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SCENE I. A Hall in the Duke's Palace.
Enter Duke, ÆGEON, Gaoler, Officers, and other
Ege. Proceed, Solinus, to procure my fall,
And, by the doom of death, end woes and all.
Duke. Merchant of Syracusa, plead no more;
I am not partial, to infringe our laws:
The enmity and discord, which of late
Sprung from the rancorous outrage of your duke
To merchants, our well-dealing countrymen,-
Who, wanting gilders to redeem their lives,
Have sealed his rigorous statutes with their bloods,
Excludes all pity from our threat'ning looks.
For, since the mortal and intestine jars
"Twixt thy seditious countrymen and us,
It hath in solemn synods been decreed,
Both by the Syracusans and ourselves,
To admit no traffick to our adverse towns:
any, born at Ephesus, be seen
At any Syracusan marts and fairs,
Again, If any Syracusan born,
Come to the bay of Ephesus, he dies,
His goods confiscate to the duke's dispose;
Unless a thousand marks be levied,
To quit the penalty, and to ransome him,
Thy substance, valued at the highest rate,
Cannot amount unto a hundred marks;
Therefore, by law thou art condemn'd to die.
Ege. Yet this my comfort; when your words
My woes end likewise with the evening sun.
Duke. Well, Syracusan, say, in brief, the cause Why thou departedst from thy native home; And for what cause thou cam'st to Ephesus.
Ege. A heavier task could not have been impos'd,
Than I to speak my griefs unspeakable:
Yet, that the world may witness, that my end
Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence,1
I'll utter what my sorrow gives me leave.
In Syracusa was I born; and wed
Unto a woman, happy but for me,
And by me too, had not our hap been bad.
With her I liv'd in joy; our wealth increas'd,
By prosperouses often made
To Epidamnum, till my factor's death;
And he (great care of goods at random left)
Was wrought by nature, not by vile offence.] All his hearers understood that the punishment he was about to undergo was in consequence of no private crime, but of the publick enmity between two states, to one of which he belonged: but it was a general superstition among the ancients, that every great and sudden misfortune was the vengeance of heaven pursuing men for their secret offences. Hence the sentiment put into the mouth of the speaker was proper. By my past life, (says he,) which I am going to relate, the world may understand, that my present death is according to the ordinary course of Providence, [wrought by nature,] and not the effects of divine vengeance overtaking me for my crimes, [not by vile offence.] WARBURTON.
The real meaning of this passage is much less abstruse than that which Warburton attributes to it. By nature is meant natural affection. Egeon came to Ephesus in search of his son, and tells his story, in order to show that his death was in consequence of natural affection for his child, not of any criminal intention.
Drew me from kind embracements of my spouse:
From whom my absence was not six months old,
Before herself (almost at fainting, under
The pleasing punishment that women bear,)
Had made provision for her following me,
And soon, and safe, arrived where I was.
There she had not been long, but she became
A joyful mother of two goodly sons;
And, which was strange, the one so like the other,
As could not be distinguish'd but by names.
That very hour, and in the selfsame inn,
A poor mean woman was delivered
Of such a burden, male twins, both alike:
Those, for their parents were exceeding poor,
I bought, and brought up to attend my sons.
My wife, not meanly proud of two such boys,
Made daily motions for our home return:
Unwilling I agreed; alas, too soon.
We came aboard:
A league from Epidamnum had we sail'd,
Before the always-wind-obeying deep
Gave any tragick instance of our harm:
But longer did we not retain much hope;
For what obscured light the heavens did grant
Did but convey unto our fearful minds
A doubtful warrant of immediate death;
Which, though myself would gladly have embrac'd,
Yet the incessant weepings of my wife,
Weeping before for what she saw must come,
And piteous plainings of the pretty babes,
That mourn'd for fashion, ignorant what to fear,
Forc'd me to seek delays for them and me.
And this it was,-for other means was none.-
The sailors sought for safety by our boat,
And left the ship, then sinking-ripe, to us:
My wife, more careful for the latter-born,
Had fasten'd him unto a small spare mast,
Such as sea-faring men provide for storms;
To him one of the other twins was bound,
Whilst I had been like heedful of the other.
The children thus dispos'd, my wife and I,
Fixing our eyes on whom our care was fix'd,
Fasten'd ourselves at either end the mast;
And floating straight, obedient to the stream,
Were carried towards Corinth, as we thought.
At length the sun, gazing upon the earth,
Dispers'd those vapours that offended us;
And, by the benefit of his wish'd light,
The seas wax'd calm, and we discovered
Two ships from far making amain to us,
Of Corinth that, of Epidaurus this;
But ere they came,-O, let me say no more!
Gather the sequel by that went before.
Duke. Nay, forward, old man, do not break off
For we may pity, though not pardon thee.
Ege. O, had the gods done so, I had not now Worthily term'd them merciless to us!
For, ere the ships could meet by twice five leagues,
We were encounter'd by a mighty rock;
Which being violently borne upon,
Our helpful ship was splitted in the midst,
So that, in this unjust divorce of us,
Fortune had left to both of us alike
What to delight in, what to sorrow for.
Her part, poor soul! seeming as burdened
With lesser weight, but not with lesser woe,
Was carried with more speed before the wind;
And in our sight they three were taken up
By fishermen of Corinth, as we thought.
At length, another ship had seiz'd on us;
And, knowing whom it was their hap to save,
Gave helpful welcome to their shipwreck'd guests;
And would have reft the fishers of their prey,
Had not their bark been very slow of sail,
And therefore homeward did they bend their
Thus have you heard me sever'd from my bliss;
That by misfortunes was my life prolong'd,
To tell sad stories of my own mishaps.
Duke. And, for the sake of them thou sorrowest for,
Do me the favour to dilate at full
What hath befall'n of them, and thee, till now.
Ege. My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,"
At eighteen years became inquisitive
After his brother; and impórtun'd me,
That his attendant, (for his case was like,
Reft of his brother, but retain'd his name,)
Might bear him company in the quest of him:
Whom whilst I labour'd of a love to see,
I hazarded the loss of whom I lov'd.
Five summers have I spent in furthest Greece,
Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia,3
And, coasting homeward, came to Ephesus;
Hopeless to find, yet loath to leave unsought,
Or that, or any place that harbours men.
But here must end the story of my life;
And happy were I in my timely death,
my travels warrant me they live.
My youngest boy, and yet my eldest care,] Shakspeare has here been guilty of a little forgetfulness. Ægeon had said, page 7, that the youngest son was that which his wife had taken care of:
My wife, more careful for the latter-born, "Had fasten'd him unto a small spare mast."
He himself did the same by the other; and then each, fixing their eyes on whom their care was fixed, fastened themselves at either end of the mast. M. MASON.
3 Roaming clean through the bounds of Asia,] In the northern parts of England this word is still used instead of quite, fully, perfectly, completely.