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“From what I bave related, it will be seen why it should happen, that only one at a time ever could see a ghost; and here we may lament, lhat our celebrated poet, whose knowledge of nature is every Englishman's boast, had not known such cases, and their causes as those I have related ; he would not then, perhaps, have made his ghosts visible and audible on the stage. Every expression, every look in Macbeth and Hamlet, is perfectly natural and consistent with men so agitated, and quite sufficient to convince us of wbat they suffer, see, and hear ; but it must be evident, that the disease being confined solely to the individual, such objects must be seen and heard only by the individual. That men so circumstanced as Macbeth or Hamlet, Brutus and Dion, should see phantoms and bold converse with them, appears to me perfectly natural; and, though the cases I bave now related owe their origin entirely to a disordered state of bodily organs, as may be evidently inferred by the history of their rise, and the result of their cure, yet, with the knowledge we bave of the effects of mind on the body, we may be fairly led to conclude, that great mental anxiely, inordinate ambition, and guilt may produce similar effects.” *
If Shakspeare, more philosopher than poet, had pursued the plan which Dr. Alderson has recommended, he would have injured his tragedy, and wrecked his popularity. We could have spared, indeed, any ocular demonstration of the mute and blood-boultered ghost of Banquo in Macbeth, but had the ghost in Hamlet been invisible and inaudible, we should have lost the noblest scene of grateful terror which genius has ever created.
Nor was it ignorance on the part of Shakspeare which gave birth to the visibility of this awful spectre, for he has told us, in another place, that
“Such shadows are the weak brain's forgeries." ; and, even in the very play under consideration, he calls them “the very coinage of the brain," and adds,
“ This bodiless creation ecstasy
Is very cunning in;" but he well knew, that as a dramatic poet, in a superstitious age, it was requisite, in order to produce a strong and general impression, to adopt the popular creed, the superstition relative to his subject; and, as Mrs. Montagu has justly observed, " the poet who does so, understands his business much better than the critic, who, in judging of that work, refuses it his attention. — Thus every operation
, that develops the attributes, which vulgar opinion, or the nurse's legend, have taught us to ascribe to such a preternatural Being,' will augment our pleasure ; whether we give the reins to our imagination, and, as spectators, willingly yield ourselves up to pleasing delusion, or, as judicious' Critics, examine the merit of the composition."
That an undoubting belief in the actual appearance of ghosts and apparitions was general in Shakspeare's time, has been the assertion of all who have alluded to the subject, either as contemporary or subsequent historians. Addison, at the commencement of the eighteenth century, speaking of the credulities of the two preceding centuries, observes, that“ our Forefathers looked upon Nature with reverence and horror — that they loved to astonish themselves with the apprehensions of witchcraft, prodigies, charms, and enchantments.—There was not a village in England that had not a ghost in it—the churchyards were all hauntedevery common had a circle of fairies belonging to it, and there was scarce a shepherd to be met with who had not seen a spirit ;'S and Bourne, who wrote about the same period, and expressly on the subject of vulgar superstitions, tells us that formerly “hobgoblins and sprights were in every city, and town, and village, by every water, and in every wood.-If a house was seated on some melancholy place, or built in some old romantic manner; or if any particular
p. 68, 69
• Essay on Apparitions, annexed to the fourth edition of his Essay on the Rhus Toxicodendron, + Rape of Lucrere,
Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare. 8vo, 5th edit. p. 162, 165. ♡ Spectator, No. 419.
accident had happened in it, such as murder, sudden death, or the like, to be sure that house had a mark set on it, and was afterwards esteemed the habitation of a ghost.–Stories of this kind are infinite, and there are few villages which have not either had such an house in it, or near it.” *
Such, then, being the superstitious character of the poet's times it was with great judgment that he seized the particulars best adapted to his purpose, moulding them with a skill so perfect, as to render the effect awful beyond all former precedent. A slight attention to the circumstances which accompany the first appearances of the spectre to Horatio and to Hamlet, will place this in a striking point of view.
The solemnity with which this Royal phantom is introduced is beyond measure impressive: Bernardo is about to repeat to the incredulous Horatio what had occurred on the last apparition of the deceased monarch to Marcellus and himself, and thus commences his narrative:
“ Last night of all,
The bell then beating one :"This note of time, the traditionary hour for the appearance of a ghost, and, above all, the mysterious connection between the course of the star, and the visitation of the spirit, usher in the “ dreaded sight” with an influence which makes the blood run chill.
A similar correspondence between a natural phenomenon in the heavens, and the agency of a disembodied spirit, occurs, with an effect which has been much admired, in a poem by Lord Byron, where the shade of Francesca, addressing her apostate lover, and directing his attention to the orb of night, exclaims,
“ There is a light cloud by the moon
'Tis passing, and will pass full soon-
Thine immortality of ill." + The adjuration and interrogation of the ghost by Horatio and Hamlet, are conducted in conformity to the ceremonies of papal superstition; for it may be remarked, that in many things relative to religious observances, or to the preternatural as connected with religion, Shakspeare has shown such a marked predilection for the imposing exterior, and comprehensive creed of the Roman church, as to lead some of his biographers to suppose that he was himself a Roman Catholic. The adoption, however, is to be attributed to the poetical nature of the materials which the doctrines of Rome supply, and more particularly to the food for imagination which the supposition of an intermediate state, in which the souls of the departed are still connected with, and influenced by, the conduct of man, must necessarily create.
