« ZurückWeiter »
being smothered between two beds." And Singer suggests that “the poet may have confounded the death of Arundel, who was beheaded, with that of Gloster.” In our opinion, York is here made by the dramatist to refer to the king's threat of having Gaunt beheaded at the time he was dying in the previous scene); and that, in his present state of fluster, York confusedly recalls the circumstance wit the incoherence and agitation that characteristically mark his utterance at this perplexing juncture.
But which of you was by
Did speak these words, now prov'd a prophecy ?-2 H. IV., iii. 1. Johnson observes, “ whether the king's or the author's memory fails him, so it was, that Warwick was not present at that conversation.” That there was no failure of memory on the part of the author is shown by his care to insert the words “ as I may remember," which imply hat the king is speaking with avowed latitude.
Since his majesty went into the field. --Macb., v. 1. Here Steevens remarks, “ This is one of Shakespeare's oversights. He forgot that he had shut up Macbeth in Dunsinane and surrounded him with besiegers,” afterwards adding, our poet, in the haste of finishing his play, forgot his plan.” The charge of oversight and forgetfulness lies surely with more propriety against the fault-finder, who overlooks the circumstance that it has been before mentioned how Macbeth “prepares for some attempt of war,” and that Rosse says, "I saw the tyrant's power a-foot,” and also forgot that the warlike usurper would be sure to superintend these military preparations ere he inclosed himself in his stronghold to await the expected assailants.
How long hast thou been a grave-maker ?Of all the days i' the year, I came to 't that day that our last King Hamlet o'ercame Fortinbras.
How long is that since ?Cannot you tell that? every fool can tell that: it was the very day that young Hamlet was born; . I have been sexton here, man and boy, thirty years.-Hamlet, v. I.
Blackstone says, “ By this scene it appears that Hamlet was then thirty years old, and knew Yorick well, who had been dead twenty-two years. And yet in the beginning of the play he is spoken of as a very young man, one that designed to go back to school, i.e., to the University of Wittenberg. The poet in the fifth act had forgot what he wrote in the first." Not at all ; Shakespeare employed the term, “ going to school,” which was in his time used for attending college, or being an academic student. He has made Hamlet a man of thirty, to account for his mature reflections; but he has also made him possessed of the attractions of a still young man, and has taken care to associate the idea of youth all through the play with the various mentions of the prince. The dramatist's story, his development of character, demanded that the hero of this play should be, so to say, both youthful and mature; both personally young and mentally experienced ; and
Shakespeare has, with his wonted felicity of conveying blended impressions, contrived to present this dual combination in the individuality of Hamlet.
Althea dreamed she was delivered of a firebrand.—2 H, IV., ii. 2. Johnson observes, “Shakespeare is here mistaken in his mythology, and has confounded Althea's fire-brand with Hecuba's.”
Not so ; Shakespeare has elsewhere proved (in two passages : one in “ The Second Part of Henry VI.," i. 1., where York says, “ As did the fatal brand Althea burn'd unto the prince's heart of Calydon”; and one in “ Troilus and Cressida," ii. 2., where Cassandra says, “Our fire-brand brother, Paris, burns us all,") that he perfectly knew both these mythological stories ; but he, like the true dramatist that he is, intentionally put the blunder into the mouth of Falstaff's page, who may be supposed to have picked up a smattering knowledge of mythological allusion from associating with his master and Prince Hal. Shakespeare has even taken care to draw attention to its being a purposed mistake, by making the prince give the boy a crown in reward for what he ironically terms his “good interpretation.”
How chance the prophet could not at that time
Have told me, I being by, that I should kill him.-R. III., iv. 2. Malone sneeringly says, “ The Duke of Gloster was not by when Henry uttered the prophecy. Our author seldom took the trouble to turn to the plays to which he referred." That Shakespeare, of all dramatists, should be accused of seldom taking trouble is truly absurd ; the very care and skill with which he made strictness of historic fact subordinate to the requirements of dramatic art, suffice to absolve him from the charge. In the present instance, he but gives effect to Richard's scoff by making him misstate the attendant circumstances of the prophecy he is citing.
