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And power . . . what it hath done Warburton: This is a common thought, but miserably ill expressed. The sense is, the virtue which delights to commend itself, will find the surest tomb in that chair wherein it holds forth its own commendations: ‘unto itself most commendable,’ i. e., which hath a very high opinion of itself.—Monck Mason (Comments, etc., p. 259): The obvious objection to Johnson's and Warburton's explanations arises from the peculiar temper of Coriolanus, which renders them totally inapplicable to him in the sense which they give them; for he was so far from boasting of his exploits himself that he could not bear to hear them extolled by others; and we find that when his archenemy, Aufidius, sums up the defects of his character, that of boasting is not upon the list. The passage, indeed, is so very obscure that I cannot but think there is an error in it, and that we ought to read, ‘But he has a merit to choak him in the utterance’ instead of ‘to choak it.’ What Aufidius means to say is: ‘That his merit was so transcendent that the recital of it excited the envy and the apprehensions of the people; and that, therefore, the power with which it was accompanied had nothing that tended more surely to its destruction than the chair from which it was applauded.’—Capell (vol. I, pt i, p. 97): The words ‘So our virtue’ and the line after them are a general reflection upon the power of opinion over the ‘virtues’ and endowments of all men, arising from the liberties which he himself had just taken with those of Coriolanus: 'tis opinion, says he, ‘the interpretation of the time, that gives them their hue, and determines the degree of their goodness; and that opinion will sink them, pronounce sentence against them, if they are too loud in their own praise and niggards in commendation of others. Such is the connection between the parts of this speech, and such the tendency of the three difficult lines that precede the four riming ones. [Capell quotes with approval Warburton's paraphrase.—Ed.]—Malone: If our author meant to place Coriolanus in this chair, he must have forgot his character, for, as Mr Mason has justly observed, he has already been described as one who was so far from being a boaster that he could not endure to hear ‘his nothings monster'd.’ But I rather believe ‘in the utterance’ alludes not to Coriolanus himself, but to the high encomiums pronounced on him by his friends; and then the lines of Horace may serve as a comment on the passage before us: ‘Urit enim fulgore suo, qui prægravat artes
Infra se positas,’ [Epist., II, i, l. 13].
A Passage in Tro. & Cress., however, may be urged in support of Warburton's interpretation: ‘The worthiness of praise disdains his worth
If that the prais'd himself brings the praise forth,’ [I, iii, 242].
Yet I still think that our poet did not mean to represent Coriolanus as his own eulogist.—Boswell: The pride of Coriolanus is his strongest characteristic. We may, perhaps, apply to him what is said of Julius Cæsar: ‘But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered,’ [II, i, 207].—
Monck Mason: A sentiment of a similar nature is expressed by Adam, in the third scene of the Second Act of As You Like It, where he says to Orlando: ‘Your praise is come too swiftly home before you.
Know you not, master, to some kind of men
Their graces serve them but as enemies?
No more do yours: your virtues, gentle master,
Are sanctified and holy traitors to you, [ll. 9-13].—
Steevens: The passage before us and the comments upon it are, to me at least, equally unintelligible.—Rann: His merit is so transcendent as to be blasted by that envy which the bare recital of it creates. And, indeed, so far does the reputation of our virtues depend upon the public opinion that power, though derived from the purest source, finds not a surer instrument of destruction than the tongue of its panegyrist; a surer grave than the chair wherein its praise is sounded.— Singer (ed. i.): Well Steevens might exclaim that the passage and the comments upon it were equally unintelligible. The whole speech is very incorrectly printed in the Folio. Thus we have 'was for 'twas, [l. 39]; detect for defect, [l. 41]; virtue for virtues; and evidently, chair for hair. What is the meaning of ‘Hath not a tomb so evident as a chair’? A hair has some propriety, as used for a thing almost invisible. As in The Tempest, ‘—not a hair perished.’ I take the meaning of the passage to be: ‘So our virtues lie at the mercy of the time's interpretation, and power, which esteems itself while living so highly, hath not when defunct the least particle of praise allotted to it.’—Verplanck: The reading of the older printed copies is retained in the present edition not because it is satisfactorily explained, or likely to be the true text, but because I do not see any probable emendation or solution of the passage. It seems to me one continuous and inexplicable misprint. Singer would read ‘as a hair.’ His [interpretation] is not easily extracted even from the lines when amended as the critic proposes.—Collier (Notes & Emendations, etc., p. 362): The main difficulty [in this passage] has arisen out of the word ‘chair,’ which the old corrector informs us should be cheer, in reference to the popular applause which usually follows great actions; and, by extolling what has been done, confounds the doer. The change of ‘Lie’ to Live in l. 52 is countenanced by the word ‘tomb’ afterwards used; and the whole passage means that virtues depend upon the construction put upon them by contemporaries, and that power, though praiseworthy, may be buried by the very applause that is heaped upon it, &c.