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SHAKSPEARE'S ALLUSIONS TO
To Daniel, in the Merchant of Venice, act iv., sc. 1.
iv., sc. 5. To Samson, in Love's Labour's Lost, act i., sc. 2. To Samson and Goliath, in King Henry VI. (1st part),
act i., sc. 2. To Goliath, in Merry Wives of Windsor, act v., sc. 1. To Deborah,* in King Henry VI. (1st part), act i., sc. 2. To Jezebel, in Twelfth Night, act ii., sc. 5. To Jephthah, in Hamlet, act ii., sc. 2; and in King
Henry VI. (2d part), act iii., sc. 2. To David, in King Henry IV. (2d part), act iii., sc. 2. To Ahithophel, in King Henry IV. (20 part), act i.,
To Solomon, in Love's Labour's Lost, act i., sc. 2, and
act iv., sc. 3. To the Queen of Sheba, in King Henry VIII., act v.,
I have collected these Allusions in order to illustrate more fully the frequency and facility with which Shakspeare was in the habit of referring to such subjects, and to shew with what extreme readiness they offered themselves to his mind and pen; arguing, as they do, a familiarity with the Bible not very common in any case, and, in his particular arena, most singu
Not Rebekah's nurse, but Deborah the prophetess. † Shakspeare also alludes to several characters of the Apocryphal books which I have not included in the above.
larly exceptional. Besides these, there are still a great number of passages in his writings, although not quotable either as parallels or as direct allusions, that nevertheless, by some peculiarity of phrase or figure, distinctly reveal a biblical source, or suggest at once some biblical equivalent. Take, for example, the following from “ All's Well that Ends Well,” act ii., sc. 1, where Helena, the daughter of a famous physician, in trying to persuade the King of France to try the remedy she possesses for the cure of his disease, pleads the following arguments in defence of her youth and seeming inexperience :
* He that of greatest works is finisher,
What a comprehensive ramification of biblical allusion do these few words contain. The first lines call to mind at once the text in 1st Corinthians—“God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” Then in the next lines
are reminded of Matthew xxi. 16—“Out of the mouths of babes,” etc., and in the words, “ When judges have been babes," of the child-prophet Samuel,
and of the youthful Daniel judging the two elders. In the next sentence we have a hint of Moses' miracle in Horeb (Exodus xvii.), and in the passage, “Great seas have dried,” etc., reference is made to the children of Israel passing through the Red Sea, when the power by which such miracles were wrought as denied by “the greatest,” evidently alluding in this case to Pharaoh.
But, although such numerous allusions undeniably prove a most intimate and ready acquaintance with the Bible, it is not the literal evidence these afford, so much as the general tone and morality of the works of Shakspeare that reveal the eminently scriptural tendency of his genius. The letter in many cases yields but a doubtful testimony. Shakspeare himself tells us that even “the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose," and it is not so much in these verbal proofs, as in the purely scriptural character of his exalted philosophy that the most conclusive evidence of this distinguishing tendency is shown. Outside the Scriptures themselves there is no more eloquent exponent of divine truth than he ; and so comprehensive is the range of his intelligence in this specialty of his many-sided power, that there is scarcely a valuable truth in the wide field of moral philosophy the Scriptures unfold, he has not wielded with the overwhelming power which genius only can, and illustrated with that colossal breadth of utterance which is his, and his alone.
One of the greatest attractions in the biblical tone of his philosophy, arises from its being so eminently characterized by those influences which flow more immediately from Christian sources, and from the fact of its never sinking to the dead level of that respectable pagan morality which constituted the greater part of the philosophy of his classical times, and, unfortunately, still continues to hold its place in a great deal of the morality, and more especially of the preached morality of our own. In our own day, however, it is unquestionably exhibiting symptoms of a steady decline. The regular trade article in morality has not the ready market it once had, and is not listened to with anything like the same degree of patience. The dispensers of these “beggarly elements” of philosophy have almost had their day; the age has out-grown them, and exhibits a daily increasing impatience of their distressing unfitness. Perhaps they will not be much longer wanted. In these times of miraculous mechanical contrivance, I live in daily expectation that some moral Babbage will invent a machine, something of the nature of the calculating hand-organ of his name, which, with every revolution, shall evolve these respectable old truisms, with a corollary of appropriate reflections to each, so many in the minute, that will effectually supersede the flesh and blood apparatus now in use for that purpose. Such an invention would not only save the conscientious hearer that harassing irritation that arises between the duty of listening and the difficulty of listening to any profit, but it would save the speaker also the moral twinge that, in every
But to return to our subject : it is impossible to find any of this ready-made article in Shakspeare. You never detect his morality arranged in graceful folds about him for purposes of exhibition ; far less in any case in the shape of mere literary padding. read you
feel that it is in the blood and bone ; that his philosophy and he have indeed “grown together,” and that their parting would be “ a tortured body."
The peculiarly Christian spirit I have referred to as leavening his whole philosophy is everywhere observable in the fondness with which, through the medium of his nobler characters, he produces in endless change of argument and imagery, illustrations of that wisdom which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated." In his allusions to the Almighty, he delights in those attributes that more particularly represent him in the character of his New Testament title of of “The God of Peace ;” and between man and man would rather inculcate the humanizing doctrine of for. giveness, and recommend the " quality of mercy,” than the rugged justice of the "eye for eye and tooth for tooth" morality of the first dispensation. With what tenderness, and yet with what power he advocates, in innumerable passages, those virtues which more immediately grow from the seed sown in the Christian revelation ; of that gentle spirit that “seeketh not her own.”
That hath a tear for pity, and a hand
Open as day for melting charity.” Of Forgiveness : the forgiveness that, carrying the fifth