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The means that heaven yields must be embrac'd,
The archbishop of York in Henry IV. is too literal a member of the church militant to be a very edifying clergyman, yet how finely blend in him the dignity of station with the ardour of martial enterprise ! and how happy a sentiment is that contained in these lines,
is of the nature of a conquest,
And neither party loser.” A hostile pen might have depicted the contrast between the calling of a Christian, and the propensities of a warlike prelate in far more odious colours.
The play of King Henry V. opens with a long and dignified dialogue, full of poetical graces, between the archbishop of Canterbury and the bishop of Ely. Upon the former prelate’s arguments and exhortations, the young king is induced to undertake the French war, and in the two lines uttered by Henry V. after the victory of Agincourt,
“ Do we all holy rites,
Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum.” A nicety of Catholic feeling is discoverable.
Cardinal Beaufort, bishop of Winchester in Henry VI., is the faithful portraiture of the haughty and ambitious prelate, who, for the attainment of his purposes shrunk not from the commission of crime. His inhuman participation in the cruel murder of Joan of Arc shuts him out from all human sympathy; Shakspeare does not however overcharge his character with atrocity, and from the scene of his unrepenting death-bed, contrives to draw a truly Catholic moral. " King Henry.—Peace to his soul, if God's good pleasure be.
Lord Cardinal, if thou think’st on heaven's bliss,
He dies and makes no sign; O God, forgive him !
and draw the curtain close,
The archbishops of Canterbury and York, and bishop of Ely in Richard III. are personages, rather in the pageantry than the conduct of the piece.
It would be difficult to imagine a more delicate subject for the pen of Shakspeare to have handled, than that portion of Henry the Eighth's history which embraced the repudiation of Queen Katherine of Arragon, and his espousals with Anne Boleyn. Had the poet's chief object been to pay court to the reigning sovereign, he might surely have thrown around that transaction less of historic and more of fanciful colouring. It had been easy to render less obvious the justice of Queen Katherine's cause, and the nobleness of her personal qualities, to have blackened the conduct of Wolsey, and brought into more brilliant prominence the courtier-like subserviency of Cranmer, to have thrown more poetical embellishment around the character of Anne Boleyn, and to have given more plausibility to the imperious Henry's motives for placing her beside him on the throne. Such a mode of dealing with the chief personages of his drama, had, without doubt, been highly grateful and complimentary to Elizabeth, whose patronage and protection it was naturally our poet's object to propitiate, and would have been in accordance with the temper and spirit of the day. Shakspeare has however chosen to illustrate and not falsify history, and from the perusal of a play, the grand incident of which is that famous divorce of the sovereign from his lawful wife, which subsequently led to that of England herself from Rome, we rise impressed with admiration and compassion for the injured Katherine, and without a particle of inward sympathy for the cause of her despotic husband.
How magnificent is her defence when cited before the papal legate and assembled prelates! and what noble sentiments we find in the mouth of the disgraced Cardinal, whose demeanour in his fallen estate bespeaks at once our deepest interest and commiseration.
“ Wolsey.-When I am forgotten, as I shall be,
And sleep in dull cold marble, where no mention
Love thyself last, cherish those hearts that hate thee,
O Cromwell, Cromwell,
Could one from the pen of an acknowledged Catholic have looked for the expression of sentiments better befitting the repenting moments of an ambitious prince of the Church ?
In Romeo and Juliet how happy is the contrast of monastic calmness and philosophy, blending with the kindliest sympathies of human nature in the character of Friar Laurence. Who does not feel that the “ Benedicite” of the old monk, must have fallen on the ear of the lovedistracted Romeo with a soothing and a holy sound ?
His consent to unite the lovers in wedlock is grounded upon the Christian hope of so putting an end to the bitter dissensions of two great families; and his subsequent device for rescuing the unhappy Juliet from the misery of a forced marriage, however calamitous in its result, proceeds from the workings of a tender and philanthropic heart. What mind, surcharged with prejudices against the religious orders of the Catholic Church, does not, for the time, become conciliated, by the meek yet noble bearing of the good Franciscan.
We would remark, in conclusion, that writing at a period when every tongue was rife with the alleged abuses of the old religion, which the Queen, Parliament, and people had alike repudiated, and by law exterminated, when to calumniate the ministers and monastic institutions of Rome, had been to pander most successfully to the general taste of the people; it is at the least remarkable, that, without any exception, Shakspeare has invariably introduced in his dramas, the ecclesiastical personages of the Catholic Church, under circumstances, which, if they could not with any historical accuracy secure for them admiration and respect, sheltered them at least from ridicule or contempt.
Such facts seem to us strong circumstantial evidences of the Catholic spirit of Skakspeare.
SONG OF THE ANGELS TO ST. VINCENTIUS
Arise, thou glorious Martyr!
From self-mistrust set free,-
To bear us company.
Of pain that threaten'd sore.
Thy suffering all is o'er.
Thee for their victor dread.
The Christ our God doth stand,
With liberal right hand.
With bands of woven clay,
Come, free, to Heaven away!
[The original hymn of Prudentius, of which the above is a translation, is given by Ribadineira in his “Flos Sanctorum," at the Life of St. Vincentius.-Jan. 224.]
ON THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD.
PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD. MARY MAGDALENE.
The glad breath of holy things,
At morning sacrifice.
Upon the Cross at eve.
To God hath wrought.
We live and die.
From open vision held.
grow with Jesu give,
Then through Him rise. [The original is one of those beautiful compositions called “Prosæ.”]
FEAST OF ST. MARY MAGDALENE.
VESPER HYMN (R. B.)
Who lookest on Magdalene,
And melt the ice within.
T' anoint the Blessed feet,
To dry, with kisses greet.
Thoughtful the tomb bides near;
For Love doth banish fear.
Cleanse all our sins away.
Celestial honours pay.
Oh! Holy Gaost with Thee,
Abundant glory be!