صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

of the Scottish monarch to the throne ; for Shakspere was too well acquainted with courts, to compliment, in the life-time of queen Elizabeth, her presumptive successor, of whom history informs us she was not a little jealous. That the prediction concerning king James was added after the death of the queen, is still miore ciearly evinced, as Dr. Johnson has remarked, by the awkward inanner in which it is connected with the foregoing and subsequent lines.

It may be objected, that, if this play was written after the accession of king James, the author could not introduce a panegyrick on him, without making queen Elizabeth the vehicle of it, she being the object immediately presented to the audience in the last act of King Henry VIII. and that, therefore, the praises so profusely lavished on her, do not prove this play to have been written in her life-time : on the contrary, that the concluding lines of her character seem to imply that she was dead, when it was composed. The objection certainly has weight; but, I apprehend, the following observations afford a sufficient answer to it.

1. It is more likely that Shakspere should have written a play, the chief subject of which is, the disgrace of queen Catharine, the aggrandizement of Anne Boleyn, and the birth of her daughter, in the life-time of that daughter, than after her death; at a time when the subject must have been highly pleasing at court, rather than at a period when it must have been less interesting.

Queen · Queen Catharine, it is true, is represented as an amiable character, but still she is eclipsed; and the greater her merit, the higher was the compliment to the mother of Elizabeth, to whose superior beauty she was obliged to give way. .. 2. Had King Henry VIII. been written in the time of king James I. the author, instead of expatiating so largely in the last scene, in praise of the queen, which he could not think would be very acceptable' to her successor, would probably have made him the principal figure in the prophecy, and thrown her into the back-ground as inuch as possible.

3. Were James I. Shakspere's chief object in the original construction of the last act of this play, he would, probably, have given a very short character of Elizabeth, and have dwelt on that of James, with whose praise he would have concluded, in order to make the stronger impression on the audience, instead of returning again to queen Elizabeth, in a very awk. ward and abrupt manner, after her character seemed to be quite finished ; an awkwardness that can only be accounted for, by supposing the panegyrick on king James an after-producțion *.

4. If

* After having enumerated some of the blessings that were to ensue from the birth of Elizabeth, and celebrated her majesty's various virtues, the poet thus proceeds:

Cran.

4. If the queen had been dead when our author wrote this play, he would have been acquainted with the particular,circumstances attending her death, the situation of the kingdom at that time, and of foreign states, &c. and, as archbishop Cranmer is supposed to have had the gift of prophecy, Shakspere, probably, would have made him mention some of those

Cran. " In her days every man shall eat in safety,

Under his own vine, what he plants, and sing
The merry sougs of peace to all his neighbours.
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood.
(Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phænix,
Her ashes new-create another heir,
As great in admiration as herself ;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one, &c.

He shall flourish,
And, like a mountain cedar, reach his branches
To all the plains about him ; our children's children
Shall see this, and bless heaven.
King. Thou speakest wonders.].
Cran. She shall be, to the happiness of England,

An aged princess: many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it.
Wou'd I had known no more! but she must die,
She must, the saints inust have her; yet a virgin, &c."

The lines between crotchets are those supposed to have been inserted by the author after the accession of king James.

circumstances,

.circumstances. Whereas the prediction, as it stands at present, is quite general, and such as might, without any hazard of error, have been pronounced in the life-time of her majesty; for the principal facts that it foretells are, that she should die aged, and a virgin. Of the former, supposing this piece to have been written in 1601, the author was sufficiently secure ; for she was then near seventy years old. The latter may, perhaps, be thought too delicate a subject, to have been mentioned while she was yet living. But, we may presume, it was far from being an ungrateful topick ; for very early after her accession to the throne, she appears to have been proud of her maiden character; declaring, that she was, wedded to her people, and that she desired no other inscription on her tomb, than--Here lyeth Elizabeth, who reigned and died a VIRGIN*. Besides, if Shakspere knew, as probably most people at that time did, that she be.. came very solicitous about the reputation of virginity, when her title to it was at least equivocal, this would be an additional inducement to him to compliment her on that head.

5. Granting that the latter part of the panegyrick on Elizabeth implies that she was dead when it was composed, it would not prove that this play was writ. ten in the time of king James; for these latter lines in praise of the queen, as well as the whole of the compliment to the king, might have been added after his

* Camden, 27. Melvil, 49.

accession

accession to the throne, in order to bring the speaker back to the object immediately before him, the infant Elizabeth. And this Mr. Theobald conjectured to have been the case. I do not, however, see any necessity for this supposition; as there is nothing, in my apprehension, contained in any of the lines, in praise of the queen, inconsistent with the idea of the whole of the panegyrick on her having been composed in her life-time.

In further confirmation of what has been here ad. vanced, to shew that this play was probably written while queen Elizabeth was yet alive, it may be observed (to use the words of an anonymous writer *), that “Shakspere has cast the disagreeable parts of her father's character as much into shade as possible ; that he has represented him as greatly displeased with the grievances of his subjects, and ordering them to be relieved ; tender and obliging fin the early part of the play) to his queen; grateful to the cardinal; and, in the case of Cranmer, capable of distinguishing and rewarding true merit.” “ He has exerted (adds the same author) an equal degree of complaisance, by the amiable lights in which he has shewn the mother of Elizabeth. Anne Bullen is represented as affected with the most tender concern for the sufferings of her mistress, queen Catharine; receiving the honour the king confers on her, by making her marchioness of Pembroke, with a graceful humility ; and more

* The author of Shakspere illustrated.

anxious

« السابقةمتابعة »