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II. i. 109 sqq.: I see the jewel best enamelled, etc. The exact meaning of this vexed and difficult passage-difficult owing to the concise expression of the simile intended, and the necessities of the verse—may perhaps be most clearly arrived at by a formal tabular analysis of its several terms; those in italics showing the terms which Shakespeare does not express and leaves to the comprehension of his hearers. His thoughts are, I think, running on one of the enamelled rings common in Elizabethan times.
I see the best enamelled jewel I find the man (husband) best en(e.g. a ring)
dowed with moral qualities Will lose its beauty (by the wear- Will lose these qualities (by temptaing of the enamel);
tion); Yet the gold (setting),
Yet the real man (husband), That others touch,
That other women tempt, (And, in fact, often touching will (And frequent temptation will corcause the gold to wear)
rupt him in the end) Still remains gold;
Still remains one's husband ; [And just as no gold (setting) well So no man of assured reputation
enamelled is spoilt by the wear of is shamed by his falsehood and the enamel]
corruption. Since, therefore, my husband's reputation is unassailable, and my beauty has faded and ceased to please him, I have no resource but to weep and die, etc. This view seems to be supported by II. ii. 171, "Be it my wrong you are from me exempt." With regard to the text, the chief difficulty
is in line 112; but the less change the better, I think. A syllable is clearly wanting in the Folio line; and the introduction before no man of so (which may have been accidentally omitted from the text owing to its likeness in sound to no) affords the simplest and clearest solution. THEOBALD'S Wear for the where of the Folio, a selfevident and certain change, must certainly be adopted. “Wear” is purely monosyllabic, and is never anything else in Shakespeare. See, e.g., As You Like It, II. i. 14, “the toad . . . Wears yet a precious jewel.” Theobald's other emendations, given in the textual notes, seem unnecessary, and rather needlessly alter the sense. Read with these emendations, the meaning would be, according to WARBURTON'S paraphrase, “ Gold, indeed, will long bear the handling; however often touching (i.e. assaying) will wear even gold : just so the greatest character, though as pure as gold itself, may in time be injured by the repeated attacks of falsehood and corruption.” MARSHALL thinks the meaning may be “that the man who is the jewel of her love, will lose his beauty, i.e. the many charms with which her love had invested him; yet the gold, i.e. the setting of the jewel, the real man, bides (remains) still. The jewel, being enamelled, would not be a precious stone, and therefore of less intrinsic value than the gold setting. . In any case the author seems to have neglected to carry out the simile he originally intended.” GOLLANCZ (Temple Shakespeare, p. 90) offers this interpretation : "The wife (the jewel) soon loses her beauty and ceases to attract, but the man (the gold) still stands the test, assayed by other women; and although gold wears out if assayed too often, yet a man of good reputation is not shamed by his falsehood and corruption.” The mistake in this interpretation is, I think, that Shakespeare does not treat the mere enamel as the jewel; the latter consisting of the gold together with the enamel. HERFORD's rendering (Eversley Shakespeare, in loc.) gives a good and concise meaning: “The best enamelled jewel tarnishes; but the gold setting keeps its lustre however it may be worn by the touch ; similarly, a man of assured reputation, can commit domestic infidelity without blasting it.” Some authorities take "gold" to mean gold coin ; « touch" then referring to its currency. APPENDIX II
For the observation concerning the wear of gold, Malone refers to the old play of Damon and Pithias (1571, 1582 ; Dodsley, i. 254]:
Gold in time doo wear away, and other precious things doo fade.