Saturday, March 12, 2011

Parallels - Ways Foul and Fair

Countess: Wilt thou ever be a foul-mouth'd and calumnious knave?
 Clown:     A prophet I, madam; and I speak the truth the next way.
All's Well That Ends Well 1.3.55-6


[Lady Macbeth to Macbeth] Yes I do fear thy nature;
  It is too full o'th'milk of human kindness,
  To catch the nearest way.
Macbeth 1.5.16-18

Now, from Bacon:

"It is in actions as it is in ways; commonly the nearest is the foulest".

"But it is in life as it is in ways; the shortest way is commonly the foulest"
  The Advancement of Learning

[Bacon speaking of himself] "Mr Bacon would say 'That it was in business as it is commonly in ways, and that if a man will go the fairest way, he must go somewhat about'."

Comment by Cockburn: The aphorism stated in the three Bacon texts is not in M.P. Tilley's Proverbs and was not, I think, a proverb. If Bacon quoted a proverb of someone else, he usually so indicated. So it looks as if he himself first devised this aphorism in his Promus in 1594 or 1595, and later used it in two texts. Yet it underlies and explains both Shake-Speare texts. The Arden editor comments on the All's Well text: "the next way: the nearest way. Presumably the phrase glances at the theory of prophetic inspiration as proceeding from direct contact with the Divine Author of truth."  Yes; but the collocation of "foul-mouth'd" and "the next way" suggests that it also glances (even if the audience would not understand it) at the Bacon aphorism - the Clown was foul because he was direct. As to the Macbeth text, Lady Macbeth plainly means that her husband was not foul enough to do what was necessary the direct way.

No comments:

Post a Comment