AC Passage for Emphasis (Eli)



Messenger He’s married, madam.
CLEOPATRA Rogue, thou hast lived too long.
[Draws a knife]
Messenger Nay, then I’ll run.
What mean you, madam? I have made no fault.
CHARMIAN Good madam, keep yourself within yourself:
The man is innocent.
CLEOPATRA Some innocents ‘scape not the thunderbolt.
Melt Egypt into Nile! and kindly creatures
Turn all to serpents! Call the slave again:
Though I am mad, I will not bite him: call.
CHARMIAN He is afeard to come.
CLEOPATRA I will not hurt him.
These hands do lack nobility, that they strike
A meaner than myself; since I myself
Have given myself the cause.
[Re-enter CHARMIAN and Messenger]
Come hither, sir.
Though it be honest, it is never good
To bring bad news: give to a gracious message.
An host of tongues; but let ill tidings tell
Themselves when they be felt.
Messenger I have done my duty.
CLEOPATRA Is he married?
I cannot hate thee worser than I do,
If thou again say ‘Yes.’
Messenger He’s married, madam.
CLEOPATRA The gods confound thee! dost thou hold there still?
Messenger Should I lie, madam?
CLEOPATRA O, I would thou didst,
So half my Egypt were submerged and made
A cistern for scaled snakes! Go, get thee hence:
Hadst thou Narcissus in thy face, to me
Thou wouldst appear most ugly. He is married?
Messenger I crave your highness’ pardon.
CLEOPATRA He is married?
Messenger Take no offence that I would not offend you:
To punish me for what you make me do. 125
Seems much unequal: he’s married to Octavia.
CLEOPATRA O, that his fault should make a knave of thee,
That art not what thou’rt sure of! Get thee hence:
The merchandise which thou hast brought from Rome
Are all too dear for me: lie they upon thy hand,
And be undone by ’em!
[Exit Messenger]
CHARMIAN Good your highness, patience.

In truth I’m interested in the whole of 2.5, but this is an exemplary passage. The scene begins with Cleopatra’s call “music, moody food / Of us that trade in love” – an odd internal echo of Orsino’s famous opening speech in Twelfth Night – passes through the comic-erotic-nostalgic reminiscence about Antony and the salt fish, and then develops into a violent farce of a messenger scene. Cleopatra wants to script what the messenger will say and in attempting to do so delays and disrupts his report. When he finally does get to the gist of his dispatch, she attacks him and drives him from the stage before calling him back to repeat it again and again. As often happens in Love’s Labour’s Lost, the language here develops a kind of self-consciousness or meta-textuality. The passage plays at being a messenger scene. It  also is asking something about the limits of communication—about whether it’s possible to have dialogue, to convey and receive packets of information. Dialogue in elsewhere in the play can have a fragmented quality: there are so many scenes of little reports and retorts on seemingly inconsequential subjects that leave one puzzled about the semantic/dramatic purpose. Act II, with its recurrent trope of the ‘hoop’ (cf. 2.2.122, 2.4.37) and its uneasy commingling of speeches with conversation seems to be asking something about how language between people holds—or doesn’t hold—together. Perhaps Cleopatra’s call for music is a call for another mode of communication altogether?

MND Passage for Emphasis (Eli)

MND 3.2.378-400

Puck. My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,

For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast;

And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger,

At whose approach, ghosts wandering here and there,

Troop home to churchyards. Damned spirits all,

That in cross-ways and floods have burial,

Already to their wormy beds are gone,

For fear lest day should look their shames upon:

They willfully themselves exil’d from light,

And must for aye consort with black-brow’d night.

Obe. But we are spirits of another sort:

I with the Morning’s love have oft made sport;

And like a forester the groves may tread

Even till the eastern gate, all fiery-red

Opening on Neptune with fair blessed beams,

Turns into yellow gold his salt green streams.

But not withstanding, haste, make no delay;

We may effect the business yet ere day.

Puck. Up and down, up and down,

I will lead them up and down;

I am fear’d in field and town:

Goblin, lead them up and down.

By way of preface I should say that I really struggled to use the digital resources, especially the more sophisticated ones, which says something about my technological prowess and probably also something about the kinds of questions I want to ask about texts even when I’m trying to think “distantly.” That said, I’m fascinated by the shifting and overlapping stylistic registers in the passage. Oberon has just reprimanded Puck for the mishegas with the eye-drops; the two spirits are having a confrontation, in a mild sense of the term. Within this confrontation, there is a second, smaller dispute: about whether faeries can go about their business once morning comes. On another stylistic level, the passage begins in something like the proto-Gothic, full of dragons and churchyards, ghosts and worms; it passes through a high or even sublime register (Arden3 calls it “lyrical” and points to Chaucer); makes a brief stop in the quotidian (“make no delay”); and then ends, with a corresponding change in meter, in the incantatory realm of invocation, chant, spell.


I tried to investigate the frequency of ADV + CONJ + ADV phrases in the First Folio using CQPweb with an eye toward seeing how frequent contrasting pairs like “up and down” are in Shakespeare. The answer seems to be not terribly frequent, though I could never get “up and down” to show up in the list of results! Bottom-like rude mechanical that I am, I had worse luck trying to track down groupings in the form of ADJ + ADJ + Noun, like “fair blessed beams” and possibly “salt green streams” (unless ‘salt’ is read as a noun?).


Some more complex stylometric questions come to mind, as well, though I don’t know if the tools exist for answering them. How often in Shakespeare do different colors appear in close conjunction (e.g., “fiery red…salt green”)? How often do speeches and dialogues began and end with lines that use the same keyword (e.g., “haste” is arguably the most important word in the first line of Puck’s speech and the last of Oberon’s)? And (here I’m thinking of my old teacher, Ian Cornelius, and his new book on alliterative verse), how common are alliterative lines in Shakespeare (e.g. “For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast”) and do they conform to any of the stress patterns of properly alliterative English verse?