— Singer (Sh. Vindicated, etc., p. 225): To substitute live for ‘lie’ would be to destroy the meaning, according to Mr Collier's own exposition. What possible meaning can be attached to ‘a tomb so evident as a cheer’? [Singer again proposes as ‘a possible reading’ ‘evident as a hair.’—Ed.]—Anon. (Blackwood's Maga., Sep., 1853, p. 323): This passage has given a good deal of trouble to the commentators. Aufidius is describing Coriolanus as a man who, with all his merits, had failed through some unaccountable perversity of judgment in attaining the position which his genius entitled him to occupy. Our virtues, says Aufidius, consist in our ability to interpret and turn to good account the signs of the times. And power, which delights to praise itself, is sure to have a downfall so soon as it blazons forth its pretensions from the rostrum. The MS. Corrector proposes, ‘—as a cheer.’ The original text is obscurely enough expressed, but the new reading seems to be utter nonsense. What can Mr Singer mean by his reading, ‘Hath not a tomb so evident as a hair’?—Ingleby (Sh. Controversy, p. 148): One of the earliest attempts to prove the modern origin of the manuscript notes of the Perkins Folio by means of a test-word was made by Mr A. E. Brae, of Leeds. His test-word was communicated to the editor of Notes and Queries and myself in 1853, and I made it public in my Shakespeare Fabrications. [Brae's test-word was the correction cheer; Ingleby also refers to White's change of ‘evident’ to eloquent in the present line.—Ed.] But Mr Richard Garnett (Athenæum, Oct. 15, 1859) proposes to read tongue for ‘tomb,’ wondering, with the reviewer of The Athenæum, for August 20th, 1859, how a tomb can extol. Surely it is the chair which is given to extol what the man of power and virtue has done! I should not wonder if some future Perkins should adopt all three suggestions and read, ‘Hath not a tongue so eloquent as a cheer!’ I apprehend no intelligent person who reads the passage as corrected by Perkins will doubt for an instant that a cheer is there intended to be understood in the sense a shout of applause. . . . It struck Mr Brae that the word cheer was necessarily employed in a modern sense, and immediately undertook a close examination of the chronology of the word cheer and cheers, the result of which with some of the details of the investigation he communicated to me. That result was that a cheer, in the sense of a shout of applause, was not in use till the present century, and that, consequently, it is a test-word which proves the manuscript notes of the Perkins Folio to be of recent origin. Nothing that has since been written upon the subject has in the slightest degree invalidated the soundness of this criticism. In the first place, I must call attention to the distinction between the use of three cheers and a cheer, in the sense of an audible expression of applause. Supposing that it could be shown that the phrase ‘three’ cheers was employed to express shouts of applause before 1750, and which I challenge the world of letters to prove, it might still happen that a cheer was not so employed until 1800 or thereabouts, which I challenge the world of letters to disprove. To confound three cheers with a cheer would be as ignorant a proceeding as to confound the phrases ‘manning the yards’ and ‘manning a yard.’ Before 1750 I find that three cheers is a conventional phrase employed by sailors to express a naval salute. On the contrary, a cheer did not mean anything of the kind; nor do I believe that any such a term was used by sailors till it became a land expression for a shout of applause, and that it did not do till the present century. [The foregoing, as Ingleby intimates, is an amplification of his remarks on this point as given in his earlier volume, Shakespeare Fabrications, which appeared in 1859. In the present work his discussion of the chronology of this test-word occupies twenty full pages with illustrative extracts. There is, I think, no need to give even a digest of these, as the N. E. D. is now confirmatory of his contention that the word cheer, in the sense of a shout of approbation, is quite modern. Finally, the question itself is one which concerns the MS. corrections in Collier's folio more nearly than the elucidation of the present passage as it appears in the Folio. For an excellent answer to Ingleby's remarks on this particular point see The Shakespeare Mystery, Atlantic Monthly, September, 1861, pp. 364, 365.—Ed.]— Tycho Mommsen (Der Perkins Folio, p. 239): Whatever special idea the word ‘chair’ conveys in the sense of ‘Orator's rostrum,’ whence continuous praise issues (naturally nothing more than self-praise), only gives obliquely and distantly the same idea which cheer gives plainly; at the same time ‘chair’ is the more formative, and more nearly likened to a tomb, since we can think of the rostrum in the form of a pulpit. But such a weak comparison may have sufficed for the editor of the Folio—who quite misunderstood the passage—to introduce a half nonsensical word ‘chair’; just as the utterly senseless ‘unto’ seems to have sprung from the stupid idea that ‘commend’ [sic], etc., connects its objective with ‘to’ or ‘unto.’—Staunton: After ‘so hated, and so banished’ (l. 50) there is obviously a chasm which it were vain to think of filling up. The sentiment to be conveyed in ll. 51-55 was, no doubt, identical with that expressed in Hamlet, I, iv, 23, 24, 33-36. ‘So oft it chances in particular men,
That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
. . . . . . .
