« PředchozíPokračovat »
sant mountainous country, beautified with woods, vineyards, "fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains very delectable to behold."
But I must leave this subject: Shakspeare was not a mountaineer, nor in all probability should we have cared to be so, unless it had been the fashion of the age, and unless we had found practicable roads spreading over what formerly were wild and desolate districts, and comfortable inns to welcome us at the end of our day's march.
Shakspeare probably never left the narrow bounds of England: his geography, which assigns a sea coast to Bohemia, was of the most doubtful character. Sometimes he relates the current tales about foreign lands-the fables of adventurous seamen, who had witnessed marvels as great as any they could invent. For instance, in the Tempest, Caliban is afraid that he and his companions will be turned
Whilst Benedick, mad with the jests of the lady Beatrice, offers to perform all manner of feats "rather than hold three words' conference with the harpy." "Will your grace com"mand me any service to the world's end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes, that you can devise "to send me on: I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from "the farthest inch of Asia: bring you the length of Prester "John's foot; fetch you a hair off the great Cham's beard; "do you any embassage to the Pigmies."*
The age of Shakspeare may be said to have been the commencement of a long chain of naval adventures. "The black "north-easter" was then beginning to "stir up the brave Vikings' blood," and to "drive our English hearts of oak "seaward round the world." The feats of daring and enterprise
Much Ado About Nothing, Act ii, Scene 1.
To barnacles, or to apes
which were then performed have never since been surpassed. We recently heard with some astonishment that an Irish nobleman had taken his yacht on a summer excursion to the ice-bound shores of Jan Mayen within the limits of the Arctic circle; but he possessed charts and instruments, and all the appliances of science- and it was an undertaking by no means equal to those of the hardy seamen of Queen Elizabeth, of Martin Frobisher, who in three successive voyages explored the coasts of Labrador and of Greenland, and of Sir Francis Drake who circumnavigated the globe in vessels not much larger than good-sized fishing-smacks. The very soul of the nation was stirred up by adventures such as these, the inland people were affected by the excitement of the dwellers on the sea coast, and there is hardly one subject to which our great Warwickshire poet more frequently alludes. For instance, in Henry V, the chorus calls upon the audience to imagine a fleet leaving harbour (the theatres in those days had little scenery or machinery of any kind)—
Play with your fancies; and in them behold,
You stand upon the rivage, and behold
A city on the inconstant billows dancing:
Again, in the Merchant of Venice, the return of the homeward-bound vessel furnishes Shakspeare with a beautiful simile
How like a younker, or a prodigal,
The scarfed bark puts from her native bay.
Henry V, Act iii, Chorus.
+ Merchant of Venice, Act ii, Scene 6.
Again, in the long speech which Margaret of Anjou makes in reference to the position of her affairs, she describes the island nobles, the upholders of her husband's throne, by comparing them to the various parts of a vessel.
Say Warwick was our anchor; What of that?
Our slaughter'd friends the tackles; What of these?
And Somerset another goodly mast;
The friends of France our shrouds and tacklings ?*
She then compares her enemies to the various dangers a ship is exposed to
And what is Edward, but a ruthless sea?
All these the enemies to our poor bark.+
There is another well-known passage where Shakspeare
uses a figure taken from the changes of the sea—
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
And we must take the current when it serves,
But perhaps the finest passage connected with the sea are those beautiful lines on sleep in Henry IV, though I am not sure that seamen will accept the truth of the figure
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
In cradle of the rude imperious surge;
And in the visitation of the winds
* 3 Henry VI, Act v, Scene 4. Julius Cæsar, Act iv, Scene 3.
Canst thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose
Shakspeare was evidently fully aware of the greatness of the sea, its power, its intense sublimity-but I do not think his words exhibit that extreme love of the sea and of the roaring elements which we find (sometimes perhaps only simulated) in the writers of the present day. Nothing of the Westward Ho! character. At times a feeling of horror may be discovered when speaking of the mighty deep; for instance, in Richard III, Clarence says
Methought, that Gloster stumbled; and, in falling,
O heaven! methought, what pain it was to drown!
All scattered in the bottom of the sea.
Some lay in dead men's skulls; and, in those holes
(As 't were in scorn of eyes) reflecting gems,
That woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep,
In the time of Queen Elizabeth, the sea, with its evervarying adventures and opportunities for obtaining wealth, not always by the most honourable means, began to open a new profession for the younger sons of the gentry. Drake and Greenville and their associates were many of them men of lineage and name in the western counties-Raleigh was an accomplished courtier, and kindred spirits accompanied him
* 2 Henry IV, Act iii, Scene 1.
+ Richard III, Act i, Scene 4.
to found the first English colony in honour of the Virgin Queen, and to make buccaneering inroads on the Spanish Main. In one passage some reference is made to this. It is where the father of Proteus is reproached because he did not send his son from home
While other men, of slender reputation,
Put forth their sons to seek preferment out:
Some, to the studious universities.*
But at the close of the sixteenth century, the sea must have been chiefly regarded as the scene of the greatest contest in which England had ever been engaged
When that great fleet invincible against her brought in vain
All the incidents of that death-struggle and that glorious victory were fresh in men's minds when Shakspeare wrote his plays-the greatness of the preparations of Spain, the small means of defence which this country possessed beyond brave hearts and hardy English men. There is a passage in Twelfth Night which may have been taken from some of the tales of the naval encounters with the argosies of Spain—
A bawbling vessel was he captain of,
That very envy, and the tongue of loss,
There is another passage in Cymbeline which may have reference to the same tremendous trial
* Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act i, Scene 3.
+ Twelfth Night, Act v, Scene 1.