I, that was washed to death with fulsome wine.-Ibid., v. 3. Steevens pertly remarks, “Shakespeare seems to have forgot himself. The duke (as appears from act i., sc. 4) was killed before he was thrown into the malmsey-butt and consequently could not be wash'd to death." Had Mr. Steevens carefully scanned the scene he refers to, he might have perceived that the First Murderer stabs Clarence twice, saying, “ If all this will not do, I'll drown you in the malmsey-butt within ; ” and immediately carries off his victim. Thus, the dramatist gives us ground to suppose that the dying man hears these words, and, half-murder d, is flung into the wine to be finally “wash'd to death."
More dances my rapt heart
Bestride my threshold.—Coriol., iv. 5. Steevens observes, “ Shakespeare was unaware that a Roman bride, on her entry into her husband's house, was prohibited from bestriding his threshold ; and that, lest she should even touch it, she was always lifted over it.” Instead of proving that Shakespeare was unaware of the custom in question, we think the present passage indicates that
he knew there was a classical ceremonial in receiving a bride at the entrance of her bridegroom's house; and that by making Aufidius advert thus particularly to the occasion, the poet evinces his perfect consciousness that there was a solemn rite therewith connected. May it not be Mr. Steevens betrays that he was unaware
» of the sense in which Shakespeare here uses the word “bestride"? which, in the present passage, is not to be taken literally for " step across,” but is to be accepted as meaning "pass over,'. cross over.” Shakespeare thus uses the word " stride,” in “Cymbeline,” iii. 3, where we find :
A prison for a debtor, that not dares
To stride a limit. Meaning to overpass a prescribed bound.
How has the ass broke the wall, that thou art out of the city ?Yonder comes a poet and a painter: the plague of company light upon thee.Timon, iv. 3.
Because the commentators assume “yonder” to indicate a spot within view, they blame our author's dramatic arrangement here ; and Reed speaks of the negligence of Shakespeare," while Malone says, “ Shakespeare was not very attentive to these minute particulars.” But we find a much better solution of the difficulty than imputing negligence and inattention to the most finished dramatist ever known, by believing that “yonder” is here used for “over there,” “from that place"; since Shakespeare often uses the word “yonder" in passages where the object spoken of is not seen by the speaker.
When she first met Mark Antony, she pursed up his heart, upon the river of Cydnus.-Ant. & C., ii, 2.
Mason says, “ This is a strange instance of negligence and inattention. Enobarbus is made to say that Cleopatra gained Antony's heart on the river Cydnus; but it appears from the conclusion of his own description that Antony had never seen her there ; that, whilst she was on the river, Antony was sitting alone, enthroned in the market-place.” Surely, it might be retorted that the negligence and inattention are the commentator's; since he did not perceive that “ upon the river Cydnus " is here used to signify the district on the shores of the river Cydnus, including the “ city” which cast her people out upon her," and its “market-place” wherein “ Antony ” sat “enthron'd.” The idiom “ upon the Seine," or upon the river Thames,” is employed to express the adjacent shores of those streams, the country in their neighbourhood, the land on their banks.
The herbs that have on them cold dew o' the night
These herblets shall, which we upon you strow.–Cym., iv. 2. Malone observes, “Shakespeare did not recollect when he wrote these words, that there was but one face on which the flowers could be strewed ”; and Singer remarks, “ It is one of the poet's lapses of thought." For our parts, we
rather imagine a passage of Shakespeare's to be misapprehended by its peruser than that he himself “ did not recollect " what he was about, or that he wrote with any
lapse of thought.” It seems to us that here" Upon their faces does not refer so much to the faces of the two bodies now lying before the speaker as to the faces of corses generally, when prepared for burial, and having flowers strewn upon them, or when already in their
graves," and having “ strewings” scattered upon that portion of the mound of earth beneath which ne head and face lie.
