Abbildungen der Seite

against mankind. The object of our late invasion and conquest of France was to restore the legitimate monarch, the descendant of Hugh Capet, to the throne: Henry V., in his time, made war on and deposed the descendant of this very Hugh Capet, on the plea that he was a usurper and illegitimate. What would the great modern catspaw of legitimacy and restorer of divine right have said to the claim of Henry and the title of the descendants of Hugh Capet ? Henry V., it is true, was a hero, a king of England, and the conqueror of the king of France. Yet we feel little love or admiration for him. He was a hero, that is, he was ready to sacrifice his own life for the pleasure of destroying thousands of other lives : he was a king of England, but not a constitutional one, and we only like kings according to the law; lastly, he was a conqueror of the French king, and for this we dislike him less than if he had conquered the French people. How then do we like him? We like him in the play. There he is a very amiable monster, a very splendid pageant. As we like to gaze at a panther or a young lion in their cages in the Tower, and catch a pleasing borrour from their glisteping eyes, their velvet paws, and dreadless roar, 80 we take a very romantick, heroick, patriotick, and poetical delight in the boasts and feats of our younger Harry, as they appear on the stage and are confined to lines of ten syllables; where no blood follows the stroke that wounds our ears, where no barvest bends beneath horses' hoofs, no city fames, no little child is butchered, no dead men's bodies are found piled on heaps and festering the next morning-in the orchestra !

So much for the politicks of this play; now for the poetry. Perhaps one of the most striking images in all Shakspeare is that given of war in the first lines of the Prologue.

“O for a muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene !
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
Crouch for employment.”

Rubens, if he had painted it, would not have improved upon this simile.

The conversation between the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely relating to the sudden change in the manners of Henry V. is among the well known Beauties of Shakspeare. It is indeed admirable both for strength and grace. It has sometimes occurred to us that Shakspeare, in de. scribing “the reformation" of the Prince, might have had an eye to himself

" Which is a wonder how his grace should glean it,
Since his addiction was to courses vain,
His companies unletter'd, rude and shallow,
His hours fill’d up with riots, banquets, sports ;
And never noted in him any study,
Any retirement, any sequestration
From open haunts and popularity.

Ely. The strawberry grows underneath the pettle,
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighbour'd hy fruit of baser quality :
And so the prince obscur'd his contemplation
Under the veil of wildness, which no doubt
Grew like the summer grass, fastest by night,
Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.”

This at least is as probable an account of the progress of the poet's mind, as we have met with in any of the Essays on the Learning of Shakspeare.

Nothing can be better managed than the cau. tion which the king gives the meddling Archbishop, not to advise him rashly to engage in the war with France, his scrupulous dread of the consequences of that advice, and his eager desire to hear and follow it.

" And God forbid, my dear and faithful lord,
That you should fashion, wrest, or bow your reading,
Or nicely charge your understanding soul
With opening titles miscreate, whose right
Suits not in native colours with the truth.
For God doth kpow how many now in health
Shall drop their blond, in approbation
Of what your reverence shall incite us to.
Therefore take heed how you impawn your person,
How you awake our sleeping sword of war ;
We charge you in the name of God, take heed.
For never two such kingdoms did contend
Without much fall of blood, whose guiltless drops
Are every one a wo, a sore complaint
'Gainst him, whose wrong gives edge unto the swords
That make such waste in brief mortality.
Under this conjuration, speak, my lord;
For we will hear, note, and believe in heart,
That what you speak, is in your conscience washid,
As pure as sin with baptism."

Another characteristick instance of the blindness of human nature to every thing but its own interests, is the complaint made by the king of “the ill neighbourhood” of the Scot in attacking England when she was attacking France.

"For once the eagle England being in prey,
To her unguarded nest the weazel Scot
Comes speaking, and so sucks her princely eggs."

It is worth observing that in all these plays, which give an admirable picture of the spirit of the good old times, the moral inference does not at all depend upon the nature of the actions, but on the dignity or meanness of the persons committing them. “The eagle England” has a right "to be in prey," but “ the weazel Scot” has none " to come sneaking to her nest,” which she has left to pounce upon others. Might was right, without equivocation or disguise, in that heroick and chivalrous age. The substitution of right for might, even in theory, is among the refinements and abuses of modern philosophy.

A more beautiful rhetorical delineation of the effects of subordination in a commonwealth can hardly be conceived than the following :

"For government, though high and low and lower,
Put into parts, doth keep in one consent,
Congruing in a full and natural close,
Like musick.

Therefore heaven doth divide
The state of man in divers functions,
Setting endeavour in continual motion ;
To which is fixed, as an aim or butt,
Obedience : for so work the honey bees;
Creatures that hy a rule in nature, teach
The art of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king, and officers of sorts
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home;
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad;
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds;
Which pillage they wilh merry march bring home

To the tent-royal of their emperour ;
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singiog mason building roofs of gold,
The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
The poor mechanick porters crowding in
Their heavy burthens at his parrow gate;
The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,
Delivering o'er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone. I this infer,
Tirat many things, baving full reference
To one consent, may work contrariously :
As many arrows, loosed several ways,
Come to one mark; as many ways meet in one town ;
As many fresh streams meet in one salt sea ;
As many lines close in the dial's centre;
So may a thousand actions, once a foot,
End in one purpose, and be all well borne
Without defeat."

HENRY V. is but one of Shakspeare's second rate plays. Yet by quoting passages, like this, from his second rate plays alone, we might make a volume “ rich with his praise,"

“ As is the oozy bottom of the sea
With sunken wrack and sumless treasuries."

of this sort are the king's remonstrance to Scroop, Grey, and Cambridge, on the detection of their treason, his address to the soldiers at the siege of Harfleur, and the still finer one before the battle of Agincourt, the description of the night before the battle, and the reflections on ceremony put into the mouth of the king.

“O hard condition; and twinborn with greatness,
Subjected to the breath of every fool,
Whose sense no more can feel but his owu wringing !
What infinite heart's ease must kings neglect,
That private men enjoy ? and wbat have kings,

« ZurückWeiter »