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Well, God 'ield * you! They say, the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. God be at Act iv. Sc. 5. your table!
We can have no doubt that the last of these expressions (which, (which, by-the-bye, Mr. Bowdler has omitted) is to be understood as a deranged person's version of May you be at God's table,' according to the Scriptural notion, † which represents the happiness of heaven under the figure of a feast, with God for our host. See Matt. viii. 11, Luke xii. 37. There can be no doubt, too, that the preceding clause in Ophelia's speech is taken from the first epistle of S. John iii. 2. What if the eccentricity of thought, natural to mad people, should have converted-in the presence of the wicked king-the Christian's sonship to God, with which the Apostle's text begins, into the owl's daughtership to the baker, which Ophelia first introduces? I am inclined to think this not impossible, more especially as the legend referred to is a Christian one, in which, according to Mr. Steevens, our Saviour being refused bread by the daughter of a baker (which again would suggest the notion of the blessedness of him that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God, Luke xiv. 15), is represented as punishing her by turning her into an owl. Mr.
* Yield, i.e., reward you.
And classical also.
Compare Virg. Ecl., iv. 62:
Nec Deus hunc mensâ, Dea nec dignata cubili est.'
See also Hor. iv. Od., viii. 29, and elsewhere.
Douce has given the story more at length, and represents it as still current among the common people in Gloucestershire.
But though 'it doth not yet appear what we shall be' in heaven, we know that comfort and happiness are to be looked for there, and only there. When the Queen, in King Richard II., says to the Duke of York,
For Heaven's sake, speak comfortable words;
he replies in language which many passages of the Bible fully justify :
Should I do so, I should belie my thoughts;
Compare Job v. 7.
Act ii. Sc. 2.
And yet we must not be impatient to quit this scene of trial, so long as our remaining here may tend in any way to promote God's glory, or to be serviceable to our fellow men. Shakspeare, from the mouth of Hamlet, will teach us this, after the measure of the wisdom and the love of this world; but we must go to the Bible, and sit at the feet of S. Paul, if we would learn it more perfectly. The Prince of Denmark, on the point of death, speaks to his friend Horatio :
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain,
To tell my story.
Act v. Sc. 2.
The great apostle of the Gentiles, in bondage at Rome, writes to his Philippian converts :
I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ, which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. Phil. i. 23, 24.
Meanwhile may our names be written in the Book of Life!' This expression, which is used by S. John in the Revelation, xx. 15, xxi. 27, and by S. Paul, Phil. iv. 3, could only have occurred to one who had often in his hand the sacred volume, which is to us in this world' the Book of Life.' We find it in King Richard II. The speaker is Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk ::
No, Bolingbroke; if ever I were traitor,
Act i. Sc. 3.
But in order that our names may be written in that Book, let it be remembered, ONE THING IS NEEDFUL. 'Philosophy' may suffice to tell us
By virtue specially to be achieved:
Taming of Shrew, Act i. Sc. 1.
but if our 'virtue' is indeed to be
Led on by heaven, and crowned with joy at last,
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Act v. Sc. 3.
it must be learnt in the school of HIM 'Who hath brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel,' and Whose is the only 'Name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.'
Of the Poetry of Shakspeare as derived from
COME now, in the last place, to speak
of passages in which Shakspeare has been indebted to Holy Writ, not only for poetical diction and sentiment, but for some of the most striking and sublime images which are to be found in his works.
1. We are familiar with that simple, but most affecting apostrophe with which the vision of Isaiah
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. i. 2.
See also Deut. xxxii. 1, Jerem. ii. 12, vi. 19. creation is summoned to listen to a tale of undutifulness, which was felt by the prophets to be without parallel. It was under the influence of a similar feeling that Hamlet exclaims upon his mother's hasty and incestuous marriage with his uncle, his father's murderer:
Heaven and earth!
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him,
By what it fed on: and yet within a month
Let me not think on't.
Hamlet, Act i. Sc. 2.
And again the same feeling is aroused and vents itself in a similar exclamation, in the scene between Hamlet and his father's ghost, ibid., Sc. 5
Ghost. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
The exclamation is not idle or commonplace, but sublime and full of intense passion, as is shown more fully by what follows after the Ghost's exit.*
2. It is a bolder flight of imagination which represents the elements and heavenly bodies taking part, as allies, in the conflict of human warfare. Thus, in that grandest of all lyrical compositionsthe song of Deborah and Barak, Judges v. 20:
They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
Compare Joshua x. 12-14. The classical student will be reminded of a well-known parallel passage in the poet Claudian, De tert. Consul. Honor., 93-98 :
Te propter, gelidis Aquilo de monte procellis
*The objection taken by some critics to the foregoing examples, as inconclusive and too trivial to deserve notice, may perhaps be diminished in some degree by the consideration that they are intended to be read not only in immediate connection with, but as introductory to, those which follow in the next section. And does not the view suggested add dignity to the passages themselves? Comp. Hor. Epod xvii. 30; and in the apostrophe splendidly amplified in Osch. Prom. Vinct. 88-95.