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St. George’s Day, 1564
by [?]

Just mentioning the phrase, “temple-haunting martlet” (act i. scene 6), as including in it a reference to the verse, “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts,” we pass to the following passage, for which we do not believe there is any explanation but that suggested to us by the passage of Scripture to be cited.

Macbeth, on his way to murder Duncan, says,–

“Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time
Which now suits with it.”

What is meant by the last two lines? It seems to us to be just another form of the words, “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops.” Of course we do not mean that Macbeth is represented as having this passage in his mind, but that Shakspere had the feeling of it when he wrote thus. What Macbeth means is, “Earth, do not hear me in the dark, which is suitable to the present horror, lest the very stones prate about it in the daylight, which is not suitable to such things; thus taking ‘the present horror from the time which now suits with it.'”

Again, in the only piece of humour in the play–if that should be called humour which, taken in its relation to the consciousness of the principal characters, is as terrible as anything in the piece–the porter ends off his fantastic soliloquy, in which he personates the porter of hell-gate, with the words, “But this place is too cold for hell: I’ll devil-porter it no further. I had thought to have let in some of all professions, that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.” Now what else had the writer in his mind but the verse from the Sermon on the Mount, “For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat”?

It may be objected that such passages as these, being of the most commonly quoted, imply no profound acquaintance with Scripture, such as we have said Shakspere possessed. But no amount of knowledge of the words of the Bible would be sufficient to justify the use of the word profound. What is remarkable in the employment of these passages, is not merely that they are so present to his mind that they come up for use in the most exciting moments of composition, but that he embodies the spirit of them in such a new form as reveals to minds saturated and deadened with the sound of the words, the very visual image and spiritual meaning involved in them. “The primrose way!” And to what?

We will confine ourselves to one passage more:–

Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above
Put on their instruments.”

In the end of the 14th chapter of the Revelation we have the words, “Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” We suspect that Shakspere wrote, ripe to shaking.

The instances to which we have confined ourselves do not by any means belong to the most evident kind of proof that might be adduced of Shakspere’s acquaintance with Scripture. The subject, in its ordinary aspect, has been elsewhere treated with far more fulness than our design would permit us to indulge in, even if it had not been done already. Our object has been to bring forward a few passages which seem to us to breathe the very spirit of individual passages in sacred writ, without direct use of the words themselves; and, of course, in such a case we can only appeal to the (no doubt) very various degrees of conviction which they may rouse in the minds of our readers.