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tanism; which, he said, preferred the pains and penalties of this life, and consigned all but themselves to hell in the next world; an opinion which gained for them from Shakspere the character of madmen, stocking hell with more devils than its vastness could hold. This exclusiveness of spirit they carried into practice when they came into power.
The Brownists, the prevalent sect of Puritans in Shakspere's time, were the precursors of the triumphant independents of the commonwealth. It was, however, when Shakspere wrote, of the worst party to be; however dangerous, on the other hand, it might be to set up as a politician. I had as lief be a Brownist as a politician,' says Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Indeed, the humanity of Shakspere might feel for the persecuted, and hold in abhorrence the politician who was the persecutor, instead of being, as the enlightened rulers of the day were disposed to be, merely the counteractors. It might appear to him as bad to act according to political expediency as to be one of its victims, though, as the enemies of the theatre and as distasteful to him, he was engaged in satirising them. Whatever inference he wished to be drawn from it by mention of their name, their hanging on the gallows would strongly impress Shakspere. The spectacle of Brownists amongst the Protestants, of Papists suffering capital punishment for opinion's sake, alternately presented to the eyes of the public, would create a party hostile to all religion, whilst an occasional Atheist burnt would teach the irreligious to keep their opinions to themselves, or caution them in administering infidelity as “medicinable.' Such a physician in opinion we think was Shakspere (no politician, like Bacon); he exceeded in quantity and quality the doses which many modern practitioners, suspected of free-thinking, have dared to prescribe to their patients.
It has been observed, that the changes which the families of Bacon and other statesmen (going from Popery to Protestantism, and vice versa, through all the shades of differences during the sixteenth century) must have naturally disposed their minds to scepticism. Shakspere's father was sent up as a recusant in 1592, for not attending church. Amidst the disputes whether it was from old age, poverty,
or being a Roman Catholic, people have forgotten to think whether it was not from holding the same opinions about religion as his son, who makes Glo’ster accuse Winchester, afterwards Beaufort, in Henry VI., that he had nothing to do with religion, for he never went to church : and Falstaff to say that he did not recollect when he had seen the inside of a church.'
The irreligious party at the end of the Tudor and beginning of the Stuart dynasty, must have formed the professed free-thinkers of the Commonwealth. Their names are given by Hume, in his History of England, as Deists, Who
• denied entirely the truth of revelation, and insinuated that all the various sects, so heated against each other, were alike founded in folly and in error. Martin, Challoner, Harrington, Sidney, Wildman, Nevil, were esteemed the heads of this small division. The Deists were perfectly hated by Cromwell, because he had no hold of enthusiasm by which he could govern or overreach them; he therefore treated them with great rigour and disdain, and usually denominated them the heathens.'
The Bacons and the Shaksperes, the philosophers and scoffers, as well as the Papists, were extinguished by the Puritans. The theatre gave way to the pulpit, the actor and dramatist to the preacher. The philosophical and political school of infidelity had no chance against the fanaticism of Cromwell at the head of the religious spirit of the age.
Next to the living, the dead who converse with the living, through the medium of books, are to be regarded as the society who form men's opinions. Critics have decided that Shakspere was acquainted with Lucretius, Plutarch, Aristophanes, Lucian, and others among the ancients who abounded in speculations on the nature of things and pleasantries on religion. If Shakspere did not derive his knowledge from the originals, he did from translations, and he would have been assisted by contemporary dramatistsuniversity men, who must have been acquainted with the dead languages and ancient authors.
Among the moderns, he was certainly well acquainted with the two most irreligious authors known to his times.
He was well versed in Boccaccio, and was indebted to him for the stories of some of his plays. We owe to Italy the revival of literature, and, therefore, it is probable that whatever was contained in its writings would be re-echoed by those of other countries of Europe which succeeded it in letters.
Naudè, the librarian of Cardinal Mazarin, says of Boccaccio— As to religion, I believe that Boccaccio had none, and that he was a perfect Atheist.'
Montaigne (a favourite writer with Shakspere) was sceptical, and speculative on the doctrines of religion. We think we have proved in one of the plays, the adoption of a passage from Montaigne, which would coincide with Shakspere's sentiments of a future state. Montaigne is said to ridicule the systems of divinity in his chapter upon Raimond de Sebonde.
