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Of noticeable Forms of Speech in the English Bible found
also in Shakspeare.
N order to deal fairly with this former
part of our investigation, it is necessary
to remark, in the first instance, that, while the contents and general language of the Bible would be known to our poet from translations previously in use, in regard to particular words and modes of speech, it is probable that our translators of 1611 owed as much, or more, to Shakspeare than he owed to them. According to the chronological order of our poet's plays, as determined by Mr. Malone, only two of them were written after 1611 ; all the rest having been composed in the interval between that year and 1591. And the Bibles most commonly used during that period were either Parker's, called also the Bishops' Bible, of 1568, required to be read in churches; or various reprints of the Genevan Bible of 1560, with short marginal notes, and much used in private families (a translation which was due in part to John Knox, while resident abroad); or the version by the Roman Catholics of the New Testament, published at Rheims in 1582, and of the whole Bible at Douay in 1609. C
With this explanation, we may now proceed to the portion of our task which lies first before us, taking up whatever is noticeable in the use of the several
parts of speech in their natural order. 1. To begin then with the use of the Articles, definite and indefinite.
In Acts xxii. 4, we read, as spoken by St. Paul, *I persecuted this way unto the death. There is no article in the original Greek, and yet in English it has been retained from the translation of Wickliff in 1380 to the present hour. The apostle does not mean any particular death, and therefore, as Bp. Lowth observed a century ago, in his Short Introduction to English Grammar, p. 31, the definite article is improperly used in our version of the text. The same inaccuracy occurs also in 2 Chron. xxxii. 24. In those days Hezekiah was sick to the death, where there is no article in the Septuagint. And again in Revelation xii. 11. “They loved not their lives unto the death' (axpà Gavátou), which has come down not from Wickliff, like the passage in the Acts, but from Tyndale, 1534. The expression which we meet with in S. Matt. xv. 4, and S. Mark vii. Jo, and which is derived to us from Cranmer's Translation of 1539, “He that curseth
father or mother let him die the death, is to be traced no doubt to the same origin, and involves a still further deviation from the sense of the original, which is literally let him die by death' (θανάτω TEAEUTátw), and means, according to a Hebrew idiom, 'Let him certainly die.' And so we read in Levit. xx. 9, where the Septuagint has the same Greek words, he shall surely be put to death.' But now to turn to Shakspeare. He has several times used the expression to die the death ;' e. g. in Measure for Measure, Act ii. Sc. 4; in Cymbeline, Act iv. Sc. 2, and again in Midsummer Night's Dream, Act i. Sc. I, where in reply to Hermia's question what is to befall her in case she refuses to marry Demetrius, Theseus says :
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of man. There can be little doubt that our poet took the phrase ( as Steevens * observes) from the Bible ; but whether he attached the right meaning to it we cannot tell. Dr. Johnson, with less accuracy than might have been expected from him, remarks † that ‘this seems to be a solemn phrase for death inflicted by law. The simple form of expression, as first cited from the Acts, the death,' is to be found frequently in Chaucer, e.g. The deth he feeleth through his herte smite.
Cant. Tales, v. 1222.
* Vol. ix. p. 92.
Tyrwhitt has suggested that it seems to have been originally a mistaken translation of the French la mort. Shakspeare has it in King Richard II. Act iii.
* This and much more condemns you to the death, and again in King Henry V. Act iv. Sc.1, Where they feared the death, they have borne life away. Altogether the usage is a curious one. '
. Chaucer, Cant. Tales, v. 1135, uses the peine’ in
the same way.
2. The use of the Indefinite Article prefixed to plural substantives, especially nouns of number, is also one which admits of similar illustration. In S, Luke ix. 28, we read, It came to pass about an eight days after these sayings.' The questionable expression an eight days' has been retained from Tyndale's translation in 1534. In like manner we find in the Apocryphal Book, 1 Macc. iv. 15) * There were slain of them upon a three thousand men.' The same use of the indefinite article is to be met with more than once in Shakspeare. Thus in King Richard IIl. Act iii. Sc. 7, Buckingham describes Lady Grey, afterwards married to King Edward IV., as
A care-crazed mother to a many sons. See also Merchant of Venice, Act iii. Sc. 5.
3. To pass on from the article to the Noun. I am not aware that our translators of the Bible afford any example of an anomaly, or, to speak more plainly, a false concord, not unfrequent in Shak
speare, * whereby plural substantives are constructed as if singular, except in the single case of the word
means,' which, partly perhaps on account of the biblical authority in its favour, is so employed to the present day. We certify the king, write the
' adversaries of the Jews in the Book of Ezra iv. 16, ‘that if this city be builded again. ... by this means
.. thou shalt have no portion on this side the river.' Johnson, under the word “mean,' remarks, “It is often used in the plural, and by some not very grammatically with an adjective singular, as “ by this means.”' † Shakspeare seems to use the plural of this word indifferently both as singular and plural.
In like manner the two nouns of similar meaning, “tidings' and 'news,' are used by our poet as of both numbers. Thus we find in him, ' It is a tidings,' and 'this tidings, as well as these tidings;' also, 'This news is mortal,' and 'These news are everywhere. In the Bible we have these news,' i Kings i. title, and so is good news,' Prov. xxv. 25; but tidings' occurs only as plural, e.g.“these glad tidings,' Luke i. 19.
4. The formation of our genitive case, originally by the addition of the syllable ‘is,' as 'Godis
* As our remedies. lies’ in Romeo and Juliet, ii. 3 ; manners urges,' in King Lear, v. 3. See the critics upon Cymbeline, ii. 3.-Vol. viii. p. 71.
+ See also Lowth, p. 34, note.