Such a system, it is evident, would very readily admit of some of the oldest and most prevalent superstitions of the heathen world, and would give fresh credibility to the re-appearance of the dead, in order to reveal and to punish some horrible murder, to right the oppressed orphan and the widow, to enjoin the sepulture of the mangled corse, to discover concealed and ill-gotten treasure, to claim the aid of prayer and intercession, to announce the fate of kingdoms, etc. etc. Thus Horatio, addressing the Spectre, alludes to some of these as the probable causes of the dreadful visitation which appals him :
Bourne's Antiquities of the Common People, 1725, edition apud Brand, p. 119, 122, 123. + The Siege of Coriuth.
Stay, illusion !
Act i. sc. ). With a still higher degree of anxiety, curiosity, and terror, does Hamlet, as might naturally be expected, invoke the spirit of his father; his address being wrought up to the bighest tone of amazement and emotion, and clothed with the most vigorous expression of poetry :
Angels and ministers of grace desend us !
Act i. sc.
c. 4. The doubts and queries of this most impressive speech are similar to those which are allowed to be entertained, and directed to be put, by contemporary writers on the subject of apparitions. Thus the English Lavaterus enjoins the person so visited to charge the spirit to “ declare and open what he is—who he is, why he is come, and what he desireth;" saying, “Thou Spirite, we beseech thee by Christ Jesus, tell us what thou art;" and he then orders him to enquire, “What man's soul he is? for what cause he is come, and what he doth desire ? Whether he require any ayde by prayers and suffrages? Whether by massing or almes-giving he may be released ?" etc., etc. *
In pursuance of the same judicious plan of adopting the popular conceptions, and giving them dignity and effect, by that philosophy of the supernatural which has been remarked as so peculiarly the gift of Shakspeare, t we find him employing, in these scenes of super-human interference, the traditional notions of his age, relative to the influence of approaching light on departed spirits, as intimated by the crowing of the cock, and the fading lustre of the glow-worm. One of the passages which have so admirably immortalized these superstitions, contains also another not less striking, concerning the supposed sanctity and protecting power of the nights immediately previous to Christmas-Day. On the sudden departure of the Spirit, Bernardo remarks,
It was about to speak, when the cock crew.
Hor. And then it started like a guilty thing
Fare thee well at once!"
exclaims the apparition on retiring from the presence of his son,
“ The glow-worm shows the matins to be near,
Act i. sc. 5. 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 :
Preco diei jam sonat,
* “Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght,” Parte the Seconde, p. 106, 107. 410. B. L. 1572. From the chapter entitled, “ The Papistes doctrine touching the soules of dead men, and the appearing of
+ Madame De Staël observes, there is always something philosophical in the supernatural employed by Shakspeare.” The Influence of Literature on Society, vol.'i. p. 297.
† 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.
Hoc ercitatus Lucifer,
Gallo canente spes redit, g c." * “ 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.”
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 Hell is. Some say that Hell and Purgatorie are bolb 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 halb ben seene in this or that mountaine, floud, or valley, where it halh committed the offence : that there are particuler Purgatories assigned uplo them for some special cause, before the day of Judgement, after which time all maner of Purgatories, as well general as particuler sbal cease. Some of them say, that the paine of Purgatorie is al one with the punishment of Hell, and that they differ only in this, that the one bath an ende, the olher no ende: and that it is far more easie to endure all ihe paynes of this worlde, wbich 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 tbose two punishments. Further they holde that our fire, if it be compared with the fire of Purgatorie, doth resemble only a painted fire." +
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 bave beene certaine spirils bearde sostely going--who being asked wbat 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 answered, that in case a certaine pumbre of Masses were sung for them, or Pilgrimages vowed to some Sainles, or some other such like deedes doone for their sake, that then surely ibey 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 inde finite kind of terror that leads to the most horrid imaginings :
My hour is almost come,
Act i. sc. 5. 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; S 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
• " See Expositio hymnorum secundum usum Sarum, pr. by R. Pypson, n. d., 410. fol. vij. b:”
. Of ghostes and spirites walking by nyght.” 1572. The seconde parte, chap. ii. p. 103.
unrivalled, and, more than any other, calculated to excite the highest degree of interest, pity, and terror.
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 em body, 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. *
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.
The bastard Faulconbridge, though not perhaps a very amiable personage, being somewhat too interested and wordly-minded in his conduct to excite much of our esteem, has, notwithstanding, so large a portion of the very spirit of Plantagenet in him, so much heroism, gaiety, and fire in his constitution, and, in spite of his vowed accommodation to the times, such an open and undaunted turn of mind, that we cannot refuse him our admiration, nor, on account of his fidelity to John, however ill-deserved, our occasional sympathy and attachment. The alacrity and intrepidity of his daring spirit are nobly supported to the very last, where we find him exerting every nerve to rouse and animate the conscience-stricken soul of the tyrant.
In the person of Lady Constance, Maternal Grief, the most interesting passion of the play, is developed in all its strength; the picture penetrates to the inmost heart, and seared must those feelings be, which can withstand so powerful an appeal; for all the emotions of the fondest affection, and the wildest despair, all the rapid transitions of anguish, and approximating phrenzy, are wrought up into the scene with a truth of conception which rivals that of nature herself.
* It has been asserted by Gildon, but upon what foundation does not appear, that Shakspcare wrote the scene of the Ghost in Hamlet, in the church-yard bordering on his house at Stratford.