The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0131 Monday, 25 February 2008
From: Martin Mueller <
Date: Sunday, 24 Feb 2008 13:39:05 -0600
Subject: Solid Flesh Once More
There is a little more to be said about "too, too solid flesh." Some of
it involves benefits that come from having access to increasingly large
data banks that let a scholar evaluate evidence about orthographic
variance more critically. There are also interesting questions about how
to compare paleographical with lexical evidence.
Jenkins' "longer note" on Hamlet 1.2.129 in his Arden edition of the
play may be taken as a good summary of traditional scholarship on the
question (The note was helpfully quoted by Hardy Cook in his posting of
February 15). Jenkins' argument can be reduced to three points:
1. The Q2 reading 'sallied' is not a typographical error, but represents
an orthographic/dialectal variant of the verb/noun 'sully', for which
there is other evidence.
2. 'Solid' is probably a corruption of 'sallied', although it fits in
with a lexical pattern that is apparent from passages in 2 Henry IV and
3. Although the reading 'sullied' has no direct paleographical evidence,
it is to be preferred as a more standard spelling of a verb that appears
typically in the form 'sully'.
Jenkins' argument that 'sallied' is not a typographical error is
strongly supported by Polonius' remarks to Reynaldo about "laying these
slight sallies on my son (Hamlet 2.1.4). Jenkins points out that the Q2
readings 'sallied' and 'sallies' were not set by the same compositor and
are therefore likely to represent somebody's consistent spelling. There
is also the reading "too much grieu'd and sallied" from the equivalent
passage in the "bad" quarto (Q1), and the phrase "pure as unsallied
lily," which is found both in the quarto and folio version of Love's
Labor's Lost (5.2.352).
While this is very strong evidence for the correctness of the spellings
in question, it does not really support the assertion that 'sally' is a
variant form of 'sully'. Consider the passage from Dekker that Jenkins
cites to attest the presence of this variant outside of Shakespeare:
"sally not the morning with foul looks" (Patient Grissill, 1.1.2). The
modern researcher has access to digital data providing evidence that is
fuller by orders of magnitude than what was available to Jenkins a
generation ago. With the help of Mark Olsen's Philologic search engine
one can search 4528 texts between 1560 and 1630 and discover within
seconds that there are 869 occurrences of the spellings
"sally|sallyed|sallied|sallies." It is clear at once that the word is
overwhelmingly a military term.
Nine occurrences are associated with texts that Dekker had a hand in. I
reproduce the concordance output below:
1. bring in day: Then SALLY not this morning with foule lookes, But tea
2. nothing: yet by those desperat SALLIES, what by open setting vpon
3. so ere the day be, SALLY you not forth. Fust. No, no, nay if I stir,
4. For then SALLIES he forth, then is his day: Rapes, robberi
5. make their desperate SALLYES out, quicke retyres in (con|trarie to the
6. Pome, till the watch-word be giuen for SALLYING forth. Amb.Duns the
7. Iacke Dapper will SALLY sa, sa; giue the counter, on, set vpon him.
8. Battels, Seidges, SALLYES, Batteries, and skyrmishes; (Continuing f
9. as the English Gipsies are, that SALLY out upon Pullen, lie in
In the context of these passages, it seems more plausible to assume that
in the line cited by Jenkins 'sally' has its usual meaning of 'assail.'
But from that perspective a shadow falls on the Q1 reading "too grieu'd
and sallied," which can easily be read as a hendiadys for 'assailed'. It
is a little harder but not impossible to take the Q2 readings of
'sallied' and 'sallies' in a military sense, and readers have done so.
The LLL passage "pure as unsallied lily" resists such a reading. But
overall, there is not much support for the argument that 'sally' is an
established variant for 'sully' inside or outside Shakespeare.
At least one person at the time thought that it was, and it is odd that
Jenkins does not mention the fact. In the First Folio, the Q2 reading of
'sallies' in Polonius' advice to Reynaldo appears as 'sulleys', while
the 'sallied' from Hamlet's soliloquy appears as 'solid.' In other
words, the emendation 'sullied' does to 'sallied' what some contemporary
actually did with 'sallies'.
There is no paleographical evidence for 'solid' before 1623. Did the
reading exist when the play was written, whether as the "true" reading
or as a variant? For this, the evidence is lexical and probabilistic.
It is a nice question what weight to give to such evidence as compared
with the harder or more material evidence of black ink on paper. Leaving
aside Hamlet's soliloquy, the adjective 'solid' appears three times in
Shakespeare in a chronological range of "Hamlet ?3 years" (2 Henry IV
3.1.48, Troilus 1.3.113, Othello 4.264). The noun 'solidity' appears
only once in Shakespeare and is spoken by Hamlet to his mother:
"heaven's face does glow o'er this solidity and compound mass" (Hamlet
'Solid' in these passages is always under attack, whether Lodovico
speaks of Othello "whose solid virtue/The shot of accident, nor dart of
chance,/Could neither graze nor pierce" or whether King Henry and
Ulysses imagine cosmic deaths by water. An oddly cosmic perspective also
hovers around the use of 'solidity' in the closet scene. It is evident
that the reading 'solid' in Hamlet's soliloquy fits very well into this
pattern. But the fact that it fits does not constitute proof.
Proof of a sort may be looked for in probability. In 2 Henry IV, one
finds 'weary', 'solid', and 'melt' within five words. In the Folio
reading of the soliloquy, they occur within 30 words of each other. Such
clusters are low probability events, and the hypothesis of some
associative link is more plausible than coincidence. A Philologic search
for texts that contain 'weary', 'solid', and 'melt' produces a very
striking result in the form of a stanza from Fairfax' translation of
Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, published in 1600.
The sturdie bodies of the warriours strong,
Whom neither marching far, nor tedious way,
Nor weightie armes which on their shoulders hong,
Could WEARIE make, nor death it selfe dismay;
Now weake and feeble cast their limmes along,
Vnweildie burthens, on the burned clay,
And in each vaine a smouldring fire there dwelt,
Which dride their FLESH, and SOLLID bones did MELT. (13.61)
It is even more remarkable that in addition to the words 'weary',
'solid', and 'melt' the stanza contains the words 'flesh'. Almost as
striking, and perhaps even more telling is a passage from Philemon
Holland's translation of Plutarch's Moralia. Its publication in 1603
postdates the conventional date of Hamlet, although not its first
publication. The sixth book discusses a number of questions, and the
eighth question discusses bulimia or unnatural hunger. Here we find the
same association of 'solid', 'weary', 'melt', and flesh, although in a
context of some 800 words. In the vicinity of this passage we also find
two occurrences of 'solidity', which Holland uses relatively often.
'Solidity' and 'melt' occur within some thirty lines of each other in
the closet scene, where Hamlet speaks of his mother's sexuality as a
depraved form of hunger or bulimia.
A cautious conclusion to be drawn from this web of verbal associations
is that 'solid' is unlikely to be a corruption of 'sallied' but in all
probability existed as a reading when Hamlet was written or first
published. It fits into a dense network of Shakespeare's usage around
the time of that play, and it fits into the medico-moral usage of the
There may not be a Right Reading in this case, and the main point of
this posting perhaps is to remind readers how much easier it has become
to think and write about variant readings and questions of usage in
terms of the very large and quickly searchable archives that have become
accessible over the past ten years. In this context, it may be
appropriate to take a quick look at the "Indian/Judaean" crux of
Othello. In his characteristically evidence-minded and judicious manner,
Richard Levin a quarter century ago argued that the paleographical
evidence was against the Folio reading 'Iudean', because the spellings
in the OED had many witnesses for the string 'Iudaea..' but none for
'Iudea..' He did himself produce a passage for the spelling 'Iudea..' a
year later. Well, today it takes you ten seconds to learn that between
1560 and 1630 the string 'Iudea' beats 'Iudaea' by a score of 1302:884.
From which we learn that this crux, like the crux of 'sallied' or
'solid', cannot be determined on the basis of paleographical evidence.
It is an open question whether arguments about lexical or stylistic
patterns will ever yield to rules of evidence that readers or scholars
will want to play by.
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