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This idea of spirits flying the approach of morning, appears from the hymn of Prudentius, quoted by Bourne, to have been entertained by the Christian world as early as the commencement of the fourth century*; but a passage still more closely allied to the lines in Shakspeare, has been adduced by Mr. Douce, from a hymn composed by Saint Ambrose, and formerly used in the Salisbury service. — “ It so much resembles,” he observes, “ Horatio's speech, that one might almost suppose Shakspeare had seen them :
66 Preco diei jam sonat,
Noctis profundæ pervigil ;
“ The epithets extravagant and erring,” he adds, " are highly poetical and appropriate, and seem to prove that Shakspeare was not altogether ignorant of the Latin language." I
With what awful and mysterious grandeur has he invested the Popish doctrine of purgatory! a doctrine certainly well calculated for poetical purposes, and of which the particulars must have been familiar to him, through the writings of his contemporaries. Thus the English Lavaterus, detailing the opinions of the Roman Catholics on this subject, tells us, that “ Purgatorie is also under the earth as Hel is. Some
Some say that Hell and Purgatorie are both one place, albeit the paines be divers according to the deserts of soules. Furthermore they say, that under the earth there are more places of punishment in which the soules of the dead may be purged. For they say, that this or that soule hath ben seene in this or that mountaine, floud, or valley, where it hath committed the offence: that there are particuler Purgatories, assigned unto them for some special cause, before the day of Judgement, after which time all maner of Purgatories, as well general as particuler shal cease. Some of them say, that the paine of Purgatorie is al one with the punishment of Hel, and that they differ only in this, that the on hath an end, the other no ende : and that it is far more easie to endure all the paynes of this worlde, which al men since Adam's time have susteined, even unto the day of the last Judgement, than to bear one dayes space the least of those two punishments. Further they holde that our fire, if it be compared with the fire of Purgatorie, doth resemble only a painted
* Antiquitates Vulgares apud Brand, p. 68.-It has been observed by Mr. Steevens, that “this is a very ancient superstition. Philostratus, giving an account of the apparition of Achilles' shade to Apollonius Tyaneus, says that it vanished with a little glimmer as soon as the cock crowed.” Vit. Apol. iv. 16. Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. p. 25. note.
+ “ See Expositio hymnorum secundum usum Sarum, pr. by R. Pynson, n. d., 4to. fol. vij. b."
| Illustrations of Shakspeare, vol. ii. p. 201.
From this temporary place of torment, he informs us, that, “ by Gods licence and dispensation, certaine, yea before the day of Judgement, are permitted to come out, and that not for ever, but only for a season, for the instructing and terrifying of the lyving:”-and again :- :-“ Many times in the nyght season, there have beene certaine spirits hearde softely going who being asked what they were, have made aunswere that they were the soules of this or that man, and that they nowe endure extreame tormentes.
If by chaunce any man did aske of them, by what meanes they might be delivered out of those tortures, they have aunswered, that in case a certaine numbre of Masses were sung for them, or Pilgrimages vowed to some Saintes, or some other such like deedes doone for their sake, that then surely they shoulde be delivered." +
Never was the art of the poet more discoverable, than in the use which has been made of this doctrine in the play before us, and more particularly in the following narrative, which instantly seizes on the mind, and fills it with that indefinite kind of terror that leads to the most horrible imaginings :-
* “ Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght,” 1572. The seconde parte, chap. ii.
+ The seconde parte, chap. ii. p. 104.; and The first parte, chap. xv. p. 72.
66 Ghost. My hour is almost come,
Alas, poor ghost !
In this hazardous experiment, of placing before our eyes a spirit from the world of departed souls, no one has approached, by many degrees, the excellence of our poet. The shade of Darius, in the Persians of Æschylus, has been satisfactorily shown, by a critic of great ability, to be far inferior t; nor can the ghosts of Ossian, who is justly admired for delineations of this kind, be brought into competition with the Danish spectre ; neither the Grecian, nor the Celtic mythology, indeed, affording materials equal, in point of impression, to those which existed for the English bard. We may also venture to affirm, that the management of Shakspeare, in the disposition of his materials, from the first shock which the sentinels receive, to that which Hamlet sustains in the closet of his mother, is perfectly unrivalled, and, more than any other, calculated to excite the highest degree of interest, pity, and terror.
* Reed's Shakspeare, vol. xviii. pp. 77–80. Act i. sc. 5. + See Montagu on the Preternatural Beings of Sbakspeare, in her Essay, p. 160. 165.
It is likewise no 'small proof of judgment in our poet, that he has only once attempted to unveil, in this direct manner, the awful destiny of the dead, and to embody, as it were, at full length, a missionary from the grave; for the ghost of Banquo, and the spectral appearances in Julius Cæsar and Richard the Third, are slight and powerless sketches, when compared with the tremendous visitation in Hamlet, beyond which no human imagination can ever hope to pass.
* It has been asserted by Gildon, but upon what foundation does not appear, that Shakspeare wrote the scene of the Ghost in Hamlet, in the church-yard bordering on his house at Stratford. - Vide Reed's Shakspeare, vol. v. p. 4.
OBSERVATIONS ON KING JOHN; ON ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL; ON KING HENRY
THE FIFTH; ON MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING; ON AS YOU LIKE IT ; ON MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR; ON TROILUS AND CRESSIDA; ON HENRY THE EIGHTH; ON TIMON OF ATHENS ; ON MEASURE FOR MEASURE; ON KING LEAR; ON CYMBELINE; ON MACBETH. DISSERTATION ON THE POPULAR BELIEF IN WITCHCRAFT DURING THE AGE OF SHAKSPEARE, AND ON HIS MANAGEMENT OF THIS SUPERSTITION IN THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH.
We are well aware, that, to many of our readers, the chronological discussion incident to a new arrangement, will be lamented as tedious and uninteresting; the more so, as nothing absolutely certain can be expected as the result. That this part of our subject, therefore, may be as compressed as possible, we shall, in future, be very brief in offering a determination between the decisions of the two previous chronologers, reserving a somewhat larger space for the few instances in which it may be thought necessary to deviate from both.
Of the plays enumerated by Meres, in September, 1598, only two remain to be noticed in this portion of our work, namely, King John and Love's Labour's Wonne :
16. KING JOHN: 1598. Mr. Chalmers having detected some allusions in this play to the events of 1597, in addition to those which Mr. Malone had accurately referred to the preceding year, it becomes necessary,
with the former of these gentlemen, to assign its production to the spring of 1598. *
If King John, as a whole, be not entitled to class among the very first rate compositions of our author, it can yet exhibit some scenes of superlative beauty and effect, and two characters supported with unfailing energy and consistency.
* Chalmers's Supplemental Apology, p. 357,