Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

*

was formerly · Potentiam fero, geroque. It is now Commendat rarior* usus.'

Imbued as the mind of our poet was with Scriptural principles, we shall not be surprised to find that he places upon the very highest ground both the prerogative and the responsibility of kings and governors. If, on the one hand, he would warn us that

Divinity doth hedge a king; Hamlet, Act iv. Sc. 5. that

Kings are earth's gods ; Pericles, Act i. Sc. 1. and deputies,' though 'unworthy,' of God himself, King Henry VI. Act. iii. Sc. 2; that “The King's name is a tower of strength, King Richard III. Act. v. Sc. 3, even as 'the name of the Lord is a strong tower,' Prov. xviii. 10:—On the other hand, he does not fail to teach that

He who the sword of Heaven will bear,
Should be as holy as severe;

Measure for Measure, Act iii. Sc. 2. where we are reminded of S. Paul, Rom. xiii. 4.

[ocr errors]

6

From Juvenal, Sat. xi. 208.

Voluptates commendat rarior usus :' which our poet thus renders, very appropriately

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work ;
But when they seldom come, they wished for come.'

K. Henry IV. ist Part, Act i. Sc. 2. See also the quotation from his 52nd sonnet above, Pt. I. ch. i. p. 22, 'the fine point of seldom pleasure.'

In like manner, if on the one hand he teaches that there can be no security for usurped and illegitimate authority :

For though usurpers sway the rule awhile,
Yet Heavens are just, and time suppresseth wrongs :-

King Henry VI. 3rd Part, Act iii. Sc. 3. on the other hand, he warns us that the loyalty and obedience which are due to lawful governors must be duly paid; for Every subject's duty is the King's.

King Henry V. Act vi. Sc. I. That it is an unhappy thing for a country when its king is under age is a thought which might occur to many minds; but that the thought should be expressed in words so precisely parallel as those which I am about to quote could not have happened without actual contact of the mind of the one writer with the mind of the other : Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child.

Ecclesiastes, x. 16. Woe to that land that's governed by a child.

K. Richard III. Act. ii. Sc. 3. Among the countless marvels of Shakspeare's mind, it is not the least remarkable that he appears equally at home in regard to matters that must have been alien from his own experience and to those that came within it. For instance, whether he has to speak of the circumstances of peace or war, his sentiments and descriptions are equally just

a

a

*

and valuable; although of the latter he could have known nothing from personal observation. It would be beyond my purpose to enter into this subject; and I shall content myself by à general reference to King Henry V. and King Richard III. But there are two points connected with it which belong fairly to the design I have had in view, and upon which, therefore, I shall venture to add a few words. One is, that war is a punishment sent by God. So the Bible teaches, see Ezek. v. and xiv. 21. And so Shakspeare teaches, see King Henry V. Act iv. Sc. I.

War is His (God's) beadle; war is His vengeance. And again, see King Henry VI. 2nd Part, Act v. Sc. 2:

O! war, thou son of hell,
angry

Heavens do make their minister,
Throw in the frozen bosom of our part

Hot coals of vengeance! where Mr. Steevens has remarked that the last phrase is scriptural, and he quotes Psalm cxl. 10 in the Prayer Book version :

Let hot burning coals fall upon them! The other point is the lawfulness of war. This, too, the Bible teaches ; see Eccles. iii. 8, Luke iii. 14, Acts x. And so Shakspeare teaches—with the just and necessary provision— if the cause be good.' See King Henry V. Act. iv. Sc. I. In

Whom

* This clause is omitted by Mr. Bowdler.

R

further proof of this point, the reader may consult a sermon* preached by Bishop Andrewes before Queen Elizabeth, at Richmond, in 1609, at what time the Earl of Essex was going forth upon the expedition for Ireland, to quell the insurrection excited by the Earl of Tyrone-a sermon, therefore, which our poet might have heard ; although, as I have said, we have no reason to suppose that he took part in that or any other warlike expedition.

Sect. 16. Of Death, the Intermediate State, and

Day of Judgment. In the famous soliloquy of Hamlet, ‘To be, or not to be,' when he comes to speak of

The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns,

Act iii. Sc. I. Mr. Douce suspects, not without reason, that Job x.

, 21, was present to our poet's mind :

I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death.

And here let me introduce an observation which has occurred, I doubt not, to the minds of many of my readers in the course of this and the preceding chapter.

There can be little doubt that our forefathers, in

* Bp. Andrewes' Works, vol. i. pp. 321-337.

and before Shakspeare's time, and even Shakspeare himself, derived, not altogether unprofitably, some portion of their knowledge of Holy Scripture from the exhibitions of religious plays, called miracles, or mysteries; and consequently that much which would strike us now-a-days as irreverent, or at best of questionable propriety, when spoken upon the stage, did not appear to them in the same light. I imagine that when Justice Shallow observed to Silence, his brother justice, Death, as the Psalmist saith, is certain to all; all shall die ;

King Henry IV. and Part, Act iii. Sc. 2. neither the author nor the actor would be conscious of any irreverence in thus introducing the Psalmist's name; but times are changed, and Mr. Bowdler, by omitting the clause printed in italics, gives us to understand that now it cannot with propriety be read' even in a family!'

Together with the certainty of death, the Psalmist also teaches us that the rich man shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth, neither shall his pomp

follow him ; ' xlix. 17. And the apostle, that “As we brought nothing into this world, so it is certain we can carry nothing out;' 1 Tim. vi. 7. Their words require no confirmation; and yet the great Earl of Warwick is well chosen to speak as follows when he comes to die :

Lo, now my glory smeared in dust and blood !
My parks, my walks, my manors that I had,

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinua »