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We have now no thought in us but France,
Act i. Sc. 2.
His prayer to the 'God of Battles,' before the battle of Agincourt, has been already* quoted; and to this may be added here, that, while the Earl of Salisbury previously exclaims, as the English forces march into the field
the king himself thus humbly resigns his cause to the disposal of the Most High :
Now, soldiers, march away;
And how Thou pleasest, GoD, dispose the day!
A similar character is given, in King Richard III., to the Earl of Richmond, afterwards King Henry VII. Before the battle of Bosworth field, in which the wicked usurper was overthrown, not only does Rich
*See above, p. 164, also p. 169.
mond exhort his followers to march in God's name, Act v. Sc. 2, and bids them
God, and our good cause, fight upon our side;
The prayers of holy saints and wronged souls,
Like high-rear'd bulwarks stand before our faces ;—
Ibid., Sc. 3.
but he makes in private a set prayer to the same effect, when he retires to rest upon the night before the battle :
O THOU! Whose captain I account myself,
And when God has given him the victory, and the Lord Stanley comes in, bearing the crown which he has taken from the head of Richard, now dead, and presents it to Richmond, his first exclamation is
Great God of Heaven, say Amen to all;
Act v. Sc. 4.
and he concludes his speech, with which the play ends, in earnest prayer for lasting peace, summed up with a repetition of the same sentiment:
O! now, let Richmond and Elizabeth,
The true succeeders of each royal house,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land's increase,
That would with treason wound this fair land's peace!
That she may long live here, God say-AMEN.
But besides the self-interested obligation of praying for divine aid on all important occasions, our poet had a no less clear conception of the duty and value of intercession in behalf of others who need and desire our prayers. This appears, for instance, in the picture which he draws of the end of the Duke of Buckingham, in King Henry VIII. The duke, having been found guilty of high treason, when led forth to execution, thus entreats the few that loved him :Go with me, like good angels, to my end; And as the long divorcet of steel falls on me,
Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice,
Act ii. Sc. 1.
It is pleasant to think (and it goes some way to prove that Shakspeare was brought up in an atmosphere of religious sentiment at least) that in the very first scene of what was, if not the first of all, certainly one of his first written plays-the Two
i.e., of the houses of Lancaster and York.
†The axe that was to divorce the soul from the body.
Gentlemen of Verona-he introduces the notion of friends praying for each other, in the case of the two young men, Proteus and Valentine, the latter of whom was on the point of setting out upon his travels :In thy danger,
If ever danger do environ thee,
Commend thy grievance to my holy prayers,
For I will be thy beadsman, Valentine.
Johnson interprets Beadsman, 'a man employed in praying, generally in praying for another?'
And in the case of lovers performing for their beloved the same duty, besides the instance from Cymbeline quoted above, p. 180, we have in the Tempest a no less beautiful example, where Prospero says to Miranda :–
'Tis fresh morning with me,
When you are by at night. I do beseech you-
What is your name?
Act iii. Sc. 1.
See also Octavia, promising to pray for Antony in his absence. Ant. and Cleop., Act i. Sc. 3. And again Act iii. Sc. 4.
Moreover, among the various occasions for the exercise of the duty of intercessory prayer, Shakspeare had learnt, and desired to teach, that it is most especially—
A virtuous and a Christian-like conclusion,
King Richard III., Act i. Sc. 3.
i.e., 'for them which despitefully use us.' Matt. v. 44.
And, as though he would teach this duty more effectually, he allots to Macbeth the odious task of attempting to decry it, and that in colloquy with one whom he designed to employ for the murdering of Banquo:
Do you find
Your patience so predominant in your nature,
Whose heavy hand hath bowed you to the grave,
And beggared yours for ever? Macbeth, Act iii. Sc. 1.
On the other hand, it is assigned as a fitting office for one of the most charming and most perfect* of our poet's characters, to exemplify this difficult duty in the most trying of all circumstances. When it is suggested to Desdemona, in order to account for Othello's vile and cruel language towards her, that some one must have slandered her to him, she meekly replies
If there be any such, Heaven pardon him!
Othello, Act iv. Sc. 2.
There are two other points in regard to the duty of Prayer, which we should expect that Shakspeare would not overlook. One is, that our prayers should be real; not lip-service merely; and must proceed from a heart sincerely desirous to please God. The
In our admiration for Desdemona, however, we must not forget that her tragical end represents the unhappy issue of a marriage entered into by a daughter without her father's consent, and in deceitful opposition to his authority.