Or I'll be buried in the king's highway,
May hourly trample on their sovereign's head.—R. II., iii. 3. Johnson's note on this passage contains the singular sentence,
Shakespeare is very apt to deviate from the pathetic to the ridiculous; ” (!!!) and expresses the wish that the speech of Richard had ended at the line last quoted. The dramatist knew, what the critic could not discern, that lengthy lamentation and diffuse self-pityings are the very characteristics of the weak king's diction.
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.-H. V., iv. 3. The spirited speech which concludes with the above line is pronounced by Johnson to be “too long"!
Give me another horse : bind up my wounds.
Have mercy, Jesu! Soft! I did but dream.-R. III., v. 3. Upon the wonderfully conceived speech of a terror-stricken conscience, commencing with these two lines, Johnson observes, “ There is in this, as in many of our author's speeches of passion, something very trifling, and something very striking. Richard's debate whether he should quarrel with himself is too long continued."
O proper stuff! This is the very painting of your fear.-Macb., iii. 4. At the conclusion of Lady Macbeth's energetic remonstrance, commencing thus, Johnson appends the remark, " This speech is rather too long for the circumstances in which it is spoken.” Now, if reference be made to the above-cited four speeches against which Johnson brings the charge that each of them is too long, we think the referrer will agree with us that the fittest response to the commentator is the one made by Hamlet to Polonius :—" It shall to the barber's, with your beard.”
One would not be rough or trenchant with a critic who has so good a claim to our respect in many points as Dr. Johnson ; but when we recall some of his own rough and trenchant animadversions upon our beloved Shakespeare, we cannot help feeling somewhat of bitterness. As a vindication of our resentment, and as an apt climax to our present heading, we will quote Johnson's concluding note upon “Cymbeline" : “ This play has many just sentiments, some natural dialogues, and some pleasing scenes, but they are obtained at the expense of much incongruity. To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of names and manners of different times, and the impossibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbecility' (!!!!), upon faults too evident for detection and too gross for aggravation.' To our thinking, on the
contrary, the incongruities of Druidical, Pagan, and Christian that may be traced in this enchanting romantic drama-among other minor so-called inconsistencies—were purposely here co-introduced by the dramatist as essential to his high art-purpose of depicting the existence of purest religion and purest morals amid primitive forms. How should it be objected that Imogen in one single exclamation combines an address to a Pagan god and to a Christian institution (“O Jove! I think, Foundations* fly the wretched”) when we perceive the manner in which the poet has made her a perfect exemplar of peerless womanhood, combining the simplicity of Druid times, the nobleness of antique classical times, and the charity of Christian times? Why should we take exception against the ancient Briton, Posthumus, uttering so Christian a sentiment as this : “ Kneel not to me: the power that I have on you is to spare you ; the malice towards you to forgive you : live, and deal with others better,” when we recall that the speaker's character has been drawn throughout with a view to show how the spirit of Christianity prevails to inspire a man during his gradual growth from Pagan vindictiveness and revenge into tolerance and forbearance, with forgiveness of injury? Need we care that Belarius couples an allusion to Saracenic giants, who “ keep their impious turbands on, without good-morrow to the sun,” in the same sentence with his admonition to the two princely boys “ to adore the heavens with holiest morning worship, when we remember how divinely our Shakespeare has denoted natural piety, reverence of youth to age, instinctive affection, and all generous impulses of innate goodness in these young born princes peasant-bred ? We cannot help thinking that “Cymbeline,” instead of being one of Shakespeare's least congruously conducted plays, is rather one of those in which he best carries out his own supreme dramatic law of unity in moral design and impression.
ALLITERATION. Shakespeare satirises the over-use of alliteration in style, which was in his time a fashionable affectation. Holofernes—reading aloud to Sir Nathaniel the verses he has composed in honour of the princess's hunting, which he calls “ an extemporal epitaph on the death of the deer"-says, “I will something affect the letter, for it argues facility and then proceeds :
The preyful princess piered and prick'd a pretty pleasing pricket;
Some say a sore, or else sorel, till now made sore with shooting.
Or pricket, sore, or else sorel; the people fall a-hooting,
Of one sore I a hundred make, by adding but one more 1.—Love's L. L., iv. 2. Establishments founded by charitable persons, with a settled revenue, where alms and relief were given.