صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

scribed, it is due to the character of our great poet that I should point out how much misconception respecting Shakspeare's treatment of Holy Scripture has prevailed among his critics, even of the highest rank. Let me produce one notable example, derived from the play of Antony and Cleopatra, Act iii. Sc. I I. After the ignominious flight, in which Antony had followed Cleopatra from the coast of Actium back to Alexandria, Octavius Caesar, the conqueror, sends a messenger to endeavour to detach the queen from her paramour. This messenger is received favourably by Cleopatra in a private interview, and just as he is kissing her hand, previous to his departure, Antony comes in, and in the highest strain of indignation, embittered by the consciousness of his downfall and disgrace, upbraids her as follows:— Antony. To let a fellow that will take rewards, And say, God quit you / be familiar with My playfellow, your hand; this kingly seal, And plighter of high hearts O that I were Upon the his/ of Basan, to outroar The horned herd, for I have savage cause: And to proclaim it civilly were like A halter'd neck, which does the hangman thank For being yare" about him. This passage gives striking evidence of our poet's familiarity with the Old Testament; see Ps. xxii. 12, lxviii. 1 5; Ezek. xxxix. 18; Amos iv. 1. But is there anything to give offence even to the most pious mind, in the way in which he has applied his knowledge of these passages And yet not only has Mr. Bowdler omitted the reference to the ‘hill of Basan' as indecorous, but critics, including Johnson himself, have concurred in condemning it as matter for regret, nay even for ‘pity and indignation.’ I confess I am not surprised that the editor of the ‘Variorum edition, Mr. James Boswell, though he professes in general to have scrupulously retained all the critical remarks of his predecessors, yet made an exception, by venturing, as he says, ‘in a very few instances,’ to expunge a note in which Shakspeare had been, in his opinion, ‘most perversely and injuriously charged with an irreverent allusion to Scripture.” I am sorry he did not carry the process of expunction so far as to delete the note of Johnson just referred to.f Nor can I omit to add that, while I desire to express my thankfulness to Mr. Bowdler for the manner in which he has executed his praiseworthy undertaking in many respects, I very much regret the undue sensitiveness which has led him sometimes to alter, and sometimes to omit, passages perfectly inoffensive, for no other

* i. e. adroit.

* Vol. i. Advertisement, p. 8. See above, p. 3. t See also another note of Johnson, to the same effect, given in that edition, vol. xi. p. 455, and a note of Steevens, vol. viii. p. 119.

reason that I can discover, except the allusion they contain to the language of Scripture. The following example may suffice in proof of what has now been said. In the Second Part of King Henry VI. Queen Margaret says to the king:—

What, dost thou turn away, and hide thy face
I am no loathsome leper, look on me.
What, art thou, like the adder, waxen deaf
Be poisonous too, and kill thy forlorn queen.
Act iii. Sc. z.

These three last lines are omitted by Mr. Bowdler. And why Because we read about ‘lepers, and still more, because we read about ‘deaf adders’ in the Bible. See Psalm lyiii. 4, 5: ‘Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; they will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.’ This beautiful image appears to have struck the imagination of our poet, and not without reason. He therefore makes use of it again, and with singular propriety, in Troilus and Cressida; where Hector says to Paris and Troilus :— Pleasure and revenge

Have ears more deaf than adders, to the voice
Of any true decision. Act iii. Sc. 2.

This Mr. Bowdler has altered into

Have ears for ever deaf unto the voice, &c.,

whereby the notion of truth charming wisely, but in vain, is altogether lost, and a most flat line substituted for a most vigorous one. And why Because Mr. B. appears to have been haunted by an exaggerated and mistaken fancy, that whatever is calculated to remind the reader of a Scriptural image, however beautiful and however appropriate, must necessarily be profane ! What, I wonder, would Mr. B. have done if he had undertaken to edit, not only the plays, but also the sonnets of Shakspeare; in the cxii. of which we read as follows:—

In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are;—

where, by a curious instance of the figure, called in Greek axiwa orphs gowalváusvov, “are' seems as if put to agree with ears, implied in “adder's sense.” I now pass on to the evidence of which I proposed to treat in the first instance.

[graphic]

CHAPTER I.

Of the Allusions in Shakspeare to the Historical Facts and Characters of the Bible.

5.IN this chapter I have to show the extent of § { : Shakspeare's knowledge of the contents & §3 of the Bible in its historical aspect; how fully and how accurately the general tenor of the facts recorded in the sacred narrative was present to his mind. We may begin then from the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis. There can be no doubt that the Mosaic record of the creation of the sun and moon, on the fourth day, when ‘God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night, gave occasion to those words of Caliban in the Tempest, where he describes how Prospero, on his first coming to the island, had been wont to treat him kindly; and as trying to educate him, would often teach him

How
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night. Act i. Sc. 2.

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
« السابقةمتابعة »