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having been a propagandist. Greene confessed to have held the same opinions; and, in his exhortation to Marlowe to abandon them, referred to a teacher amongst them who died miserably, supposed to be Kett, a Fellow of Bennet College, Cambridge, who was burnt at Norwich for Atheism, in 1589. They were followers of Lucretius and Epicurus in philosophy, and they were Epicureans, unfortunately, in the modern sense of the word. They all died early from the effects of dissipation. Greene was taken ill, and died a month after a drunken feast with his friend Nash. The occasion of his death, and the duration of his illness, exactly coincide with the tradition which says that Shakspere died a month after drinking immoderately with Jonson. They were nearly 'n gold al University men, and Shakspere may have derived much of his learning, philosophy and idiosyncracies, from his acquaintance with them.
Shakspere became known to the Stage when there was a fierce contention between the rhyming dramatists and the writers of blank verse. Marlowe was of the new school, and Shakspere followed him; for which they both obtained much obloquy. It has been remarked, by Leigh Hunt and Barry Cornwall, that there are evidences of the imitation of Marlowe in Shakspere's works. His style throughout is more conformable to Marlowe's than to Beaumont's Fletcher's, Jonson's, or Massinger's. This, doubtless, arose from the force of association with Marlowe in his early days. From the accusation that Marlowe indulged too much in the portraiture of lust, villany, and ferocity, Shakspere is not exempt. There are instances of it in other plays besides Titus Andronicus. Shakspere treated religion with less respect even than Marlowe. He introduced obscenity, and went beyond him in profanity.
We know very little of the personal history of Beaumont and Fletcher. Chalmers' Biographical Dictionary says of Beaumont, - How his life was spent, and how his mind was occupied, his works show
his short span cannot be supposed to have been diversified by any other events than those that are incident to candidates for theatrical fame and profit.' These observations may be received as generally applicable to the lives of all the dramatists. Of Fletcher, it
has been remarked, that it would not have been supposed he was the son of a bishop.' Jonson, thrown into prison for killing a man in a duel, said that he took his religion on trust from a Roman Catholic priest, who was in confinement with him, in which persuasion he remained for
At the end of this time, it is not likely that a man of such easy faith would be troubled to distinguish for himself a creed ; and, unless some new companion obliged him with one, (of which he has left us no notice) it is probable that he spent the remainder of his days religionless. A bishop who visited him in his dying days, relates that he found him—'twixt wine and women, but that Jonson assured him he was sorry for the profanity of his works, especially for having ridiculed the Scriptures—a sorrow that all who have examined the writings of Jonson and Shakspere, will allow to be becoming in a greater degree, in the mouth of the latter dramatist.
Massinger did not begin to write till Shakspere had retired from the Stage. Gifford, the editor of his works, says,
though we are ignorant of every circumstance respecting Massinger, unless that he lived, wrote, and died, we may yet form to ourselves some idea of his personal character from the incidental hints scattered through his works. Thus we have the dictum of this great critic, that a writer's character and opinions may be drawn from his plays; and he himself infers the religious sentiments of Massinger from comparison with the other dramatists. He observes that, “The great distinction of Massinger, is the uniform respect with which he treats religion and its ministers, in an age when it was found necessary to add regulation to regulation to stop the growth of impiety on the stage. No priests are introduced by him, " to set on some quantity of barren spectators” to laugh at their licentious follies; the sacred name is not lightly invoked, nor daringly sported with ; nor is Scripture profaned by buffoon allusions lavishly, put into the mouths of fools and women.' In Shakspere the uniformity is the other way.
Gifford, in these remarks, evidently had Shakspere in view. As he only excepts Massinger for his religious propriety,
, among the dramatists of that age, we have the authority of a critic, best able to know it, that at least Shakspere
was among those who indulged in reprehensible licences. But we will here extract from another writer, (the author of the life of Shakspere in Lardner's Cyclopædia) as to the irreligion of Shaksperé. The cyclopædiast says, “ We may add, that his (Shakspere’s) allusions in other respects, are in the highest degree censurable. As a late admirable writer (Gifford) has said of him, he “is in truth, the Coryphæus of profanation.” Texts of Scripture are adduced by him with the most wanton levity; and, like his own Hal, he has led to “ damnable iteration.” As Ben Jonson, so we hope Shakspear, repented of his profaneness ; though assuredly, in the latter case, no record of repentance is to be found on earth.' Gifford and Johnson are both eminent critics, and they both have expressed themselves most decidedly in reference to the irreligion of Shakspere. Their condemnation may be set in opposition to our motto from Mr. Knight, who has argued the opposite way.