Their virtues else (be they as pure as grace
As infinite as man may undergo)
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault.’
And so, proceeds Aufidius, our very virtues appear false by the misconstruction of the age, and even authority, which can exact applause, has not a more inevitable, i. e., certain, tomb for its beset actions than the very chair of triumph wherein they are extolled.—R. G. White (Sh. Scholar, p. 365): The reading of the Folio is utterly incomprehensible; but the errors which make it so are those of a compositor who sets his ‘matter’ by ear, as many of them do. ‘Chair’ and cheer were formerly pronounced alike; and I have even heard some old people call a chair a cheer. To this fact we owe the misprint of Macbeth's speech in Act V, sc. iii. This push ‘Will chair (cheere in the original) me ever, or disseat me now.’ Mr Collier's folio very properly changes ‘chair’ to cheer in this passage. But Mr Singer must pardon me for thinking his proposal deplorably tame and prosaic, even if it have any meaning at all. It is plain to me that Aufidius, after saying that ‘our virtues lie in the inter pretation of the time’ (that is, in the time's appreciation of us, not in our appreciation of the time, as the writer in Blackwood seems to think), adds that the elaborate eulogy on a great man's tomb is a testimony to his power not so eloquent as a cheer to him in his lifetime. Few who write for the press can be fortunate enough not to know many compositors who would find no difficulty in setting up ‘evident’ for ‘eloquent.’ Long since it seemed plain to me that we should read, ‘Hath not a tomb so eloquent as a cheer To extol what it hath done.’ [In the margin, against this, the former owner of the copy from which this note is taken, W. N. Lettsom, queries, ‘What is an eloquent tomb?’—ED.]—R. G. White, in his edition of this play which appeared nearly ten years later, agrees with Staunton that some lines ‘have quite surely been lost’ after ‘and so banish'd,’ l. 50. His interpretation of the present passage differs materially from that in his earlier work; he says: ‘Aufidius is impressing upon his hearers [sic] the consequences of Coriolanus’ inflexible, impracticable nature. He tells them that our virtue, i. e., our moral power, lies in our appreciation of the time, our apprehension and mastery of the situation in which we are placed; and he adds, as a corollary, that power, arrogant of commendation, has not so sure, so manifest a grave as the seat of authority to which its deeds have raised it, and which its overweening egotism is likely to use in such a manner as to alienate those to whom it owes its elevation. There is not a comparison between a tomb and a chair, but a likening of “a chair to extol,” &c., to a tomb. The allusion is to the curule chair, which is very properly made a symbol of power in the state, as in the time of Coriolanus the right of sitting in it belonged to Consuls, Prætors, Ædiles, Flamens, and, of course, to Dictators. Shakespeare had read in North's Plutarch, “There the Consul Cominius going up into his chayer of state in the presence of the army,” &c., ed. 1579, p. 242. I was once of the opinion that Shakespeare meant Aufidius to utter a thought similar to that which is expressed by Bertram in All's Well, I, ii, 48-51, “His good remembrance, sir,
Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb;
So in approof lies not his epitaph
As in your royal speech,”
and therefore conjectured that we should read, “Hath not a tomb so eloquent as a cheer”; and in Mr Collier's folio the latter word was found, but with the then incongruous “evident” left unchanged. This reading, however, although consistent with itself and appropriate to the occasion, is incongruous with the larger purpose of the speech, which is clearly indicated in the two lines ending “strengths by strengths do fail.”’—Keightley (Expositor, p. 370): I agree with Steevens in regarding this passage and the comments on it as being equally unintelligible. The meaning seems to be one which Shakespeare frequently expresses (see Tro. & Cress., I, iii.; II, iii.; III, iii.)—self-praise is no praise. ‘Unto itself commendable’ is, then, standing high in the possessor's estimation. [Which, by the way, is merely a paraphrase of Warburton's explanation.—Ed.] The sense yielded by ‘tomb’ and chair is most trivial, and I would, therefore, venture to propose, ‘Hath not a tongue so evident as a charmer's.’ Charms and spells, we know, were murmured or muttered in a low tone (‘wizards that peep and that mutter,’ Isaiah, viii, 19); and if the final letters of charmer's had been effaced—like ‘in him,’ a few lines higher—and only char left, the printer might easily have taken it for chair, and so have made ‘tomb’ to correspond. Charmer occurs in Othello, III, iv, and the poet had met with it in his Bible. I have introduced it again in Ant. & Cleo., IV, viii.—Hudson (ed. i.): We do not quite understand why a cheer should be spoken of as eloquent, and should much rather suppose ‘as eloquent as a tear’ to be the right reading. And, for aught we can see, chair might as well be a misprint for tear as evident for eloquent.—Henry Wellesley (p. 27): Warburton here seems to lose sight of the distinction between Virtue and Power; and because the tomb of Power would infallibly convey the meaning of the grave of Power, for Power ceases with life, the tomb is transferred to Virtue, whereby tomb is made to bear the less usual sense of monumental epitaph or posthumous eulogy delivered as from a chair or a rostrum. The context, however, speaks of actual power, living, and in full exercise. To any such harsh mode of interpretation I should prefer venturing to treat the whole line as corrupt, and to amend the passage thus: ‘And Power, unto itself most commendable,
