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With a still higher degree of anxiety, curiosity, and terror, does Hamlet, as might naturally be expected, invoke the spirit of his father; his address being wrought up to the highest tone of amazement and emotion, and clothed with the most vigorous expression of poetry:
Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn'd," &c.
Act i. sc. 4.
The doubts and queries of this most impressive speech are similar to those which are allowed to be entertained, and directed to be put, by contemporary writers on the subject of apparitions. Thus the English Lavaterus enjoins the person so visited to charge the spirit to "declare and open what he is-who he is, why he is come, and what he desireth;" saying,-"Thou Spirite, we beseech thee by Christ Jesus, tell us what thou art;" and he then orders him to enquire, "What man's soul he is? for what cause he is come, and what he doth desire? Whether he require any ayde by prayers and suffrages? Whether by massing or almes-giving he may be released?" etc., etc.*
In pursuance of the same judicious plan of adopting the popular conceptions, and giving them dignity and effect, by that philosophy of the supernatural which has been remarked as so peculiarly the gift of Shakspeare,+ we find him employing, in these scenes of super-human interference, the traditional notions of his age, relative to the influence of approaching light on departed spirits, as intimated by the crowing of the cock, and the fading lustre of the glow-worm. One of the passages which have so admirably immortalized these superstitions, contains also another not less striking, concerning the supposed sanctity and protecting power of the nights immediately previous to Christmas-Day. On the sudden departure of the Spirit, Bernardo remarks,
exclaims the apparition on retiring from the presence of his son,
"The glow-worm shows the matins to be near,
Act i. sc. 5.
This idea of spirits flying the approach of morning, appears from the hymn of "Prudentius," quoted by Bourne, to have been entertained by the Christian world as early as the commencement of the fourth century; but a passage still more closely allied to the lines in Shakspeare, has been adduced by Mr. Douce, from a hymn composed by Saint Ambrose, and formerly used in the Salisbury service."It so much resembles," he observes, "Horatio's speech, that one might almost suppose Shakspeare had seen them :
"Preco diei jam sonat,
Noctis profundæ pervigil;
**Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght,” Parte the Seconde, p. 106, 107. 4to. B. L. 1572. From the chapter entitled, "The Papistes doctrine touching the soules of dead men, and the appearing of
Madame De Stael observes, "there is always something philosophical in the supernatural employed by Shakspeare." The Influence of Literature on Society, vol. i. p. 297.
Antiquitates Vulgares apud Brand, p. 68.—It has been observed by Mr. Steevens, that “this is a very event superstition. Philostratus, giving an account of the apparition of Achilles' shade to Apollonius Iyaneus, says that it vanished with a little glimmer as soon as the cock crowed." Vit. Apol. iv. 16.
Hoc excitatus Lucifer,
Hoc omnis errorum chorus
Gallo canente spes redit, &c." *
"The epithets extravagant and erring," he adds, "are highly poetical and appropriate, and seem to prove that Shakspeare was not altogether ignorant of the Latin language."
With what awful and mysterious grandeur has he invested the Popish doctrine of purgatory! a doctrine certainly well calculated for poetical purposes, and of which the particulars must have been familiar to him, through the writings of his contemporaries. Thus the English Lavaterus, detailing the opinions of the Roman Catholics on this subject, tells us, that
"Purgatorie is also under the earth as Hell is. Some say that Hell and Purgatorie are both one place, albeit the paines be divers according to the deserts of soules. Furthermore they say, that under the earth there are more places of punishment in which the soules of the dead may be purged. For they say, that this or that soule hath ben seene in this or that mountaine, floud, or valley, where it hath committed the offence that there are particuler Purgatories assigned unt them for some special cause, before the day of Judgement, after which time all maner of Purgatories, as well general as particuler shal cease. Some of them say, that the paine of Purgatorie is
al one with the punishment of Hell, and that they differ only in this, that the one bath an ende, the other no ende and that it is far more easie to endure all the paynes of this worlde, which al men since Adam's time have susteined, even unto the day of the last Judgement, than to bear one dayes space the least of those two punishments. Further they holde that our fire, if it be compared with the fire of Purgatorie, doth resemble only a painted fire." †
From this temporary place of torment, he informs us, that,
By Gods licence and dispensation, certaine, yea before the day of Judgement, are permitted to come out, and that not for ever, but only for a season, for the instructing and terrifying of the lyving:"—and again :- Many times in the nyght season, there have beene certaine spirits hearde softely going--who being asked what they were, have made auns were that they were the soules of this or that man, and that they nowe endure extreame tormentes. If by chaunce
any man did aske of them, by what meanes they might be delivered out of those tortures, they have answered, that in case a certaine numbre of Masses were sung for them, or Pilgrimages vowed to some Saintes, or some other such like deedes doone for their sake, that then surely they shoulde be delivered,"
Never was the art of the poet more discoverable, than in the use which has been made of this doctrine in the play before us, and more particularly in the fol lowing narrative, which instantly seizes on the mind, and fills it with that indefinite kind of terror that leads to the most horrid imaginings :
Act i. sc. 5.
