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Of noticeable Forms of Speech found in the English Bible
and in Shakspeare.
N order to deal fairly with this former part of our investigation, it is necessary to
remark, in the first instance, that, while the whole contents and general language of the Bible would be known to our poet from translations previously in use, in regard to particular words and modes of speech, so far as there was obligation on either side, it is probable that our translators of 1611 owed to Shakspeare more than he owed to them. According to the chronological order of our poet's plays, as Vdetermined by Malone, only two of them were written after 1611 all the rest having been composed in the interval between that year and 1591.* And the Bibles most commonly used during that period were either Parker's, called also the Bishops' Bible, of 1568, required to be read in churches; or various reprints of the Genevan Bible of 1560, with short marginal notes, and much used in private families (a translation which was due in part to John Knox,
* But compare below. Appendix, p. 360.
while resident abroad); or the version by the Roman Catholics, of the New Testament, published at Rheims in 1582, and of the whole Bible at Douay in 1609.]
With this explanation, I may now proceed to the portion of my task which lies first before me, taking up whatever is noticeable in the use of the several parts of speech in their natural order.
1. To begin then with the use of the Articles, definite and indefinite.
In Acts xxii. 4, we read, as spoken by S. Paul, 'I persecuted this way unto the death. There is no article in the original Greek, and yet in English it has been retained from the translation of Wickliff in 1380 to the present hour. The apostle does not mean any particular death, and therefore, as Bp. Lowth observed a century ago, in his Short Introduction to English Grammar, p. 31, the definite article is improperly used in our version of the text. The same inaccuracy occurs also in 2 Chron. xxxii. 24. In those days Hezekiah was sick to the death,' where there is no article in the Septuagint. And again in Revelation xii. 11. They loved not their lives unto the death' (äxpi baváтov), which has come down not from Wickliff, like the passage in the Acts, but from Tyndale, 1534. The expression which we meet with in S. Matthew xv. 4, and S. Mark vii. 10, and which is derived to
Cranmer's Translation of father or mother let him
us from He that curseth
die the death,' is to be
traced no doubt to the same origin, and involves a still further deviation from the sense of the original, which is literally let him die by death (θανάτῳ TEλEUTάTW), and means, according to a Hebrew idiom, 'Let him certainly die.' And so we read in Levit. xx. 9, where the Septuagint has the same Greek words, he shall be surely put to death.' See also Ecclesiasticus xiv. 17.* 'The covenant from the beginning is, Thou shalt die the death. But now to turn to Shakspeare. He has several times used the expression, to die the death;' e.g., in Measure for Measure, Act ii. Sc. 2; in Cymbeline, Act iv. Sc. 2, and again in Midsummer Night's Dream, Act i. Sc. 1, where in reply to Hermia's question what is to befal her in case she refuses to marry Demetrius, Theseus says::
Either to die the death, or to abjure
For ever the society of man.
There can be little doubt that our poet took the phrase (as Steevens† observes) from the Bible; but whether he attached the right meaning to it we cannot tell. Dr. Johnson, with less accuracy than might have been expected from him, remarks that 'this seems to be a solemn phrase for death inflicted by law.' The simple form of expression, as first cited from the Acts, 'the death,' is to be found frequently in Chaucer, eg.:
The deth he feeleth through his herte smite.
*Comp. Ibid xlviii. 11, Cwn Snoóμeda.
Cant. Tales, v. 1222.
+ Vol. ix. p. 92.