Hath orators accordant as a choir
To extol what it hath done,’
i. e., the credit we obtain for Virtues depends upon the opinion of the day for its value and power. And Power again, over and above the natural self-confidence, which is as an inward panegyric and commendation, never lacks the oratory of applauding multitudes to chime in with all its doings. [Wellesley, it is apparent, has failed utterly in comprehending Warburton's elucidation. There is therein nothing to suggest an epitaph or eulogy. Again, the substitution of choir for ‘chair’ is quite inadmissible, as the word for a band of singers, or a part of the church building, was uniformly spelt quire or quier until long after the time of Shakespeare. Our spelling of the word, choir, did not come into general use until toward the end of the eighteenth century.—Ed.]—Bailey (i, 99): Line 54 is to me undiluted nonsense. All the misdirected efforts of the critics have not been able to extract from it a consistent meaning, while the very difficulty of doing it proves the text to be corrupt. If we consider attentively what the speaker intended to say, we shall find it to this effect, that power, when its acts are intrinsically praiseworthy, does not meet with the slightest token of applause from the men of the time for what it has done; and to illustrate his sentiment he gives us, or designs to give us, an instance of something which notoriously makes a very faint demonstration in that way. As neither a tomb nor a chair can be considered as designating an instrument or medium for the contemporary laudation of meritorious acts of power, our task is to find two words which will denote what those words ought to denote with clearness, but do not, and, at the same time, so far resemble the actual reading as to render probable the substitution of the latter in the place of the former. The only suggestion with this view which I have happened to meet with at all entitled to serious discussion is the following, which is partly, at least, due to the Perkins folio: ‘Hath not a tone so evident as a cheer.’ There are several strong objections to a reading which, at the first glance, appears so plausible. 1. A cheer cannot, with any propriety, be called a tone. It may have a tone—e. g., it may be ironical, as the House of Commons knows, but it is not a tone itself. 2. A cheer, which must be here construed as a general term, meaning the same as cheers, is a loud demonstration of applause, whereas the strain of the passage requires a feeble one to constitute the requisite antithesis between what is merited and what the least that could be given. 3. Tone is a word never used by Shakespeare, and cheer is never used by him in the modern sense of shout of approbation. The reading which I have to propose is as follows, ‘Hath not a trump so evident as a child's To extol what it has done.’ With our modern associations the word trump, which is here the same in signification as trumpet, may not at first be consonant with our feelings; the immediate idea presenting itself may be that of the trump of the card-table, with its figurative and slang applications, rather than the trump of fame. In Shakespeare's pages the term is used solely as the equivalent of trumpet. My proposed reading, after the first shock has been overcome, will probably be allowed to convert the line into good sense with that antithetical point and that spice of sarcasm which are requisite for the force of the passage. The degeneration of trump into tomb and child's into chair, in the hands of copyists and compositors, is easily conceivable; while it exemplifies that insensibility to the meaning of the document before them into which both those classes of imitative manipulators have a perpetual tendency to fall. [Had Bailey but read with reasonable care Warburton's explanation he would, I think, hardly have made the mistake of paraphrasing l. 53, ‘power, when its acts are intrinsically praiseworthy’; and would not, assuredly, have connected both the words ‘tomb’ and ‘chair’ with the infinitive ‘To extol.’ I may freely admit that I am not yet sufficiently recovered from the ‘shock’ of Bailey's emendations to characterise them adequately; that task I gladly leave to the patient reader.—Ed.]—Halliwell: Not having met with any criticism upon this passage in the least degree satisfactory, I leave it with the same remark as Steevens, and have nothing of my own to offer.