In this hazardous experiment, of placing before our eyes a spirit from the world of departed souls, no one has approached, by many degrees, the excellence of our poet. The shade of Darius, in the Persians of Eschylus, has been satisfactorily shown, by a critic of great ability, to be far inferior; nor can the ghosts of Ossian, who is justly admired for delineations of this kind, be brought into competition with the Danish spectre; neither the Grecian, nor the Celtic mythology, indeed, allording materials equal, in point of impression, to those which existed for the English bard. We may also venture to affirm, that the management of Shakspeare, in the disposition of his materials, from the first shock which the sentinels receive, to that which Hamlet sustains in the closet of his mother, is perfectly
"See Expositio bymnorum secundum usum Sarum, pr. by R. Pynson, n. d., 4to. fol. vij. ho*
Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght," 1572. The seconde parte, chap ii. p. 103.
The seconde parte, chap. ii. p. 104; and The first parte, chap. xv. p. 72.
See Montagu on the Preternatural Beings of Shakspeare, in her Essay.
unrivalled, and, more than any other, calculated to excite the highest degree of interest, pity, and terror.
It is likewise no small proof of judgment in our poet, that he has only once attempted to unveil, in this direct manner, the awful destiny of the dead, and to embody, as it were, at full length, a missionary from the grave; for the ghost of Banquo, and the spectral appearances in Julius Cæsar and Richard the Third, are slight and powerless sketches, when compared with the tremendous visitation in Hamlet, beyond which no human imagination can ever hope to pass.*
Observations on King John ; on All's Well that Ends Well; on King Henry the Fifth ; on Much Ado about Nothing; on As You Like It; on Merry Wives of Windsor; on Troilus and Cressida ; on Henry the Eighth; on Timon of Athens; on Measure for Measure; on King Lear; on Cymbeline; on Macbeth- Dissertation on the Popular Belief in Witchcraft during the Age of Shakspeare, and on his Management of this Superstition in the Tragedy of Macbeth.
WE are well aware, that, to many of our readers, the chronological discussion incident to a new arrangement, will be lamented as tedious and uninteresting; the more so, as nothing absolutely certain can be expected as the result. That this part of our subject, therefore, may be as compressed as possible, we shall, in future, be very brief in offering a determination between the decisions of the two previous chronologers, reserving a somewhat larger space for the few instances in which it may be thought necessary to deviate from both.
Of the plays enumerated by Meres, in September, 1598, only two remain to be noticed in this portion of our work, namely, King John and Love's Labour's Wonne:
16. KING JOHN: 1598. Mr. Chalmers having detected some allusions in this play to the events of 1597, in addition to those which Mr. Malone had accurately referred to the preceding year, it becomes necessary, with the former of these gentlemen, to assign its production to the spring of 1598.
If King John, as a whole, be not entitled to class among the very first rate compositions of our author, it can yet exhibit some scenes of superlative beauty and effect, and two characters supported with unfailing energy and consistency. The bastard Faulconbridge, though not perhaps a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and wordly-minded in his conduct to excite much of our esteem, has, notwithstanding, so large a portion of the very spirit of Plantagenet in him, so much heroism, gaiety, and fire in his constitution, and, in spite of his owed accommodation to the times, such an open and undaunted turn of mind, that we cannot refuse him our admiration, nor, on account of his fidelity to John, however ill-deserved, our occasional sympathy and attachment. The alacrity and intrepidity of his daring spirit are nobly supported to the very last, where we ind him exerting every nerve to rouse and animate the conscience-stricken soul f the tyrant.
In the person of Lady Constance, Maternal Grief, the most interesting passion f the play, is developed in all its strength; the picture penetrates to the inmost eart, and seared must those feelings be, which can withstand so powerful an ppeal; for all the emotions of the fondest affection, and the wildest despair, all he rapid transitions of anguish, and approximating phrenzy, are wrought up into he scene with a truth of conception which rivals that of nature herself.
It has been asserted by Gildon, but upon what foundation does not appear, that Shakspeare wrote the cene of the Ghost in Hamlet, in the church-yard bordering on his house at Stratford,
The innocent and beauteous Arthur, rendered doubly attractive by the sweetness of his disposition and the severity of his fate, is thus described by his doating mother:
"But thou art fair, and at thy birth, dear boy!
Act iii. sc. 1.
When he is captured, therefore, and imprisoned by John, and consequently, scaled for destruction, who but Shakspeare could have done justice to the agonising sorrows of the parents? Her invocation to death, and her address to Pandulph, paint maternal despair with a force which no imagination can augment, and of! which the tenderness and pathos have never been exceeded :
Act iii. sc. 4.
