tell me what your title is. This, as we see by the rest of the scene, is exactly what Pistol on the battlefield was interested in knowing. The whole scene is based on Pistol's anxiety to find out the title of any prisoner he might capture, whether of high or low degree, so that he might know how much ransom he would be able to
get. Naturally, when Shakespeare brings this amusing episode before our eyes on the field of Agincourt, the very first words from Pistols mouth would be intended to show this interest in names or titles. The endeavors of Pistol will be better seen if we print what he was trying to say in line with what he did say.
Quel titre comme accoster me.
From our close acquaintance with the amusing Pistol in two plays we know his besetting vanity — words. He affected a bizarre and impressive manner of speech. However little he might amount to on the battlefield, there was nothing in the shape of language he would hesitate to undertake. Being an Englishman, his ear and mind would not accommodate themselves very easily to such a language as French. Its elusive shades of sound he would get into his mind in good round English terms. Hearing the word comme he would conceive it as calmy, for that is what it would naturally sound like to him; and so with the rest of the language.
Pistol had heard the sonorous Frenchmen say Quel titre (what name) and his hold on it was very elusive and uncertain. And so, in this scene, when the French nobleman addresses him as a “gentil-homme de bonne qualité,” he is influenced in his pronunciation by the latter word; especially as this was just the point he
was interested in. By its having to do with a man's quality or title, he got Quel titre very comfortably Anglicized in his mind as qualtity. This would be natural. As the English speak of a man's position as his "quality,” Pistol, going to France and finding that Quel titre meant what name or title, would note the resemblance to his own word for social standing, and the nearest he would come to French, with that in mind, would be qualtity; — which would be very much like French when a Frenchman pronounced it trippingly on the tongue. Shakespeare devised this passage and gave us the cue in this qualité just before Pistols qualtitie in order to show us the English soldier's confused state of mind with regard to French. Like the rest of us, Pistol had an instinct to speak French in English.
Shakespeare's audience at the Globe theatre, having seen Pistol in the Second Part of King Henry IV, would be familiar with his facility with high-flown speech — his prowess in words. He has a flow of bizarre grandiloquence second to no character in the plays except it be Don Adriano de Armado. And now to show him virtually tongue-tied -a mere babe in the matter of language with a boy to interpret for him is about as funny a thing as could be done with Pistol.
Malone's conjecture regarding this passage, which has been the regular interpretation ever since it was propounded in 1821, is open to very