Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

I notice too that the prohibition in Leviticus xviii. 6, 'None of you shall approach [in marriage] to any that is near of kin to him,' is brought out by Beatrice, in Much Ado about Nothing, where she playfully declares her resolution to remain a spinster :

No, uncle; I'll none: Adam's sons are my brethren; and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred. Act ii. Sc. I.

And that the said prohibition is not to be disregarded-in other words, that marriage is not to be contracted within the forbidden degrees-we are taught in sober earnest by Queen Elizabeth, widow of Edward IV., when Richard III. desires her to promote his union with her daughter, who was his own niece:

Richard. Tell her the king, that may command, entreats

Q. Eliz, That at her hands which the king's KING forbids ::King Richard III., Act iv. Sc. 4. where the same chapter of Leviticus is plainly referred to.

Among the few instances of questionable morality in Shakspeare are those in which he appears to justify marriage undertaken by a daughter clandestinely and in opposition to the advice and judgment of parents. I allude especially to the case of Jessica in the Merchant of Venice, and of Ann Page in the Merry Wives of Windsor. On the other hand, the unhappy consequences of such a

step are vividly depicted in the fate of two of his most attractive heroines, Desdemona and Juliet. See above, p. 186, note.

What I am next to quote would, probably, never have been written if a passage of S. Paul, Eph. v. 23, had not been running in our poet's mind. I allude to the dialogue between the Provost and Clown, in Measure for Measure:

Prov. Come hither, sirrah. Can you cut off a man's head?

Clown. If the man be a bachelor, sir, I can; but if he be a married man, he is his wife's head, and I can never cut off a woman's head.

Act iv. Sc. 2.

But there is a speech in which, besides repeating this apostolic sentiment, it would seem that our poet set himself to draw out at length all that the Scripture teaches of the duty of wives towards their husbands, with such additional touches to the picture as his own imagination—or the contrast (let us hope) afforded by his wife's good qualitieswould readily suggest. Katharina, having ceased to be a shrew, under the discipline of Petruchio, gives the following good advice to one who was married, but had not yet learned to be obedient to her husband:

Fye, fye! unknit that threat'ning unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor :
It blots thy beauty, as frosts bite the meads;
Confounds thy fame, as whirlwinds shake fair buds;
And in no sense is meet or amiable.

A woman moved is like a fountain* troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And, while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip, or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee;
And for thy maintenance, commits his body
To painful labour, both by sea and land;
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
While thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands,
But love, fair looks, and true obedience,-
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she's peevish, froward, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am asham'd, that women are so simple
To offer war, where they should kneel for peace;
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,

Where they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft † conditions, and our hearts,
Should well agree with our external parts?

Taming of the Shrew, Act v. Sc. 2.

Some of my fair readers will think, perhaps, that this lady's tongue has run on much too fast, and much too far-not unintentionally, I daresay, on the poet's part, in order to show how the characteristic weapon of the sex may be turned against

*See Prov. xxv. 26.

†The gentle qualities of our minds.

themselves. It will be well, therefore, to pass on to a scene in which another Katharine will show, in much fewer words, and as exemplified in her own person, what is the perfect * character of a good wife, and that, too, while her 'loving lord' must, unhappily, be pronounced 'the graceless traitor' :

Have I lived thus long-a wife, a true one,

A woman (I dare say, without vain glory)

Never yet branded with suspicion ?

Have I with all my full affections,

Still met the king? loved him next Heaven? obeyed him?
Been, out of fondness, superstitious to him?
Almost forgot my prayers to content him?
And am I thus rewarded? 'tis not well, lords.
Bring me a constant woman to her husband,
One that ne'er dreamed a joy beyond his pleasure;
And to that woman, when she has done most,
Yet will I add an honour-a great patience.

King Henry VIII., Act iii. Sc. I.

It is a curious instance of our author's tact that he employs women to teach wives their conjugal duty. We have seen this already in the Taming of the Shrew; there is another example in the Comedy of Errors, where Luciana takes to task her married. sister Adriana, for want of obedience and submission to her husband, see Act ii. Sc. 1; and it is Portia, in the Merchant of Venice, who confesses

A light wife doth make a heavy husband.

Act v. Sc. I.

Compare Ecclus. xxv. 23. For further remarks on the conjugal relationship, see below, p. 221.

See also the character of Portia, wife of Brutus, in Julius Cæsar.

From the consideration of the duties which arise out of the marriage tie, we naturally proceed to the relationship of parents and children; and here again our poet may speak to us from his own experience, in both relations. He was himself the eldest son (though third in order of birth) of eight children— four of either sex-but three of the sisters died in

infancy; and his own family consisted of two daughters, Susanna and Judith, and a son, Hamnet; the son and the younger of the daughters being twins.* By the marriage of his elder daughter to Dr. John Hall, he became a grandfather in 1608, eight years before his death. His younger daughter married Mr. Thomas Quiney only a few weeks before that event. Our poet's father had died in 1601, and his mother, to whom he probably owed much, in 1608. These bare facts furnish nearly all the materials which we now possess, or can hope to obtain, of our poet's family history. It will be interesting to supply the deficiency, in however slight a degree, so far as we may be able, from his writings. In these, accordingly, we may discover the tenderness of a parent's heart; where the Clown, in All's Well that Ends Well, quotes the proverb, 'Bairns are blessings,' † Act i. Sc. 3; and where Lady Macduff complains of her husband::

He wants the natural touch:

Macbeth, Act iv. Sc. 2.

See above, p. 4 sq.

+ See Psalm cxxvii. 4, 5, cxxviii. 3 sq.

« ZurückWeiter »