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Perhaps Shakspeare is rarely more successful in any of his illustrations than in those taken from the habits of birds. For instance, in Titus Andronicus, the wicked Queen of the Goths declares
The eagle suffers little birds to sing,
Knowing that with the shadow of his wings,
Again, in Macbeth, where Lady Macduff speaks of the flight
of her husband, she says—
He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.+
In Richard III, when the spiteful hump-backed Gloster denounces his enemies, he says
The world is grown so bad,
In Henry IV, where Westmoreland brings the king intelligence of the utter defeat of his enemies, the latter replies
O Westmoreland, thou art a summer-bird,
In the closing scene of the life of the gentle monarch Henry VI, he turns on the murderer of his son, with bolder words than were his wont :
The bird, that hath been limed in a bush,
With trembling wings misdoubteth every bush :
And I, the hapless male to one sweet bird,
Where my poor young was lim'd, was caught, and kill'd.
As the altercation becomes warmer, he upbraids Gloster with
all the evil omens which attended his birth:
* Titus Andronicus, Act iv, Scene 4. Richard III, Act i, Scene 3.
+ Macbeth, Act iv, Scene 2.
§ 2 Henry IV, Act iv, Scene 4.
The owl shriek'd at thy birth, an evil sign;
The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;
Dogs howl'd, and hideous tempests shook down trees;
One of the most beautiful passages relating to birds is in Macbeth, a play which contains more allusions to the feathered fowl than any other; it is where Banquo speaks of Macbeth's castle :
This guest of summer,
But Shakspeare's illustrations are not confined to the beautiful songsters of the grove, the harbingers of spring, the sign to man that he must soar upwards to another and a purer world. The crawling things of the ground, the insects flitting through the air, find a place in his verses. Thus he mentions "the tender horns of cockled snails," "the poor harmless fly "with his pretty buzzing melody," "the red-hipp'd humble-bee
on the top of a thistle," "the gilded butterflies," "the shard"borne beetle with his drowsy hums," "the snake and her "enamell'd skin," "the adder's fork and blind-worm's sting." The band of fairies in their chorus warn the hosts of insects from the haunt of their sylvan queen; the two bands seem to be brought together for the sake of comparison, and they seem in some respects to dispute the rule of the night.
Perhaps the finest passage on any branch of the insect world is Shakspeare's account of the social policy of the "bees. Many poets ancient and modern have described their order and industry and economy and regal form of government,
* 3 Henry VI, Act v, Scene 6.
+ Macbeth, Act i, Scene 6.
but they have none of them produced anything more beautiful than the following. It occurs in the scene in Henry V, where the young King and his council discuss the foreign policy of the kingdom; the Archbishop speaks of the order and obedience of the body politic, and thus compares it
For so work the honey bees;
To the tent-royal of their emperor:
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold;
Flowers are so often introduced in Shakspeare's plays, that it has been suggested that his original calling was that of a gardener. I think, however, that he as frequently brings in the wild flowers of the fields and the woods, the village maiden's wreaths and posies, as those of the highly cultivated garden. Wherever they appear, they give proof that they are more the offspring of nature than of art. For instance, in the Winter's Tale, at the sheep shearing feast, where Perdita receives the guests and gives them flowers, she says—
Here's flowers for you;
• Henry V, Act i, Scene 2.
Poor Ophelia, the sometime rose of May, her mind overpowered by her father's death, her head fantastically crowned with flowers, presents us with a scene which Shakspeare evidently painted from the life. "There's rosemary, that's "for remembrance; pray you, love, remember; and there is 'pansies, that's for thoughts. There's fennel for you, and "columbines:-there's rue for you; and here's some for me:
we may call it, herb of grace o' Sundays:-you may wear "your rue with a difference.-There's a daisy :--I would give you some violets; but they withered all, when my father "died."t
That come before the swallow dares, and take
Again, in the lines describing Ophelia's death, we have a very pretty piece of floral scenery, which has probably been suggested to Shakspeare by some actual scene.
There is a willow grows ascaunt the brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
Lear, his poor brain cracked by his elder daughters' unkindness and by the bodily sufferings he had undergone, replaces the royal crown he had lost by one of another kind.
+ Hamlet, Act iv, Scene 5.
Winter's Tale, Act iv, Scene 3.
As mad as the vex'd sea: singing aloud;
When the sons of Cymbeline find Imogen, as they suppose, dead, they lament her loss, and, to show their grief, propose to scatter flowers over her tomb.
From these passages it is curious to see how much Shakspeare has associated flowers with sorrow: he has brought them in to give a tone and colouring to some picture of human melancholy, quite as often as to deck some festive scene or occasion for rejoicing.
He seems to have been really fond of employing figures taken from the common weeds of the field. For instance, when the angry Hotspur broods over the rebellion he is plotting, he exclaims, "but I tell you, my lord fool, out of "this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety." Again, in Henry V, when the grave bishops discuss the character of their new king and his previous riotous career, Ely says
The strawberry grows underneath the nettle;
I will now quote two or three of the most beautiful
* Lear, Act iv, Scene 4.
+ Cymbeline, Act iv, Scene 2.
§ Henry V, Act i, Scene 1.