Other critics have collected notices of Raleigh, and what they think friendly allusions to him and his position, in the plays of Shakspere. Whatever his life and works may testify, it was a current opinion of his age that Raleigh was an Atheist. Chalmers' Bio. Dict. art. Raleigh : says, “In 1593 he was charged with Atheism in a pamphlet by the Jesuit Parsons, who speaks of his School of Atheism, of which he was not content to be a disciple, but was a doctor. Anthony Wood not only adopts this opinion of his principles, but tells us from whom he derived them. Shakspere is known to have had private and personal intercourse with Raleigh. Raleigh was at the head of a club at the Mermaid, where Jonson and Shakspere were the most distinguished members. There,' says Fletcher, they drank“ full wine." ;
It is just possible that Shakspere in early life knew Bacon. The versatile Chancellor must have been once theatrical, as in the winter of 1586—7, he was concerned in getting up and writing parts of a new play which was acted before the Queen by the members of the Temple.
It is highly probable that Shakspere was acquainted with his works, or the spirit of his investigations, as there is evidence in Shakspere of some coincidence with them. Much of Bacon's Essays are said to be taken from Montaigne, whose writings were
Well known to, if not much used by, Shakspere. The design of both Montaigne and Bacon seems to be, to find out what may be said on each side of the question of religion. This style of writing is too much in the fashion of the schoolmen, who would argue on any hypothesis, for or against, and was probably adopted by Montaigne and Bacon as a just medium; as eclectic in philosophy, and as avoiding the imputation of holding any opinions, heretical in themselves, or obnoxious to others. Bacon has taken care to balance his sentiments, whilst those of Shakspere seem nearly all placed in one, so as greatly to outweigh the other scale. Bacon, as well as Montaigne, was at least aware that his Essays would be thought by some prejudicial to religion; as he says, in his prefatory epistle to his brother, ' I find nothing, to my understanding, in them contrary or infectious to the state in religion or manners, but rather, as I suppose, medicinable.' Bacon gave a first edition of his Essays in 1597, another in 1612. Though published after many of the plays of Shakspere, they evince the spirit of the age amongst literary men contemporary with Shakspere. In his third Essay, of unity
, ' in religion,' Bacon says of the religion of the heathens, ' you may imagine what kind of faith theirs was, when the chief doctors and fathers of their church were the poets.' An idea which Shakspere seems to have had, in the speech of Theseus in the Midsummer Night's Dream, where he puts into the mouth of that hero of ancient Athens, that the religious, the lunatic and the poet, are of imagination all compact. Agreeing further with Shakspere, he says, 'the differences in religion make the religious to be thought mad, and the Atheists and profane to sit down in the chair of the scorner.'
It seems, according to Bacon, that Atheists were then very rampant, for he says that they were ever talking of their opinions; that they strove to get disciples, and, most of all, would suffer for Atheism rather than recant. He must have been thinking of Kett, Marlowe, and the dramatists, or Raleigh and his school, as we know of no other Atheists in those times, or of any others who had Atheism ascribed to them in England. Bruno, who had been in England, under the patronage of Sir Philip Sydney, was burnt abroad.
Bacon says one cause of Atheism is the scandal of priests, which had already operated in producing the Reformation, and its next step, infidelity. The writings of the Italians, such as Boccaccio's, which Shakspere consulted, made the scandal of the priesthood the subjects of their pen, for the purpose of producing in others the infidelity which already existed in themselves. Another cause, he says, “is a custom of profane scoffing in holy matters, which doth by little and little deface the reverence of religion.' Shakspere was certainly amenable to this, as a producer of Atheism.
Bacon remarks, "They that deny a god, destroy a man's nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body : and, if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. We shall often have occasion to remark, in the examination of Shakspere's plays, the tendency he shows to depreciate the theological estimation of man, and compare him rather to the beast by his qualities in common with the animal, than to a god, by the great and many differences of his nature and superiority over the lower animals. Besides, he draws comparisons, between man and the nature he imputes to supreme beings, derogatory of all divinity.
There were three parties into which the men of those times were divided--the popish, the puritanical, the irreligious or sceptical. Marlowe belonged to the last for certain ; and nearly all the dramatists may be said to have belonged to it. Raleigh had the reputation of being a member of it; but along with Bacon and other statesmen, whilst indulging in speculative opinions, they would consider religion as a matter of policy. Whilst the puritanical party were suffering imprisonment and death, they accused the authorities of granting illegal impunity to all the pleasures of the people in the theatrical quarter on Sundays; doubtlessly done by the authorities in order to neutralise, by amusement, the effects of religious propagandism, and the melancholy sourness of spirit which Shakspere accuses the Puritans of introducing into society, and which had its political consequences. James the First is especially charged with favouring the Roman Catholics from feeling more affection towards their principles, and out of hatred to Puri