Montaigne observes, that the weakness rather than strength of our judgment is our assistance in religion. The things that we are the most ignorant of are the most proper to be deified. All which sentiments are embodied in the speech of Theseus, in the Midsummer Night's Dream. Though Pope says Shakspere was obliged to please the lowest of the people, and to keep the worst of company,' yet admitting this circumstance as a motive not to be religious, as producing an indulgence in coarse jokes, and the ridicule of sacred things, yet we must say that he tried to elevate the sentiments and morals of the people. However disinclined to the supernatural and liable to ridicule revelation, yet in the mention of them he will draw a moral congenial to his own opinions. He has a system which may be drawn from his works, which he contrasts with the notions of mankind taken from Revelation, and which he represents as doing what revelation and a future state proposes to do for the benefit of mankind, and which he seems to think sufficient to supply its place. The fear of the consequences of immorality he does not release men from, but strongly insists upon it; and, putting aside religious considerations, he has more than any author exalted the love of humanity. However he may indulge in invective against the artificial systems of religion, and be found even speak
ing against Christianity, yet in his material and natural speculations he endeavours to give philosophical consolation to mankind, to inculcate submission to inevitable circumstances, and encourage scientific investigation into the nature of things.
But it cannot be contended that Shakspere did not inculculcate an indifference to a future state and abstractedly deny it. Upon some of the abstruse metaphysical questions which he moots, his speculations may have fallen innoxious of effect, even if perceived by the common mindbut the questions of life and death must have come home to every bosom producing results which must have been obvious and intended.
The first dramatic representations in England were miracle plays. Craik’s Sketches of the History of Literature and Learning in England tells us—The subject of the
miracle plays were all taken from the histories of the Old and New Testaments, or from the legends of Saints and Martyrs; and, indeed, it is probable that their original design was chiefly to instruct the people in religious knowledge. The morals, or moral plays, succeeded, in which all the characters were allegorical. The vices and the virtues were impersonated. The devil of the miracles became the vice of the morals-though in character he was still introduced to undergo his tribulations, to the satisfaction of the audience in seeing the enemy of mankind always overcome, More especially the morals, but even the miracle plays, were written and represented down to the very end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century. Collier gives an account of Lupton's moral - All for Money in the title called "a moral and pitiful comedy ;' in the prologue, a pleasant tragedy.' The catastrophe is sufficiently tragical. Judas, in the last scene, coming in (says the stage direction, 'like a damned soul in black, painted with flames of fire and a fearful vizard') followed by Dives, with such like apparel as Judas hath,' while Damnation (another of the dramatis persone) pursuing them, drives them before him, and they pass away, making a pitiful noise,' into perdition.
What a transition to the plays of Shakspere, whilst these
miracle and moral plays were fresh in the recollection of the people, and might still be seen! These supernatural, historical, and allegorical personages, superseded by a material and philosophical explanation of things! We are inclined to think there was a lurking pleasantry at them in the Ghost of Hamlet ; and as an early play of Shakspere, Hamlet was intended not only to be a moral and pitiful comedy, but a more pleasant tragedy than is now generally supposed.
The clowns, and Falstaff, et hoc genus omne, are exponents of the altered state of theatrical theology. Shakspere was foremost in leading the triumph over the old order of things. The transition is nowhere so marked as in his plays. Placed in circumstances of controversy, the spirit which it engenders of proceeding to extremities with the adversary may have disposed Shakspere to undress the miracles, and more especially the morals of the plays, and reduce them to the nakedness of nature, and the truth of history, which has gained for Shakspere, with some, not only the idea that he had no religion, but had no moral purpose' in his works.
The few facts and numerous traditions about Shakspere in early life, and the inferences to be drawn from them, may be said to afford arguments against the idea of a religious formation of character in the poet. But as a comparison between his life and works would extend to a larger field of inquiry than his philosophy and religion, we leave it to some future time, or other hand.
The writer of the life of Shakspere in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopædia, says ' of Shakspere's moral character we know little. It might deserve all the praises bestowed upon it by modern writers; but there is greater probability in supposing that it was not wholly untainted by the vices of the period. On his honesty, or his justice, no censure has been passed even by tradition ; but tradition does say he was not averse to the bottle, or to pursuits still more criminal. But is there nothing in the works of this celebrated man to justify the suspicion of immorality?
Whoever has looked into the original editions of his dramas, will be disgusted with the obscenity of his allusions. They absolutely teem with the grossest impurities-more