Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

phlets: "Whether," says he, speaking of hell, "it be a place of horror, stench, and darkness, where men see meat, but can get none, and are ever thristy." *

Heywood in his "Hierarchie of Angels," and Milton in his "Paradise Lost," have adopted Claudio's description of the infernal abode with regard to the interchange of heat and cold; the picture which the latter has drawn completely fills up the outline of Shakspeare:

"Beyond ———— a frozen continent

Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storms
Of whirlwind and dire hail

Thither by harpy-footed furies hal'd,

At certain revolutions, all the damn'd

Are brought; and feel by turns the bitter change
Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,
From beds of raging fire, to starve in ice

Their soft ethereal warmth, and there to pine
Immovable, infix'd, and frozen round,

Periods of time, thence hurried back to fire."

The Platonic doctrine or superstition relative to the harmony of the spheres, and of the human soul, was a favourite embellishment, both in prose and poetry, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Spenser, Shakspeare, Hooker, Milton, have all adopted it as a mode of illustration, and it forms, in the works of our great Dramatist, one of his most splendid and beautiful passages:

"How sweet the moon-light sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness, and the night,
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Sit, Jessica Look, how the floor of heaven

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold;

There's not the smallest orb, which thou behold'st,
But in his motion like an angel sings,

Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins:
Such harmony is in immortal souls;

But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

Merchant of Venice, act iii. sc. 1.

The opinion of Plato, as expressed in the tenth book of his "Republic" S and in his "Timæus," represents the music of the spheres as so rapid, sweet, and variously inflected, as to exceed all power in the human ear to measure its proportions, and consequently it is not to be heard of man, while resident in this fleshly mould. The same species of harmony is averred by Hooker** and Shakspeare to reside in the human soul; but, says the latter, "whilst this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close this music in, we cannot hear it:" that is, whilst the soul is immured in the body, it is neither conscious of its own harmony, nor of that existing in the spheres ; but no sooner shall it be freed from this incumbrance, and become a pure spirit, than it shall be sensible both to its own concord of sweet sounds, and to that diapason or concentus which is addressed by the nine muses or syrens to the Supreme Being,

"That undisturbed song of pure concent,

Aye sung before the sapphire-colour'd throne,

To Him that sits thereon."+t

Of the various superstitions relative to the Moon, which prevailed in the days of Shakspeare, a few are still retained. The most common is that founded on the

* Pierce Penniless, his Supplication to the Devil, 1595. Paradise Lost, book ii. 1'587, et seq.

Folio, 1635. p. 345.

§ Ex Tao@v de, &c. De Republ. lib. 1. p. 520, Ludg. 1590. Vide Todd's Milton, vol. vii. p. 53. ***Such notwithstanding, is the force there of (musical harmony), and so pleasing effects it hath in that very part of man which is most divine, that some have been thereby induced to think, that the soul itself by nature is or hath in it harmony "-Fifth Book of Ecclesiastical Polity, published singly in 1597. 44 Todd's Milton, vol. vii. p. 53.

idea of a human creature being imprisoned in this beautiful planet. The culprit was generally supposed to be the sinner recorded in Numbers, chap. xv. v. 32., who was found gathering sticks upon the sabbath day; a crime to which Chaucer has added the iniquity of theft; for he describes, this singular inhabitant as "Bearing a bush of thornes on his backe,

Which for his theft might clime no ner the heven."*

The Italians, however, appropriate this luminary for the residence of Cain, and one of their early poets even speaks of the planet under the term of "Caino e le spine." Shakspeare, with his usual attention to propriety of character, attributes a belief in this superstition to the monster Caliban:

"Calib. Hast thou not dropped from heaven?

Steph. Out o'the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man in the moon, when time was.
Cal. I have seen thee in her, and I do adore thee;
My mistress shewed me thee, thy dog and bush."

Tempest, act iii. sc. 1.