Independent of the scenes which unfold the striking characters of Constance and Faulconbridge, there are two others in this play which may vie with any thing that Shakspeare has produced; namely, the scene between John and Hubert, and that between Hubert and Arthur. The former, where the usurper obscurely intimates to Hubert his bloody wishes, is conducted in so masterly a manner, that we behold the dark and turbulent soul of John lying naked before us in ali its deformity, and shrinking with fear even from the enunciation of its own vile purpose; "it is one of the scenes," as Mr. Steevens has well observed, "to which may be promised a lasting commendation. Art could add little to its perfection; and time itself can take nothing from its beauties."
The scene with Hubert and the executioners, where the hapless Arthur supplicates for mercy, almost lacerates the heart itself; and is only rendered supportable by the tender and alleviating impression which the sweet innocence and artless eloquence of the poor child fix with indelible influence on the mind. Well may it be said, in the language of our poet, that he who can behold this scene without the gushing tribute of a tear,
"Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
Let no such man be trusted."
As for the character of John, which, from its meanness and imbecility, seems not well calculated for dramatic representation, Shakspeare has contrived, towards the close of the drama, to excite in his behalf some degree of interest and commiseration; especially in the dying scene, where the fallen monarch, in answer to the enquiry of his son as to the state of his feelings, mournfully exclaims,—
Poison'd,-ill fare;-dead, forsook, cast off."
17. ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL: 1598. There does not appear any sufficient reason for altering the date assigned to this play by Mr. Malone, whom we have, therefore, followed in preference to Mr. Chalmers, who has fixed on the succeeding year; a decision to which we have been particularly induced, independent of other circumstances, by the apparent notice of this drama by Meres, under the title of Love's Labour's Wonne, an appellation which very accurately applies to this, but to no other of our author's productions with any similar degree of pertinency. We have reason, therefore, to conclude, as nothing has hitherto been brought forward to invaliate the assumption, that Meres's title was the original designation of this comedy, and was intended by the poet as a countertitle to Love's Labour's Lost. What induced him to dismiss the first, and to adopt the present proverbial appellation, cannot positively be ascertained; but the prohability is, as Mr. Malone has remarked, that the alteration was suggested in consequence of the adage itself being found in the body of the play.
The noblest character in this comedy, which, though founded on a story somewhat too improbable, abounds both in interest and entertainment, is the good old Countess of Rousillon. Shakspeare seems to have drawn this portrait con amore, and we figure to ourselves for this amiable woman, a countenance beaming with dignity, sweetness, and sensibility, emanations from a heart which had ever responded to the impulses of love and charity. In short, her maternal affection for the gentle Helen, her piety, sound sense, and candour, call for our warmest reverence and esteem, which accompany her to the close of the representation, and follow her departure with regret.
Helen, the romantic, the love-dejected Helen, must excite in every feeling bosom a high degree of sympathy; patient suffering in the female sex, especially when resulting from ill-requited attachment, and united with modesty and beauty, cannot but be an object of interest and commiseration, and in the instance before us, these are admirably blended in
"a maid too virtuous
For the contempt of empire,
but who, unfortunately, has to struggle against the prejudices of birth, rank, and unfeeling pride, in the very man who is the object of her idolatry, and who, even after the most sacred of bonds should have cemented their destiny, flies with scorn from her embraces.
If in the infancy of her passion the error of indiscretion be attributable to Helen, how is it atoned for by the most engaging humility, by the most bewitching tenderness of heart: "Be not offended," she tells her noble patroness,
But when the wife of Bertram, with a resignation and self-devotedness worthy of the highest praise, she deserts the house of her mother-in-law, knowing that whilst she is sheltered there her husband will not return, how does she, becoming thus an unprotected wanderer, a pilgrim bare-foot plodding the cold ground for him who has contemned her, rise to the tone of exalted truth and heroism!
It was necessary, in order to place the character of Helen in its most interesting point of view, that Bertram should be represented as arrogant, profligate, and unfeeling; a coxcomb who to family-consequence hesitates not to sacrifice all that is manly, just, and honourable. The picture is but too true to nature, and, since the poet found such a delineation essential to the construction of his story, he has very properly taken care, though Bertram, out of tenderness to the Countess and Helena, meets not the punishment he merits, that nothing in mitigation of his folly should be produced.
To the comic portion of this drama too much praise can scarcely be given; it is singularly rich in all that characterises the wit, the drollery, and the humour of Shakspeare. The Clown is the rival of Touchstone in As You Like It; and
"Of all the characters of Shakspeare," remarks Mr. Felton, “none more resemble his best female advocate (Mrs. Montagu) than the Countess of Rousillou.”—Imperfect Hints, parti, p. 65.