Imatges de pÓgina

tical application of these principles still further, white victims only were offered to the celestial gods, and black to the infernal; and the sacrificers themselves were clothed in white or black, according to their intentions.

It is not very difficult to perceive, that from these sources originated the doctrine, that spirits had permission to range the earth by night alone. If not actually under the influence of the devil, all orders of spirits were deemed evil, at the least, for all, more or less, partook of the crime that banished them from heaven. Hence the idea of darkness was connected with their name, and hence the hours of night were assigned for their operation. An instance of Shakspeare's notice of this superstition occurred in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but in mentioning it in this play, in connection with another piece of popular credulity, the poet has shown himself more attentive to the vulgar, than the philosophic view of the subject.

Ber. " It was about to speak, when the cock crew.

Hor. And then it started like a guilty thing
Upon a fearful summons: I have heard
The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
Doth with his lofty and shrill sounding throat
Awake the god of day! and, at his warning,
Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
The extravagant and erring spirit hies

To his confine; and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.”*

All this is perfectly correct : the Ghost vanishes on the crowing of the cock, because the crowing of that animal, like the “ glow-worm,” showed “ the matin to be near."

Some say,

“ It faded on the crowing of the cock.

that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time." +

Such is, undoubtedly, the popular superstition; but, in point of reasoning, nothing can be more manifestly erroneous. Apparitions were not alarmed at the cock himself: they fled from his voice, because it indicated the approach of day, and not on account of any virtue inherent in the sound of his shrill-clarion : the holiness of the season sanctified Christmas, and bound spirits in their “confine," not the crowing of the cock! But that sound once acknowledged to be indicative of the flight of all spirits, the obtuseness of vulgar perceptions confounded the sign with the cause, and whenever spirits were sup

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posed to be absent, it was hastily concluded that the cock must crow.

The skill displayed in Shakspeare's management of his Ghost, as Steevens observed with extreme acuteness of thought and neatness of expression, is too considerable to be overlooked. He has rivetted our attention to it by a succession of forcible circumstances :- by the previous report of the terrified centinels, — by the solemnity of the hour at which the phantom walks, -by its martial stride and discriminating armour, visible only per incertam lunam, by the glimpses of the moon, — by its long taciturnity, -by its preparation to speak, when interrupted by the morning cock, -by its mysterious reserve thoughout its first scene with Hamlet, by his resolute departure with it, and the subsequent anxiety of his attendants, — by its conducting him to a solitary angle of the platform,

-by its voice from beneath the earth, - and by its unexpected burst on us in the closet.

Hamlet's interview with the spectre, in the fifth scene of the first act, must in particular be regarded as a stroke of dramatic artifice. The phantom might have told his story in the presence of the officers and Horatio, and yet have rendered itself as inaudible to them as afterterwards to the queen. But suspense was our

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poet's object; and never was it more effectually created, than in the present instance. Six times the royal semblance appeared, but till then was withheld from speaking. For this event we waited with impatient curiosity, unaccompanied by lassitude or remitted attention.





The plot of the Merry Wives of Windsor is founded on a story in Il Pecorone di Ser Giovanni, Fiorentino, which doubtless reached Shakspeare through the medium of an old translation; the same, in all probability, that

afterwards printed in a collection of novels bearing the whimsical title of “The Fortunate, the Deceived, and the Unfortunate Lovers."

A student at Bologna applies to the guide of his literary pursuits for instruction in the science of love. He fixes his affections on a beautiful woman; and, having been initiated by the pedagogue into the forms of courtship, he reports to him from time to time the progress of his suit. These disclosures at length awaken a suspicion in the master that no other person

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