—Leo (Coriolanus, p. 125): In order to penetrate the poet's meaning and intention we must not examine a phrase, taken out of the intention of the scene, but we must feel with the acting persons, and out of this feeling we must know how they think and how they speak. And, therefore, let us now become Aufidius for a moment, and see whether it might be possible for us to think on the ‘chair,’ the sella curilis in Rome, and reflect on things which do not stand in any relation to the passionate feelings of envy and revenge which dominate us. Aufidius feels quite well that he has lost his position as the first general of the Volces, and that his glory is darkened by Coriolanus; he hates him, and has the clear intention to ruin him so clear that he knows already his way and means to do it. Though Coriolanus is hated by him and some other Volscian Generals, he is not hated by the people, and to make him so must be the first step. Aufidius knows that, though small merits are willingly acknowledged, people do not like to be reminded of great and important merits, which lay them under the obligation of gratitude, and that he who is idolized is nearest to be hated as soon as he himself mentions his deeds. ‘He has a merit (great enough) to choke it in the utterance,’ and, therefore, he provokes Coriolanus, in V, vi, and hopes that in his fury he will boast of what he has done for the Volscian people, and that the ‘fire’ of his merits will be driven out by the ‘fire’ of the people's pride. But that does not lie in the nature of Coriolanus, and by going just the contrary way, and hurting the self-love and vanity of the Volces in reminding them of the origin of his name of Coriolanus, he facilitates for Aufidius the attainment of his purpose. But that is a fact, though it is of a stirring dramatic effect (Coriolanus perishing in Antium by the same contempt of the people as in Rome) which has nothing to do with the former combinations of Aufidius. He intends to provoke Coriolanus to become his own panegyrist, and so he says: ‘Power, unto itself most commendable,
Has not a tomb so evident as a claim
To extol what it has done,’
i. e., ‘If he, who has merits, claims the extolment of his deeds, his power is lost,’ and, therefore, I propose not to read ‘chair,’ but claim.—Ibid. (Sh. Notes, p. 39): What has been written above is all very well, and when I wrote it I was fully convinced of having hit the bull's-eye; but upon mature consideration I fear that ‘chair’ is better than claim, because it gives the same sense in a more poetical form. The juxtaposition of ‘tomb’ and ‘chair’—the chair (sella curilis) having materially a greater right and chance of becoming possibly a tomb than a claim ever could—is just what a poet writes, while a scrutinizing critic afterwards alters ‘chair’ to the very correct, but very prosaical, claim. Claim says all, and, therefore, does not say enough.—C. & M. Cowden Clarke (Shakespeare): We think the passage as it stands means, ‘Our virtues lie at the mercy of popular interpretation in our own day; and power, ever anxious to exact commendation, has no tomb so sure as the pulpit of eulogium which extols its deeds.’ It must be borne in mind that here ‘chair’ is used for the public rostrum, cathedra, or pulpit, whence orations, laudatory or otherwise, were delivered to the Roman people.—P. A. Daniel (p. 63): Qy, read this passage thus: ‘so our virtue
Lives in the interpretation of the time,
And, how e'er unto itself most commendable,
Hath not a tomb so evident as a care
T' extol what it hath done.’
Mitford first conjectured that chaire should be care. Taken as a whole, however, the reading I suggest has not, I believe, been proposed before. The following passages may be quoted by way of illustration: ‘For then we wound our modesty and make foul the clearness of our deservings, when of ourselves we publish them,’ All's Well, I, iii, 5-7. ‘He that is proud eats up himself: pride is his own glass, his own trumpet, his own chronicle; and whatever praises itself but in the deed, devours the deed in the praise,’ Tro. & Cress., II, iii, 149-152.—Rev. John Hunter: So whether anything will be accounted virtuous in us depends on the appropriateness of the time in which we show it. And power, which justifies itself to itself as being thoroughly deserved, has not so sure a tomb, or means of extinction, as when it is placed in a seat of dignity intended to exalt, or glorify, its achievements.—Whitelaw: Our virtues are virtues no longer if the time interprets them as none. The soldier who is all soldier is misinterpreted in time of peace; for his unfitness for peace is seen, his fitness for war is not seen. So Coriolanus— the power he had won in war but wielded in peace, conscious of having deserved well, could to itself commend itself, but the chair of authority, which irritated the people by seeming to do nothing else but commend his past exploits to them, proved just the tomb—the evident, inevitable tomb—that swallowed up the power it intended to display. So he offended the Romans when he had taken Corioli; much more will he offend the Volscians when he has taken Rome.— Schmidt (Coriolanus): Perhaps we should place a comma after ‘chair,’ and interpret ‘to extol,’ etc., If it (power) speaks in high terms of former deeds.