The influence of the moon over diseases bodily and intellectual; its virtue in all magical rites; its appearances as predictive of evil and good, and its power over the weather and over many of the minor concerns of life, such as the gathering of herbs, the killing of animals for the table, etc. etc. were much more firmly and universally accredited in the sixteenth century than at present; although we must admit, that traces of all these credulities may still be found; and that in medical science, the doctrine of lunar influence still, and to a certain extent perhaps with probability, exists.

Shakspeare addresses the moon as the "sovereign mistress of true melancholy;"‡ tells us, that when "she comes more near to the earth than she was wont," she "makes men mad;" S and that, when she is "pale in her anger-rheumatic diseases do abound."** He tells us, also, through the medium of Hecate, that

"Upon the corner of the moon

There hangs a vaporous drop profound,"

of power to compel the obedience of infernal spirits; †† and that its eclipses,‡‡ its sanguine colour, SS and its apparent multiplication, are certain prognostics

of disaster.

[ocr errors]

To kill hogs, to collect herbs, and to sow seed, when the moon was increasing, was deemed a most essential observance; the bacon was better, the plants more effective, and the crops more abundant in consequence of this attention. Implicit confidence was also placed in the new moon as a prognosticator of the weather, according to its position, or the curvature of its horns; and it was hailed by blessings and supplications; the women especially, both in England and Scotland, were accustomed to curtesy to the new moon, and on the first night of its appearance the unmarried part of the sex would frequently, sitting astride on a gate or stile, invoke its influence in the following curious terms:

"All hail to the Moon, all hail to thee,

I prithee good moon declare to me,
This night who my husband shall be.”

The credulity of the country was particularly directed at this period, including the close of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century, towards the numerous relations of the existence of monsters of various kinds; and Shakspeare, who more than any other poet availed himself of the superstitious follies of his time, hath repeatedly both introduced, and satirized, these objects,

• Chalmers's English Poets, vol. i. p. 296. col. 1.
Antony and Cleopatra, act iv. sc. 9.
Midsummer Night's Dream, act ii. sc. 2.
# Lear, act i. sc. 2.; Othello, act v. sc. 2.
*** K. John, act iv. sc. 2.

+ Dante's Inferno, cant. xx.

§ Othello, act v. sc. 2.

+ Macbeth, act iii. sc. 5.

68 Richard the Second, act ii. sc. 4

as articles of, and exciters of the popular belief. His Caliban, a monster of his own creation, and, poetically considered, one of the most striking products of his imagination, will be noticed at length in another place, and we shall here confine ourselves to his description of the monsters which, as objects of historical record, had lately become the theme of credulous wonder and general speculation. Othello, in his speech before the senators, familiarly alludes to

"the Cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders : "

and Gonzaga, in the Tempest, exclaims:

Act i. sc. 3.

[blocks in formation]

These monsters, and many others, which had been described in the editions of Maundeville's Travels, published by Wynkyn De Worde and Pynson in 14991503, etc. were revived, with fresh claims to belief, by the voyagers and natural historians of the poet's age. In 1581, Professor Batman 'printed his "Doome, warning all men to the judgmente," in which not only the Anthropophagi, who eat man's flesh, are mentioned, but various other races, such as the OEthiopes with four eyes, the Hippopodes, with their nether parts like horses, the Arimaspi with one eye in the forehead, etc. etc., and to these he adds "men called Monopoli, who have no head, but a face in their breaste." In 1596 these marvels were corroborated by Sir Walter Ralegh's "Discoverie of Guiana," an empire, which, he affirms, was productive of a similar generation; and Hackluyt, in 1598, tells us that, 66 on that branch which is called Caora, are a nation of a people whose heades appeare not above their shoulders: they are reported to have their eyes in their shoulders, and their mouthes in the middle of their breasts."

[ocr errors]

With the mere English scholar, classical authority was given to these tales by Philemon Holland's Translation of Pliny's Natural History in 1601, where are the following description both of the Anthropophagi and of the men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders:

"The Anthropophagi or eaters of man's flesh whom we have placed about the North pole, tenne daies journey by land above the river Borysthenes, use to drinke out of the sculs of men's heads, and to weare the scalpes, baire and all, in steed of mandellions or stomachers before their breasts." "The Blemmyi, by report, have no heads, but mouth and eies both in their breast ;" and again, "beyond these westward, some there bee without heads standing upon their neckes, who carrie eies in their shoulders."

