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Proteus. Unheedful vows may heedfully be broken.

Two Gentlemen of Verona. Act ii. Scene 6.

Pandulph. And being not done, when doing tends to ill, The truth is then most done, not doing it: Tbe better act of purposes mistook Is to mistake again.

King John. Act iii, Scene 1.

Salisbury. It is great sin to swear unto a sin,
But greater sin to keep a sinful oath.
Who can be bound by any solemn vow,
To do a murderous deed, to rob a man,


To reave the orphan of his patrimony,
To wring the widow from her customed right,
And have no other reason for this wrong,
But that he was bound by a solemn oath ?

2nd part King Henry VI. Act v. Scene 1.


Do not count it holy
To hurt by being just; it is as lawful,
For we would give much, to use violent thefts,
And rob in the behalf of charity.

Cassandra. It is the purpose that makes strong the vow; But vows to every purpose inust not hold.

Troilus and Cressida, Act v. Scene 3.

Pericles. I'll take thy word for faith, not ask thine oath, Who shuns not to break one, will sure crack both.

Pericles. Act i. Scene 2.


The morality of keeping or breaking wicked and unwise oaths, vows, and promises, has long been a favourite subject of argument. With respect to oaths and vows, one greater than we has said, “ Swear not at all !” And if the wise command be followed, it will obviate all difficulty. It would be well too if more caution were used in making promises. But after the oath is sworn, or the vow or promise made, I think most of my readers will agree with Shakspere, that if it be an evil one, it had better be broken than kept, as the least of two evils.

Some persons are very sensitive on this point. I once heard of a very amiable gentleman, who considered every determination in his own mind to do a certain act, as a vow to himself, and religiously kept it, at all hazards. Ex. gr. if he chanced in the morning to determine within himself that he would take a walk that afternoon at 4 o'clock upon a particular sand by the sea-shore; and on arriving at the determined place at the determined hour, found unexpectedly that the tide had covered the spot, he still considered himself religiously bound to walk upon the sand, though up to his middle in water!

Is there not such a thing as a diseased conscience ?




We were Two lads, that thought there was no more behind, But such a day to-morrow as to-day, And to be boy eternal. We were as twinn'd lambs, that did frisk i’ the sun, And bleat the one at the other: what we changed, Was innocence for innocence; we knew not The doctrine of ill-doing, no, nor dream'u That any did : Had we pursued that life, And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd With stronger blood, we should have answer'd Heaven Boldly, ‘Not guilty;' the imposition clear’d, Hereditary ours.

Winter's Tale. Act i. Scene 2.


Archbishop of Canterbury. The breath no sooner left his

father's body,
But that his wildness, mortified in him,
Seem'd to die too : yea, at that very moment,
Consideration like an angel came,
And whipp'd the offending Adam out of him;
Leaving bis body as a paradise,
To envelop and contain celestial spirits.

King Henry V. Act i. Scene 1.

That Shakspere had a very modified notion of the doctrine of " original sin ” is apparent from the two passages


extracted above; and it is equally plain that he entirely discarded that of " total depravity.” I hope it will not shock any of his readers to find out that some of his opinions were not strictly orthodox. With all his extraordinary, nay almost miraculous knowledge, he was still in some degree an unsophisticated man ; he took religion into his heart from the Holy Scriptures, and did not stuff it into his brain through the metaphysical abstractions of learned theologians. He found there our Saviour's memorable declaration, when pointing to the little children near him, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven!” No wonder then, that he could not believe such an abhorrent human doctrine as “that an infant is a mass of depravity.” He also found there man represented as combining two principles within him, the carnal and the spiritual, the evil and the good; and endowed with a sufficient force of the latter to conquer the former.

Whether he interpreted the Christian religion aright in these respects, 'tis not for mortal to say. “ There is One that judgeth!” Let man await that infallible decree!



Bassanio. So may the outward shows be least themselves; The world is still deceiv'd with ornament. In law, what plea so tainted and corrupt, But, being season'd with a gracious voice, Obscures the show of evil ? In religion, What damned error, but some sober brow, Will bless it, and approve it with a text, Hiding the grossness with fair ornament? There is no vice so simple, but assumes Some mark of virtue on its outward parts. How many cowards, whose hearts are all as false As stairs of sand, wear yet upon their chins The beards of Hercules, and frowning Mars; Who, inward search'd, have livers white as milk? And these assume but valour's excrement, To render them redoubted. Look on beauty, And you shall see 'tis purchas'd by the weight; Which therein works a miracle in nature, Making them lightest that wear most of it: So are those crisped, snaky, golden locks,

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