— W. A. Wright: Though obscurely expressed, the general sense of this passage seems to be, Our reputation must be left for our contemporaries to decide. (The expression is here emphatic, for the point on which Aufidius insists is the forgetfulness of the populace and their ingratitude for past services.) The orator's chair from which a man extols his own actions is the inevitable tomb of that power, however deserving, which is the subject of praise.—Hudson (ed. ii.): I am now thoroughly satisfied that the old text is right; or that, if any change is wanted, it should be ‘Hath ne'er a tomb.’ And I am indebted for this, in the first instance, to Mr Joseph Crosby; though I since find that Staunton and Whitelaw have given substantially the same solution of the difficulty. The changes made and proposed have all proceeded upon the supposal that the construction is, ‘Hath not a tomb to extol’; whereas the construction is ‘a chair to extol,’ that is, ‘a chair that extols.’ With this key to the meaning the old text is readily seen to be right. . . . The speaker's argument is that Coriolanus, by his arrogance and tyranny in peace, will surely and speedily kill the popularity he has gained in war. And so the meaning here is that power, joined to a haughty, domineering temper, and loved and gloried in, for its own sake, hath no grave so certain, or imminent, as a chair of state bestowed in honour and extolment of its deeds. Or, to put the matter in concrete form, let Coriolanus, with his habits of military prerogative, and of lording it over all about him, be once advanced to a place of civil authority, and he will soon become an object of public hatred; so that the very seat which rewards and blazons his exploits, will be sure to prove his ruin and the tomb of his power.—Beeching (Henry Irving Sh.): This may mean either ‘virtues are not virtues unless acknowledged to be such by our contemporaries,’ or, more probably, ‘our virtues become vices if they are mistimed.’ Coriolanus's soldier-like virtues became vices when he recognized no distinction between what was appropriate to war and peace. [The next passage may be interpreted], ‘Power, when it is entirely self-satisfied, finds, in general, no readier grave than the right of praising itself.’ ‘Chair’ seems to mean magistrate's chair. and so ‘authority.’ The sense of the passage is that power may lose itself by being boastful; but there is very probably some corruption of the text. [Beeching, in his notes prepared for the Falcon Edition a year or so later, gives the following alternative interpretation: ‘The difficulty of this passage arises from an uncertainty whether it is said in praise or blame of Coriolanus. In the former case the sense is, “Time, the great interpreter, reveals our virtues (notwithstanding banishment, etc.); and power which appreciates its own desert will not find so conspicuous a monument as a public chair from which it may be praised.” Taken this way, the passage connects with “he has a merit,” etc., making the contrast of l. 57 sharper; and it preserves the Shakespearian sense of tomb = “monument”), as in Henry V: I, ii, 228, “Or lay these bones in an unworthy urn, Tombless, with no remembrance over them.” Also, “the interpretation of (= by) the time” is construed as the same phrase afterwards (V, iii, 76).’ Beeching then gives his former note as the interpretation in blame of Coriolanus.—Ed.]—Perring (p. 308): This can only mean that the chair of office, which silently proclaims a man's merit, is too often, if he could but foresee it, the very tomb of his power; his exaltation accelerates his precipitation; from the pinnacle to the pit is but a step.—Kinnear (p. 329): The meaning of the passage is, And power, as to itself most praiseworthy, has no tomb so certain as the pulpit to extol, i. e., for extolling what it hath done. The same public chair that pronounced the panegyric, utters the sentence of banishment or death.—G. Joicey (Notes & Queries, 28 Nov., 1891, p. 423): May not the Folio reading, ‘as a chair,’ be a mistake for ‘as such air’? Aufidius seems to mean that, since our virtues lie in the interpretation of the time, departed power has no tombstone to extol its good deeds that will stand in evidence against the erroneous judgment expressed by the passing breath of its contemporaries. Cf. the phrase ‘airy fame’ in Tro. & Cress., [I, iii, 144]; the passage in All's Well (I, ii, 48-50), ‘His good remembrance,’ &c., and the last couplet of Sonnet lxxxi. Perhaps ‘not’ is a misprint for but.—Page: Thus our very virtues are subject to the judgments passed on them by the age in which we live; and power, always ready to commend itself, finds its surest means of destruction in the pulpit from which it proclaims its own exploits. Malone objects that ‘our author’ has represented Coriolanus as not being able to hear his brave deeds mentioned, and that, therefore, he could not here speak of him as a boaster. But it is not ‘our author’ who thus speaks, but Aufidius, whose spoken opinions of Coriolanus are not always founded on knowledge or sincerity.—Cholmeley: Our reputation depends upon the view that our contemporaries take of our virtues. However laudable the great man may really be, he courts certain ruin when he takes to proclaiming his own praises. The age ‘interprets’ the eulogy and forgets the virtue.