at midnight, which was what Shakespeare meant, adds greatly to the impressiveness of a night scene; and this especially when we recollect on what occasions it was that the church bell would be heard "sounding on " in the darkness of midnight. It might be as a passing-bell, a soul just then taking its flight; but it is more probable that the poet had in his mind the tolling at a midnight funeral, and that the full conception of the passage is this: that Hubert is to be transported in thought to the grave-ground at the foot of some lonely tower, from which is heard the heavy tones of the bell tolling through the darkness of night, while, in the distance, are occasionally discerned the torches about the hearse of some eminent person, who is being borne along to be laid in the vault of his ancestors. In such a scene there was everything to feed melancholy, and put the mind of Hubert into a frame favourable to the King's purposes;-every thing to stir up in his mind thoughts which the sun should not look upon.

This then, I conceive, to be the true explanation of the passage. "Sound on " is the common phrase in Shakespeare for continuous or repeated blasts of a trumpet, just as here it is for the continuous or repeated strokes of the bell-clapper. "Into the drowsy race of night," if it required any justification, as meaning the step or course of night, would receive it by comparison with the two following passages from other plays,

And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night,
Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp

So tediously away.-King Henry the Fourth, Chorus to Act iv.

This palpable gross play hath well beguiled
The heavy gait of night.-M. N. D. Act v. sc. 1.

Shakespeare also, it may be observed, has shewn elsewhere that he was sensible to the use which might be made of the

deep tones of the funeral bell. Thus, in the Second Part of

King Henry the Fourth

And his tongue
Sounds ever after as a sullen bell
Remembered tolling a departed friend :

and in the Seventy-First of his beautiful Sonnets:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.

[blocks in formation]

We have suffered a great deal of the poetry of life and manners to slip away from us; and few, in these times, had ever the opportunity of being placed in such a scene as that which the King conjured up before the mind of Hubert.

There is so much in this Play which shews that the mind of the Poet was intent, when he wrote it, on affairs connected with the church, that it may be submitted as a probability not at once to be rejected, that in thus placing Hubert in imagination in a scene of horror, to prepare him for conceiving and executing a deed of horror, the Poet had in his mind what was alleged to be a practice of the Jesuits of the time. They had their "Chamber of Meditation," as they called it, in which they placed men who were "to undertake some great business of moment, as to kill a King, or the like." "It was a melancholy dark chamber, where he had no light for many days together, no company, little meat, ghastly pictures of devils all about him," and "by this strange usage they made him quite mad, and beside himself."*

The word "Convertite," which occurs in this Play, is an ecclesiastical term, with a peculiar and express meaning, * Anatomy of Melancholy, 4to. 1621, p. 738.

distinct from "Convert." It denotes a person who, having relapsed, has been recovered, and this, it will be perceived, is the sense in which Shakespeare uses it:

It was my breath that blew the tempest up
Upon your stubborn usage of the Pope :
But since you are a gentle convertite,

My tongue shall hush again this storm of war,
And make fair weather in your blustering land.

Marlowe, with less propriety, uses it as synonymous with


BARABAS.-No, Governor, I will be no convertite.

Jew of Malta, Act i.

Owen, in his Running Register, 4to. 1626, p. 44, speaks of "our English Convertites, as they call them," meaning Englishmen originally of the Reformed Church who had been reconciled to the Church at Rome.

[ocr errors]

We have a passage in this Play which must for ever decide the question whether the Poet, when he wrote it, was a member of the Roman Church, or favourable to any scheme for its regaining its supremacy in England. The passage is this

And blessed shall he be that doth revolt
From his allegiance to a heretic;

And meritorious shall that hand be called,
Canonized, and worshipped as a saint,

That takes away by any secret course
Thy hateful life.—Act iii. sc. 1.

It is a speech of Pandulf. Shakespeare, it may be said, is only writing in the character of the speaker, as a dramatist ought to do. But if he had been a favourer of the system which many in his day would gladly have seen restored, he would not have put into the mouth of the representative of the Church a doctrine which the enemies of the Church attributed to its authorities, charged them with encouraging, while it is a doctrine which strikes at the root of all personal

security, and is shocking to the common sense of right and wrong. If he had been at all solicitous for the honour of the Church, he would have qualified and screened such a sentiment as this, or rather, he would have suppressed it altogether and that he has done neither the one nor the other, is a plain proof that he did not scruple to expose to the execration of the people the darkest parts of the system, and do his part to keep in mind that such extreme opinions might be cherished in the Church. If he himself secretly approved of them, which we cannot believe, he still would not have cared to expose them in all their native deformity. It should be remembered that something like encouragement was actually held out to take the life of Queen Elizabeth, or, at least, her ministers chose to have it thought so.

[ocr errors]




Which to maintain, I would allow him odds;
And meet him, were I tied to run a-foot
Even to the frozen ridges of the Alps,

Or any other ground INHABITAble,

Where ever Englishman durst set his foot.

It seems superfluous to cite other authorities than those already adduced for "inhabitable" being used where we now write uninhabitable; but as the change which this word has undergone illustrates the little care that was taken to preserve the purity of the English language in the century which succeeded the time of Shakespeare, a few others may not uselessly be added.

[blocks in formation]

For they were all drawn into the forest of Gedworth, the which was inhabitable.-LORD BERNERS' Translation of FROISSART, p. 38.

Former writers would have the Zones inhabitable; we find them by experience temperate.-FELTHAM'S RESOLVES, p. 27.

We now prefix a second negative particle, and speak of an uninhabited house, an uninhabitable country.

II. 1. GAUnt.

This fortress built by Nature for herself,
Against INFESTION, and the hand of war.

This is a most extraordinary interference with the genuine text of Shakespeare: for not only does the word "infection," which appears in all the editions quarto or folio, afford a sufficiently good sense, but it is supplanted by a word for which no authority can be produced that it was ever a word used in England, and which yields no sense, or at least none

« VorigeDoorgaan »