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Notes and Queries, Number 82, May 24, 1851 A Medium of Inter-communication for Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists, etc

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The Third Act of Measure for Measure opens with Isabella's visit to her brother (Claudio) in the dungeon, where he lies under sentence of death. In accordance with Claudio's earnest entreaty, she has sued for mercy to Angelo, the sanctimonious deputy, and in the course of her allusion to the only terms upon which Angelo is willing to remit the sentence, she informs him that he "must die," and then continues:

"This outward-sainted deputy,—

Whose settled visage and deliberate word

Nips youth i' the head, and follies doth emmew,

As falcon doth the fowl,—is yet a devil;

His filth within being cast, he would appear

A pond as deep as hell."

Whereupon (according to the reading of the folio of 1623) Claudio, who is aware of Angelo's reputation for sanctity, exclaims in astonishment:

"The prenzie Angelo?"

To which Isabella replies (according to the reading of the same edition):

"O, 'tis the cunning livery of hell,

The damned'st body to invest and cover

In prenzie guards! Dost thou think, Claudio,

If I would yield him my virginity,

Thou might'st be freed?"

Claudio, still incredulous, rejoins:

"O, heavens! it cannot be."

The word prenzie has given rise to much annotation, and it seems to be universally agreed that the word is a misprint. The question is, what was the word actually written, or intended, by Shakspeare? Steevens and Malone suggested "princely;" Warburton, "priestly;" and Tieck, "precise." Mr. Knight adopts "precise," the reading of Tieck, and thinks "that, having to choose some word which would have the double merit of agreeing with the sense of the passage and be similar in the number and form of the letters, nothing can be more unfortunate than the correction of "princely;" Mr. Collier, on the other hand, follows Steevens and Malone, and reads "princely," observing the Tieck's reading ("precise") "sounds ill as regards the metre, the accent falling on the wrong syllable. Mr. Collier's choice is determined by the authority of the second folio, which he considers ought to have considerable weight, whilst Mr. Knight regards the authority of that edition as very trifling; and the only point of agreement between the two distinguished recent editors is with respect to Warburton's word "priestly," which they both seem to think nearly conveys the meaning of the poet.

I have over and over again considered the several emendations which have been suggested, and it seems to me that none of them answer all the necessary conditions; namely, that the word adopted shall be (1.) suitable to the reputed character of Angelo; (2.) an appropriate epithet to the word "guards," in the reply of Isabella above quoted; (3.) of the proper metre in both places in which the misprint occurred; and (4.) similar in appearance to the word "prenzie." "Princely" does not agree with the sense or spirit of the particular passage; for it is extremely improbable that Claudio, when confined under sentence of death for an absurd and insufficient cause, would use a term of mere compliment to the man by whom he had been doomed....