[ocr errors]

It is, also, very probable that the attention of Shakspeare was still further drawn to these headless monsters by the labours of the engraver; for in Este's edition of Maundeville's Travels, an attempt is made to delineate one of these deformities, who is represented with the eyes, nose, and mouth situated on the breast and stomach; and in a translation of Ralegh's Guiana into Latin, by Hulse, in 1599, a similar plate is given. ++

That our author viewed this partiality in the public mind for wonders and

Doome, p. 389.

The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empire of Guiana, with a relation of the Great and Golden Citie of Manoa, which the Spaniards call El Dorado. Performed in 1595, by Sir W. Ralegh. Im printed at London by Rob. Robinson, 1596.]

The Historie of the World. Commonly called, The Natural Historie of C. Plinius Secundus. Trans lated into English by Philemon Holland, Doctor in Physicke. London, printed by Adam Islip. 1601. vol. i p. 154. book vii. chap. 2.

Holland's Pliny, vol. i. p. 96. book v. chap. 8.

** Ibid. p. 156.

The title of this work is. "Brevis et admiranda Descriptio Regni Guianæ, auri abundantissimi, in America." It is accompanied by a map, engraved by Hondius, on which are drawn men hunting, with

their heads beneath their shoulders.

[ocr errors][merged small]

strange spectacles, with a smile of contempt, and was willing to seize an opportunity for ridiculing the mania, appears evident from a passage in his Tempest, where Trinculo, discovering Caliban extended on the ground, supposes him to be a species of fish, and observes, "Where I in England now (as once I was) and had but this fish painted, not a holiday fool there but would give a piece of silver : there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man: when they will not give a doit to relieve a lame beggar, they will lay out ten to see a dead Indian."—Act i. sc. 2.

Wild Indians, curious fishes, and crocodiles seem to have been singularly numerous in London at this epoch, having been brought thither by several of our enterprising navigators; and by those who crowded from every part of the country to view them, many superstitious marvels were connected with their natural history. Of three or four savages which Frobisher took in his first voyage, one, we are told," for very choler and disdain bit his tong in twaine within his mouth: notwithstanding he died not thereof, but lived untill he came in Englande, and then he died of colde, which he had taken at sea;"* the survivors, there is every reason to suppose, were exhibited; for in the year 1577, there was entered on the books of the Stationers' Company, "A description of the portrayture and shape of those strange kinde of people which the worthie Mr. Martin Fourbosier brought into England in A° 1576;" and Mr Chalmers relates, that "Lord Southampton, and Sir Francis Gorges, engaging in voyages of discovery, sent out, in 1611, two vessels under the command of Harlie, and Nicolas, who sailed along the New England coast, where they were sometimes well, and often ill, received, by the natives; and returned to England, in the same year, with five savages on board. In 1614, Captain Smith carried out to New England one of those savages, named Tantum; Captains Harlie and Hopson transported, in the same year, two others of those savages, called Epenow, and Manawet; one of those savages adventured to the European continent; and the fifth Indian, of whom no account is given, we may easily suppose died in London, and was exhibited for a show." †

We learn from a publication of Churchyard's in 1578, that Frobisher's crew found a "straunge fish dead, that had been caste from the sea on the shore, who had a boane in his head like an Unicorne, which they brought awaye and presented to our Prince, when thei came home;" ‡ and from the Stationers' Books, that, in 1604, an account was printed" of a monstrous fish, that appeared in the form of a woman from her waist upward, seene in the sea." S That the credulity of the public in Elizabeth's days was remarkably great in swallowing the most marvellous details in natural history, is proved by a curious scene in the "City Match" of Jasper Mayne, which, though first acted in 1639, refers to the age of Elizabeth, as to a period fertile in these wondrous exhibitions. A set of knaves are described as hanging out the picture of a strange fish, which they affirm is the fifth they have shown; and the following dialogue takes place relative to the inscription on the place which included the monster :

"Holland. Pray, can you read that ? Sir, I warrant That tells where it was caught, and what fish 'tis. Plotwell. Within this place is to be seen,

A wonderous fish. God save――the Queen.

