Saturday, December 1, 2012

Measure for Measure - Running from brakes of Ice

Running from brakes of Ice

As mentioned in the previous post, Bacon has close connections to a primary source for the play Measure for Measure. Recently I came across another one.

In Act 2, scene 1 (around line 40 depending on the edition) we find this passage by Escalus:

“Well, heaven forgive him, and forgive us all.
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall:
Some run from brakes of ice, and answer none,
And some condemned for a fault alone.”

There isn’t a clear interpretation on “Some run from brakes of ice”. In the 1997 Folger edition, the full note on page 215 says this:

‘Many changes have been proposed in editorial attempts to give meaning to these words. The most frequent alterations are from “ice” to “vice” and from “brakes” to “breaks”. None of the changes helps significantly. The clause stands in parallel with “some rise by sin” (line 42) and in contrast to “some condemned for a fault alone” (line 44). It may therefore be meant to suggest “some escape punishment for major crimes,” though no emendation thus far proposed captures that meaning . Editors have pointed out an interesting parallel with Claudio’s description of hell as a “thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice” (3.1.138) and have quoted The Three Voyages of William Barents to the Arctic Regions, (1594, 1595, 1596): “the ice whereon we lay . . . brake and ran one peece upon another . . .the ice brake under our owne feet.” Other editors have noted that brakes could be “tortures, traps, or thorny hedges,” as well as “engines of punishment,” “snaffles” or “sharp bits.”

An online edition of the play has even changed “ice” to “office”:

Considering that in the First Folio the word is spelt “Ice” with a capital letter “I” it hardly seems reasonable that the intent was the word “office”. But some editors may be a bit desperate to move away from the word “Ice”, especially the kind that ‘brakes’ and that sometimes cause some to run away from. And what in the heck would William of Stratford be doing reading an expeditionary treatise on the arctic anyhow?  Or maybe he just overheard talk of this voyage in one of his visits to the local pub, just as where he had also became an expert in law in a few short years!

Barents’ book is also referenced in Twelfth Night, 3.2 where Fabian mentions “ icicle on a Dutchman’s beard…”. And then a little later in the same scene does Shakespeare refer to “…more lines than is in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies” which is thought to refer to a map made by Emmeric Mollineux in 1599 for the purchasers of Hakluyt’s Voyages, “showing more of the East Indies, including Japan, than had ever been mapped before.”

Well, it happens that Bacon is known to have read The Three Voyages of William Barents to the Arctic Regions, (1594, 1595, 1596). He refers to it in his Novum Organum, in which he mentions “in Nova Zembla” and the accompanying note says:

“This of course refers to Barentz’s expedition in search of a North-East passage. He passed the winter of 1596-7 at Nova Zembla.”

If you look for the post earlier in this section (Othello: The Bosphorus) you’ll also see that “Shakespeare” (the author) also seems to have read The Relation of a Journey begun an. Dom. iio, in four books (1615) by George Sandys which describes his travels to the Eastern Mediterranean. Shakespeare mentions both the “Ponticke Sea” and the “Proponticke” within four lines of each other in Act 3, scene 3:

or see page 326 in the First Folio Tragedies.

Here is the Bacon reference:

So, I vote for keeping the original as is: “Some run from brakes of Ice”.