Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

speare's commentators, so far as I have seen, has a word to say in illustration of the dialogue, which I am about to quote, between Lucio and the two Gentlemen, in the second scene of Measure for Measure :

1st Gent. There's not a soldier of us all that, in the thanksgiving before meat, doth relish the petition well that prays for peace.

2nd Gent. I never heard any soldier dislike it.

Lucio, I believe thee; for I think thou never wast where grace was said.

2nd Gent. No? A dozen times at least.
1st Gent. What? In metre?
Lucio. In any proportion, or in any language.*

'Proportion,' Warburton says, here signifies measure; but I rather think it means prose or verse, chant or hymn, as 'in any language' means especially, I imagine, Latin or English. However, it is of more interest to point out that the petition,

Give peace in our time, O Lord !

taken from the Versicles in the Prayer Book, before the Collect for the day, is still used, as it appears from the above passage to have been in Shakspeare's time, as part of the grace (probably from the connection between Peace and Plenty) in some of our college halls; e.g., at Winchester, at election time, the concluding portion of the grace, Post cibum, which

# Mr. Bowdler omits the two last speeches, and much more that follows-partly with and partly without sufficient reason.

N

is chanted, runs thus, being formed out of three of the said Versicles.

Fac Reginam salvam, Domine; Da pacem in diebus nostris; et exaudi nos in die quocunque invocamus te. Amen.

Lucio had meant to insinuate that the 2nd Gentleman was a graceless fellow. The same jest passes somewhat more broadly, as might be expected, between Falstaff and Prince Hal :

Fals. I pray thee, sweet wag, when thou art king-as, God save thy grace-majesty, I should say; for grace thou wilt have none

P. Hed. What, none ?

Fals. No, by my troth ; not so much as will serve to be prologue to an egg and butter :

King Hen. IV., 1st Part, Act i. Sc. 2.

where the speaker, with logic more characteristic than reverent, would imply that a short grace may suffice for a scanty meal.

There remains one more passage to be produced under this head ; and it is one from which we might perhaps infer that in the time of Shakspeare the master of the house sometimes devolved the duty of saying grace upon his wife. In Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio says to Katharina, when the supper is brought in :

Come, Kate, sit down ; I know you have a stomach.
Will you give thanks, sweet Kate, or else shall I?

Act iv, Sc. 1.

Sect. 7. Of the Duty and Efficacy of Prayer. There are few subjects of literary contemplation more interesting or more profitable than to observe the hold which a great practical subject like that of Prayer had upon a mind like that of Shakspeare. We know that some of our distinguished poets have unhappily allowed themselves, at one time or other, if not throughout their career, to imagine difficulties in the way of the performance of this duty; but we have no evidence in any of Shakspeare's plays, from first to last, that he ever entertained any but the truest and most just conceptions of it. First, we have already seen (p. 162) in Hamlet its twofold force, as obtaining either grace to prevent us from sinning, or pardon when we have sinned :

What's in Prayer, but this two-fold force,-
To be forestalled, ere we come to fall,
Or pardoned, being down?

Act iii. Sc. 3. Next, in the epilogue to the Tempest, this latter efficacy is represented as an antidote to despair :

My ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by Prayer ;
Which pierces so, that it assaults

Mercy itself, and frees all faults. It was probably not without some reference, in his own mind, to the practice of Daniel, vi. 10, and to the ancient hours of the church, that our poet puts into the mouth of Imogen, one of his sweetest and most attractive characters, those touching lines in which she represents herself as offering up prayers 'three times a day for her lover,'* and as having intended to enjoin the same practice upon him, in her behalf, before they parted, had not her father interposed to prevent the interview ; otherwise, she says, I would —

Have charged him
At the sixth hour of morn, at noon, at midnight,
To encounter me with orisons, for then
I am in heaven for him.

Cymbeli ne, Act i. Sc. 4. Comp. Hamlet's request to Ophelia,

Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.

Act iii. Sc. I. And the same devotional character is kept up when, after Imogen had become, in disguise, the page of Belarius, now supposed to be slain, she attaches herself to Lucius, the Roman general, in the same capacity:

But first, an't please the gods,
I'll hide my master from the flies, as deep
As these poor pickaxes + can dig: and when
With wild wood-leaves and weeds I have strew'd his grave,
And on it said a century of prayers,
Such as I can, twice o'er, I'll weep and sigh;
And, leaving so his service, follow you :
So please you entertain me.

Act iv. Sc. 2. Nor is there any reason to suppose that our poet designed to exhibit examples of the practice of this duty only, or specially, in the weaker sex. On the contrary, it is kings and nobles whom he has chosen

* See also Tempest, quoted below, p. 185.
t i.e., her fingers.

This we

most of all to represent as men of prayer. expect in King Henry VI.,

Famed, as he was, for mildness, peace, and prayer.

King Henry VI., 3rd Part, Act ii. Sc. I.

And so, when Gloster stabs him in the Tower, the last words he is made to utter are these, in which he prays at once for himself and for his murderer :

O God! forgive my sins, and pardon thee.

Ibid., Act v. Sc. 6. But the cruel and licentious Edward, who supplanted and succeeded him-even he is introduced with words of prayer upon his lips, though words which breathe little (and this so far is meet) of the fervour and simplicity in devotion of a true servant of God :

O! Warwick, I do bend my knee with thine ;
And ere my knee rise from the earth's cold face,
I throw my hands, mine eyes, my heart to Thee,
Thou setter up and plucker down of kings!
Beseeching Thee—if with Thy will it stands,
That to my foes this body must be prey-
Yet that Thy brazen gates of heaven may ope,
And give sweet passage to my sinful soul !

Ibid., Act ii. Sc. 3.

It will be seen, however, that the occasion-it was the morning of the battle of Towton, near Ferrybridge, decisive in its issue against the opponents of Edward—was one in regard to which our poet rarely fails to impress the duty of supplication to the throne

« ZurückWeiter »