—E. K. Chambers (Warwick Sh.): I do not think that ‘chair’ means either the chair of the panegyrist or the chair of the magistrate. ‘Not a tomb so evident as a chair’ is surely a way of saying ‘no tomb at all,’ ‘not a wooden chair, much less a sumptuous seated statue.’ Then ‘unto itself’ I take as ‘in itself,’ an odd construction, but formed from ‘to give commendation unto virtues.’ The whole passage is a general moral drawn from Coriolanus's fate in Rome, suggested by the thought of his merit just referred to in l. 50. I paraphrase: ‘Coriolanus was meritorious, but merit is as our contemporaries choose to think it. A man may have power and deserve commendation, yet, if his fellow-citizens choose, he may be blotted out, and not the slightest monument left to speak his praise.’ The kind of sentiment is that so often put in the mouth of a Greek chorus.—W. W. Skeat (Notes & Queries, 3d May, 1890): The whole sense of this passage comes out at once by simply calling to mind that chair, in Tudor English, was sometimes used in the sense of ‘pulpit.’ Milton has it so; see ‘Chair’ in the N. E. D., sect. 5. Cotgrave has: ‘Chaire, f. a Chair; also a pulpit for a preacher.’ And in modern French it still has this sense, as distinct from its doublet, chaise. And this is the solution of the whole matter. The idea might have been picked up in any church, for, indeed, the pulpit is commonly more ‘evident,’ i. e., conspicuous, than any of the fine tombs in the choir. The general sense is just this: ‘Power, however commendable it may seem to itself, can find no tomb so conspicuous, no tomb so obvious, as when it chooses for itself a pulpit whence to proclaim its own praises.’ This agrees very nearly with the explanation in the note to the Clarendon Press edition [W. A. Wright]; but it seems to be more emphatic and picturesque to explain the word as ‘pulpit’ than merely as ‘orator's chair.’—Herford (Eversley Sh.): Our reputation for virtue is in the hands of our contemporaries; and power, confident of its own merits, has no more obvious road to ruin than by proclaiming them. This, I think, the clear sense.—Verity (Student's Sh.): Aufidius has been saying that Coriolanus, in spite of his noble services to the State, has been brought down by some failing which set his fellow-countrymen against him. This leads (‘so’) to the general reflection that every man, however great, is conditioned by public opinion, and that self-laudation, above all in the highly-placed, is suicidal. [Verity cites Malone's objection to the accusation of self-praise urged against Coriolanus, and refutes it in substantially the same manner as does Page.—Ed.] The obscurity and metre of lines 51-53, the uncertainty in l. 57, and the poor rhymes in 56-59 combine to suggest that some corruption of the whole passage has taken place. But of many emendations, none is at all taking. Note that ‘the time’ is Shakespeare's constant phrase for ‘the age,’ ‘one's contemporaries.’ I do not think that it is possible to interpret, ‘Time, the great interpreter, reveals our virtues,’ as if Shakespeare had written ‘time’ alone (not ‘the time’). ‘Lie in’=‘to be in the power of, to depend on,’ is a common Shakespearian use.—Stanley Wood: The general sense of this seems to me to be as follows, A man's greatness depends not so much upon his character or his acts, as upon people's judgment of them. Coriolanus's power in Rome, intrinsically great and worthy of all praise (unto itself=in itself), has been reduced to nothing because the praises which were showered upon him by the Senate and the nobles were offensive to the people and the Tribunes, whose interpretation of his merits has prevailed. This explanation assumes that Aufidius knew what course events had taken in Rome, a reasonable assumption considering his recent association with Coriolanus.—Miss C. Porter (First Folio Sh.): Only let it be that the virtue or ability in us is equal to understanding the right moment, let it but co-ordinate itself with the occasion, lie in th' interpretation of the time, and then the power that is most alone in being merely to itself commendable hath no Tombe and epitaph, not a monument, as it were, so ready with praise of past achievements as it has a Chaire, or throne for them which shall be a new seat of life and honor. Aufidius is moralizing as to Martius with himself in mind. He is applying the virtue that in Martius turned banishment into a new sort of triumph for him, to his own present crisis, due to Martius, when he must await the ripe moment to turn the present obscuration, practically the Tombe, of his ability into a new exposition, or throne, of it. As Martius had the strength to strangle, as it were, in its utterance the sentence against himself, and make it recoil on those who pronounced it, so he would do. Only let his virtue come out in the interpreting of the time or right occasion, and his power, most commendable now unto itself alone, will have not dead and gone honors so obviously as a new seat of homage. This passage has generally been accounted extremely obscure and difficult. . . . To us it seems not corrupt, but introspective. It is characteristic of Shakespeare's most darkly brooding impersonations. The creature of his dramatic scheme in this case is suffering from a self-caused depreciation of himself. It stings him to mental processes born of competition with a nature his own different nature emulates, and understands while plotting to surmount.