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my days as it were a span long,' xxxix. 5, P. B. version, so we read in As you like it,
How brief the life of man!
Act iii. Sc. 2. Such, then, being our life-so short-how nobly apposite to us all are the words of Hotspur !
O gentlemen, the time of life is short;
K. Kenry IV., 1st Part, Act v. Sc. 3. And in truth it does so, in the estimate of a wise man. Again, such being our life-so transitory, so uncertain-to'fear always,'* to 'watch and pray always,' are Divine precepts, which need nothing to recommend them to a thoughtful mind. Even a heathen poet like Horace saw reason more than enough for unceasing caution and watchfulness :
Quod quisque vitet, nunquam homini satis
And it is Hecate who, in addressing the three witches, is made by Shakspeare to declare :
You all know security +
Macbeth, Act iii. Sc. 5.
* See Prov. xxviii. 14; xxiii. 17. + See above, p. 42.
I In As you like it, Act ii. Sc. 7. See also Merchant of Venice, Act i. Sc. 1; Macbeth, Act v. Sc. 7.
described by Shakspeare as a stage,' was doubtless derived from no other source than imagination acting upon his own experience as a player; but the elaborate and melancholy, not to say painful picture of life, which we read in Measure for Measure, is no less certainly indebted to the Bible for more than one touch of its colouring. The Duke, disguised as a friar, visits Claudio in prison, when condemned to death, and thus addresses him :
Reason thus with life,-
Happy thou art not:
+ Thou hast nor youth nor age;
* Thus I venture to read, instead of dost' (which Hanmer changed into do '), in preference to Porson's suggestion of putting the line above in a parenthesis. I take ‘doth’ to be the plural form, which anciently was in common use; as in ‘Manners makyth man.' Compare Much Ado, etc., Act iv. Sc. 1 :
Trust not my reading nor my observations
Which with experimental seal doth warrant, etc. + In the lines here omitted there is an evident reference to 2 Sam. xvi. 11, “My son which came forth of my bowels, see keth my life.'
But as it were an after dinner's sleep,
Act iii. Sc. I. Malone has remarked upon this passage that 'an ass bearing ingots' is an eastern image, and was probably derived from the Scriptures. See Isaiah xxx. 6. But however gloomy the view which our poet might sometimes take of human life, he does not allow us to hesitate respecting the duty imposed upon every man that lives, to do all he can to preserve the precious gift which God has given him.
The single and peculiar life is bound,
To keep itself from 'noyance. Hamlet, Act iii. Sc. 3. And there is nothing in which he is more emphatic than in representing the act of suicide as a direct violation of the Divine law; first, in that same play
O! that the Everlasting had not fix'd
Act i. Sc, 2. Again in Cymbeline :
Act iii. Sc. 4. I am not aware that such a prohibition is to be found in Holy Scripture;* and in the latter of these plays any reference to Revelation would have been out of place. The 'canon,' therefore, to which our poet refers must be one of natural religion; and this
* Unless it be in the Sixth Commandment. See below, Addit. Illustr. p. 367, and comp. K. John, Act ii. Sc. I, where canon' is used in reference to the Second Commandment.
is confirmed by a similar sentiment being attributed to Gloster in King Lear, and to Brutus in Julius Cæsar,* though, in the latter case, with something of subsequent appearance of contradiction in word, and still more of inconsistency in deed. That such an one as Cleopatra is represented should first call in question the law, and then pronounce it noble to disobey it, is in perfect harmony with her bold bad character:
Is it sin
What's brave, what's noble,
Ant. and Cleop., Act iv. Sc. 13. and again :
It is great
Ibid., Act v. Sc. 2. I must not omit to add that great and various as are the merits of Romeo and Juliet, the pleasure and admiration excited by that play, and the interest felt in the hero and heroine, are all marred in some degree by the suicide which they both commit,t being Christians, and shortly after they had been united in holy matrimony
See below, Sect. 13, p. 237 sq. + I am surprised that this should have been overlooked by so acute and sound a critic as Schlegel, who speaks of them as 'still appearing enviable in their deaths.
Sect. 5. Of Sin and Repentance. I have already spoken of the cause of sin, and of its existence, both original and actual, as universal. It follows to trace it in its operation, and then to speak of its necessary corrective-so far as the correction of it lies within our own power and agency-viz., Repentance.
The subtlety of the Tempter, and the craft with which he adapts his temptations, so that he may bring evil out of good, and that virtue itself may be made to minister to sin, for the overthrow of those who could not otherwise be assailed, is very forcibly expressed in Measure for Measure:
01 cunning enemy, that to catch a saint,
Act ii. Sc. 2. It was thus that the beloved apostle was tempted to worship the angel, who had shown him, in the Revelation, the things which he had seen and heard (xxii. 8); and countless multitudes of Christians have since been tempted only too successfully to worship the Virgin Mary and other saints, because they remembered not the injunction given on that occasion to S. John, 'See thou do it not!'
In like manner we are warned of the danger of entering upon evil courses from the insecurity which attends them, from the distraction and instability