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turn to Hamlet's philosophical character-we may reasonably conclude from (among other proofs) a sentiment which he assigns to Troilus, and which sufficiently indicates belief in the essential and objective character of moral truth :
We may not think the justness of each act
Troilus and Cressida, Act ii. Sc. 2. Nor was this beyond what was to be expected from a heathen. Shakspeare might have remembered the Ovidian distich :
Careat successibus, opto, Quisquis ab eventu facta probanda putet. The proverb that Sorrows never come single is one which I am tempted to recur* to in passing, on account of the felicitous and at the same time varied forms in which our author has expressed it. Thus, in Hamlet :
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
Act iv. Sc. 5.
One woe doth tread upon another's heel,
Ibid. Sc. 7. doubtful. Johnson's interpretation is much more satisfactory; I am inclined to think that Hamlet, in his morbid state of mind, means to say, that since we can attain to no true knowledge in this life-since no man really knows about anything which goes on in this world--secretly alluding to the plausible, but most wicked,
— character and doings of his uncle-'to leave (it) betimes' can be no great loss. In short we neither know what is here, nor, as he has remarked elsewhere, what is to be hereafter. See his famous soliloquy in Act iii. Sc. 1, alluded to below, p. 224.
See above, p. 132.
Again in Pericles, Prince of Tyre :
One sorrow never comes, but brings an heir
Act i. Sc. 4. But however thick misfortunes may come upon us, the same author who thus leads us to expect them, has not failed to prescribe, no less plainly and frequently, the remedy which a Christian knows it is his duty to apply, when occasion requires, in his
When news is brought to King Henry VI. that he is utterly bereft of all that the English crown had possessed in France, his reply is :Cold news, Lord Somerset; but God's will be done !
King Henry VI. 2nd Part, Act iii. Sc. I. When Brandon announces
to the Duke of Buckingham that he is arrested for high treason, and must go as a prisoner to the Tower, his reply
The will of Heaven
King Henry VIII. Act i. Sc. I. To his mother, the Duchess of York, in her affliction for the death of her sons (King Edward IV. and the Duke of Clarence), the Marquess of Dorset thus administers consolation, founded upon the well-known passage in the Book of Job, i. 21.
Comfort, dear mother; God is much displeased
take with unthankfulness his doing ; In common worldly things 'tis called-ungrateful, With dull unwillingness to repay a debt, Which with a bounteous hand was kindly lent;
Much more to be thus opposite with Heaven,
King Richard III. Act ii. Sc. 2. Finally, it is left to a heathen to teach the elementary lessont that no distresses or afflictions, however many or great, should be allowed to provoke us into destruction of the life, of which, as no one (except by just authority) can lawfully deprive us, so neither can we lawfully deprive ourselves :
Gloster. You ever gentle gods, take my breath from me; Let not my worser I spirit tempt me again To die before you please.
King Lear, Act iv. Sc. 6. Even in the mouth of Brutus (who is eventually represented as putting an end to his own life, $ much as King Saul had done, and as Antony afterwards did), our poet has ventured to place substantially the same sentiment :
Cassius. If we do lose this battle, then is this
Brutus. Even by the rule of that philosophy
* i.e. Because.
+ See above, p. 129. I See above, p. 20.
§ See above, p. 129. ll i.e. to anticipate the full, appointed time. See above, Pt. I. ch. ii.
I i. e. stay for, wait upon.
Sect. 14. Of Holy Scripture, the Christian
Ministry, and Church Membership. For Shakspeare's own estimation of Holy Scripture, we have no occasion to look beyond the evidence contained in every page of the present volume. To him, I doubt not, it was—what it is to every faithful reader—the Word of God unto Salvation. His habitual regard for its authority may be traced in language such as that which he has put into the mouth of Iago :
Trifles light as air
As proofs of Holy Writ. Othello, Act iii. Sc. 3. At the same time, the age in which he lived would not suffer him to be ignorant how liable men are, from various causes, to pervert God's Word, and give to it a meaning which it was never meant to convey.
it with a text
Merchant of Venice, Act iii. Sc. 2. And again, his own study of the Bible had discovered to him how much judgment and caution are required in reconciling and adjusting texts which, though susceptible of perfect harmony, to a hasty
* Justify it.
and superficial reader may appear discordant, or even contradictory. When King Richard II. is confined in the dungeon of Pomfret Castle, he amuses himself by comparing his prison to the world, and he imagines his own thoughts to form the population, which is necessary to give verisimilitude to the comparison :
And these same thoughts (are, he says,]
K. Richard II. Act iv. Sc. 5. The three last lines are omitted by Mr. Bowdler. Surely they savour of no irreverence; and, when taken with the context, they point not unprofitably to difficulties and dangers which every reader of the Scriptures must expect to encounter, and which every well-disposed and well-instructed reader will be enabled to overcome.
And as no intentional irreverence towards Holy Scripture, often as he quotes or refers to it, is to be found in our poet's works, so neither does he ever allow himself to speak of the ministers of religion, as other play-writers have done, with disrespect,
* See Matt. xi. 28.
+ See Matt. xix. 24.