—Gordon: The meaning is, that power, which is naturally most pleasing to itself, is never so obviously near its grave as when (speech succeeding to action) the time comes to pronounce a laudation of its achievements. ‘Chair’ means a chair of state from which official pronouncements are made. Most editors that I have seen go wrong on this passage. They have a picture of self-satisfied ‘power’ openly extolling itself, and are naturally puzzled to see how this can apply to Coriolanus, who notoriously hated brag. But ‘unto itself most commendable’ does not mean that power is self-satisfied; it means that power always seems more satisfactory to the person who possesses it than to those who do not. And it is nowhere said that power extols ‘itself.’ The passage must be taken in connexion with what goes before, or the sense is lost. Aufidius has just said that no matter what your merits and achievements may be, everything depends on how your contemporaries take them. He goes on to add that there is nothing more risky for a man who has done great things than when the time comes to have them proclaimed. People may take such praise either way. If they take it one way, he's a hero, and the saviour of the state; if they take it the other, he's a traitor and a tyrant. The application to Coriolanus is plain.—S. P. Sherman (Tudor Sh.): The meaning is that we cannot be judges of our own virtues; they must be stamped with the approval of the society in which we live before they can become current. Shake speare seems much interested in what we may call the social sanctions of virtue in Tro. & Cress. In the mood of Aufidius Troilus asks, ‘What is aught, but as 'tis valu'd’ (II, ii, 52). Hector replies (II, ii, 53-56): ‘But value dwells not in particular will;
It holds his estimate and dignity
As well wherein 'tis precious of itself
As in the prizer.’
Later in the play (III, iii, 95ff.) Ulysses and Achilles discuss the same point. [Further]: A person who possesses power, though it merit commendation, cannot more speedily terminate its effectiveness than by praising what he has accomplished by it.—Deighton: It is doubtful whether this means ‘our virtues depend (for their efficacy) upon the way in which they are regarded by those among whom we live’ or ‘our virtues depend (for their efficacy) upon the manner in which we interpret, and adapt ourselves to, surrounding circumstances.’ The latter view agrees better with the explanation I have given of ll. 50, 51 [q. v.], but it is doubtful whether ‘the interpretation’ can mean ‘the interpretation we put.’ If the reading of ll. 51-55 is genuine, the meaning probably is, ‘and power (i. e., a man in high position), however much it may consider itself deserving of praise, has no such certain grave of its reputation as a chair from which it pronounces its own eulogy.’—Case (Arden Sh.): I am inclined to interpret this passage in close connection with the beginning of the speech, and to regard it as a general reflection referring quite as much, or more, to the Tribunes as to Coriolanus, to whom it is always confined. Aufidius has declared that the people will recall Coriolanus as eagerly as they expelled him, and after a digression as to the causes of his overthrow and a tribute to his merit, he proceeds to this effect. Thus the light in which our virtues are regarded depends upon the time (the fluctuation of popular opinion which then denounced Coriolanus and will now acclaim him), and power, however self-justified, finds a grave in the very seat of authority whence it extols its actions. What Aufidius describes had, in fact, happened in the last scene, when the grave of their power opened before the Tribunes at the very height of their self-congratulations, and ‘the interpretation of the time’ begins to change rapidly under the face of circumstances. So, too, the proverbs that follow refer to the former reverse and that in progress; perhaps also to the final reverse of all, but Aufidius does not take up that subject till he has ended his reflections and prepared to go. Then, still thinking first of Coriolanus's triumph, he says, ‘When, Caius, Rome is thine,’—Tucker Brooke (Yale Shakespeare): Power, though (when considered absolutely) most worthily attained, is never so near its grave as when the successful man, seated in the chair of authority, seeks to justify the means by which he has risen. [I am somewhat loath to add any words of mine to this long note. I wish, however, to call attention to the Text. Notes, wherein it will be noticed how negligible has been the influence of any of the proposed alterations of the original, on subsequent texts. Singer's alteration, hair, had but one follower, who later recanted, and Collier's MS. correction, cheer, but two— Collier himself and White in his second edition. As to the many interpretations and paraphrases of this passage as in the Folio it may, I think, be said that no elucidator has materially bettered that issued originally by Warburton nearly one hundred and eighty years ago.—Ed.]