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FROM THE TEXT OF
Mr. STEEVENS'S LAST EDITION.
Drnamented with plates.
PUBLISHED BY E. HARDING, NO. 98, PALL-MALL;
AND VERNOR AND HOOD, POULTRY,
IN order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a
writer, it is always necessary to examine the genius of his ager and the opinions of his contemporaries. A poet who should now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchant. ment, and produce the chief events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be cenfured as transgressing the bounds of probability, be banished from the theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of tragedies; but a survey of the notions that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove that Shakspeare was in no danger of such censures, since he only turned the system that was then univer. sally admitted, to his advantage, and was far from overburden. ing the credulity of his audience.
The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not ftrictly the same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in most, by the learned themselves. The phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more gross; but it cannot be shown, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time in which this kind of credu. lity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchante ments or diabolical opposition, as they ascribed their success to the assistance of their military saints; and the learned Dr. War. burton appears to believe (Suppl. to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by those who returned from their eastern expe. ditions. But there is always fome distance between the birth
and maturity of folly as of wickedness: this opinion had long existed, though perhaps the application of it had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception fo general. Olympiodorus, in Photius's extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who practised this kind of military magic, and having promised xúpes étailāv natà Beplápor švegSeū, to perform great things against the Barbarians without foldiers, was, at the instance of the emprefs Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. The empress showed some kindness in her anger, by cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St. Chryfoftom's book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments not exceeded by any romance of the middle age: he supposes a spectator overlooking a field of battle attended by one that points out all the various objects of horror, the engines of destruction, and the arts of Naughter. Δεικνύτο δε έτι παρά τοϊς ενανλίοις και πετομένες ίππος διά τινος μαύγανείας, και οπλίτας δι αέρος φερομένες, και πάσης γοητείας δύναμιν nai idéav. Let him then proceed to foow him in the opposite armies horses Aying by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magic. Whether St. Chryfoftom be. lieved that such performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopt. ing the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that therefore they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age; the wars with the Saracens however gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a great distance.
The Reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually increasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft ftill continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is ftill commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of king James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much ce. lebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in perfon a woman accused of witchcraft, but