Frobisher's First Voyage for the Discoverie of Cataya, 4to. 1578. +Chaimers's Apology, p. 586.

Prayse and Reporte of Maister Martyne Forboisher's Voyage to Meta Incognita, &c. bl. 1. 12mo. 1578. The existence of mermaids has, within these few years, been asserted by numerous testimonies; some of which are so clear, minute, and respectable, as to stagger the most sceptical. It is not only possible, but form the evidence alluded to it appears indeed somewhat probable, that a creature partially resembling the human form exists in the ocean, and occasionally, though rarely, approaches so near the shore as to become an object of wonder and superstitious horror. The sea round the Isle of Man was formerly reputed to abound in these monsters, which were conceived to be of two kinds, the one malignant, the other benevolent and kind.

Hol. Amen! She is my customer, and I

Have sold her bone-lace often.

Bright. Why the Queen? 'Tis writ the King.

Plot. That was to make the rhime.

Bright. 'Slid, thou did'st read it as twere some picture of

An Elizabeth-fish."*

A boy is then introduced, who sings a song upon the fish, commencing with these lines:

"We show no monstrous crocodile,

Nor any prodigy of Nile;"†

which again alludes to the monster-loving propensities of good Queen Bess's subjects; for Batman in his work upon Bartholome, published in 1582, says,—“ Of late years there hath been brought into England the cases or skinnes of such crocodiles, to be seene, and much money given for the sight thereof; the policy of strangers," he adds, in the spirit of Shakspeare," laugh at our folly, either that we are too wealthy, or else that we know not how to bestow our money;"‡ and Bullokar, in his "English Expositor of 1616," confirms the charge by telling us, that a dead crocodile," but in perfect forme," and nine feet long, had lately been exhibited in London, a fact to which he annexes the following tradition:

"It is written," he remarks," that he will weep over a man's head when he hath devoured the body, and then he will eat up the head too. Wherefore-cro- ve codiles tears signifie such tears as are fained, and spent only with intent to deceive or doe harme." Of this superstition Shakspeare has made a poetical use in two of his dramas: Margaret in Henry VI. Part 2. complains that Gloucester ‹ le beguiles the king,

[blocks in formation]

and Othello, execrating the supposed duplicity of Desdemona, exclaims,

"If that the earth could teem with woman's tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile."

Act iv. sc. 2.

Many superstitions relative to the Dying existed at this time, among all ranks of people, and a few of these have been preserved by our poet. One of the most general was built on the belief, that Satan, or some of his infernal host, watched the death-bed of every individual, and, if impenitence or irreligion appeared, immediately took possession of the soul. The death-scene of Cardinal Beaufort is an admirable exemplification of this appalling idea; Henry is appealing to the Almighty in behalf of the agonised sinner, and utters the following pious pe tition :

"O thou eternal Mover of the heavens,
Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch!

O, beat away the busy meddling fiend

That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul,

And from his bosom purge this black despair! " Act iii. sc. 3.

The powerful delineation of this scene from the pencil of Sir Joshua Reynolds, in which the" meddling fiend" is personified in all his terrors, must be considered in strict accordance with the credulity of the age; for "in an ancient manuscript book of devotions," relates Mr. Douce," written in the reign of Henry VI., there is a prayer addressed to Saint George, with the following very singular passage: Judge for me whan the moste hedyous and damnable dragons of helle shall be redy to take my poore soule and engloute it in to theyr infernall belyes;"§ and the books on demonology and spirits, written in the reigns of Elizabeth and

[ocr errors]

• Ancient British Drama, vol. ii. p. 377, 378. Batman upon Bartholome, p. 359.

+Ibid. p. 379.

§ Douce's Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 20.

the

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »