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say that this inquiry is a new one, I do not mean that our poet's acquaintance with Scripture has altogether escaped the notice of every one of his numerous commentators, for such is not the case ;* and had it been so, my undertaking might well be suspected of too great and too presumptuous a singularity to warrant an expectation of its usefulness and sobriety. All I would imply is that Shakspeare has not yet received the credit, which I think I shall be able to prove that he deserves, of having been, in a more than ordinary degree, a diligent and a devout reader of the Word of God; and that he has turned this reading to far more and far better account than any of his critics would seem to have suspected, or at all events has yet attempted to point out. His marvellous knowledge of the Book of Nature is admitted on all hands; his knowledge of the Book of Grace, though far less noticed, will be found, I believe, to have been scarcely less remarkable. His works have been called 'a secular Bible;' my object is to show that while they are this, they are also something more, being saturated with Divine Wisdom, such as could have been derived only from the very Bible itself. (See Appendix, p. 359.)
* For instance, I observe in Mr. Singer's edition of 1826 the following note: It has been remarked that Shakspeare was habitually conversant with his Bible.'-Vol. v., p. 464. The allusion is, perhaps, to the following remark of Mr. Capel Lloft, in his Aphorisms from Shakspeare, published in 1812. He (Shakspeare) had deeply imbibed the Scriptures.'-Introd., p. xii.
And I enter upon my task with keener interest and heartier zeal upon two accounts: first, because I trust I shall be paying a duteous service to the memory of this great man, whom every Briton should delight to honour, by removing an imputation which has been (I am persuaded) hastily and inconsiderately cast upon him, as though he had, in some instances, designed to treat the Inspired Word with 'profaneness;'* and, secondly, because, if it shall appear (as I doubt not it will) that a genius so incomparable was content to study, and not unfrequently to draw his inspiration from the pages of Holy Scripture, submitting his reason to the mysterious doctrines which it reveals, and his conscience to the moral lessons which it prescribes; it may be hoped that no one of my readers will consider it beneath him to follow an example, set by an authority so highly, so justly, and so universally esteemed.
'He was indeed honest,' says his friend Ben Jonson, and of an open and free nature.' Upon such unquestionable testimony, it is pleasant to be permitted to think of our greatest poet as one 'who in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, kept it, and brought forth fruit with patience.' That he brought forth fruit-immortal fruit-to the glory of God and
*See Mr. Boswell's Advertisement to the Variorum edition of Shakspeare, 1821, p. 8; and compare below, p. 51. Gifford, in his Life of Ben Jonson, p. clxxxvi., calls Shakspeare the coryphoeus of profanation.'
the benefit of mankind, no one can deny. That he had occasion for much patience in surmounting, as he did surmount, the difficulties of the earlier part of his career, both as an actor and a writer for the stage, is equally certain. Nor is there any conflicting record to prevent us from believing that the tenor of his life, especially in his later years, was in conformity with the confession of his death as exhibited in his will;* unless indeed we are to admit certain passages in his sonnets as evidence against himself, which if they prove him at one time to have yielded to the temptations with which he was beset, prove him also to have possessed afterwards the spirit of a true penitent. Of his personal history, all that is now known may be soon told. He was born in April,† 1564, at Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire, the eldest son of eight children, his father, John Shakspeare, being a glover of that town; and he died at his native place (whither he had retired in comfortable circumstances some years before) on the 23rd of April, 1616, when he was only in his fifty-third year. He married very young, before.
* On the contrary, see two other contemporaneous testimonies to his 'honest' character in Malone's Life, p. 280 sq., and p. 284. He was also known among his contemporaries as 'the gentle Shakspeare.' See the Author's Sermon preached at Stratford, p. 402.
+ The precise day of his birth is uncertain: see Mr. Dyce's Life, p. 24 sq. He was baptized at Stratford on April 26. His mother's name was Mary, of the family of Arden.
Two daughters had been born before him; see below, p. 196.
he was nineteen, Anne Hathaway, a yeoman's daughter, eight years older than himself, by whom he had two daughters and one son;* and who survived him seven years; dying in 1623, at the age of sixty-seven. In that same year appeared the first edition of his collected plays, thirty-six in number, which are generally allowed to be genuine; though not more than fifteen (or seventeen, including Titus Andronicus and Pericles Prince of Tyre) had been published in his lifetime. And there seems no reason to doubt that a great portion of what he wrote was composed, if not under the pressure of actual want, yet in a condition of life very unfavourable to carefulness and maturity of composition.
Whatever blemishes there may have been in the character of the first Scottish sovereign who sat upon the throne of England, it is only just to bear in mind that we owe to him, under the good Providence of God, that inestimable work, the authorized version .of the Bible which we all use; and moreover that to him we owe also the satisfaction which we must all feel when we learn that the best of uninspired writers was not without royal encouragement. Detract what we may from the merit of King James, on the score
*The elder daughter, Susanna, was born 1584; the younger daughter, Judith, and the only son, Hamnet, who were twins, in the following year. On the son's early death, see below, Tercent. Sermon, p. 397; and for further circumstances of the poet's marriage and family, p. 188 sq., p. 196, and Add1t. Ilustr., p. 369.
of pedantry, or of disingenuousness, the facts will remain, which, considering the subject I have now in hand, I rejoice to mention in his praise, and to interweave, as among the brightest ornaments of his crown-that he wrote to William Shakspeare a letter of commendation with his own hand,* and that he gave special command' for the publication of the Scriptures in the revised and improved form, which Shakspeare and his contemporaries were the first to read.
Our great poet, then, and the men from whom we have received our translation of the Bible, published in 1611, lived and flourished at the same time, and under the same reign. This is an interesting fact in the inquiry upon which we are about to enter, and suggests the propriety of dividing it into two parts. That is, we may not only seek to illustrate the subject-matter of the Bible by comparison with passages in Shakspeare which prove his knowledge and study of the Scriptures; but we may also explain the sacred text by parallels which Shakspeare will afford us of the use of words and phrases commonly current at that time, but which have since undergone a change of meaning or become altogether obsolete. And upon this latter branch of the subject it will be natural to enter first.
* See Variorum Shakspeare, vol. i., p. 467, and vol. ii., p. 481. Our poet also received marks of favour from Queen Elizabeth. See Drake's Shakspeare and his Times, vol. ii., p. 590. Dyce's Life, p. 78.