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THE BRITISH STAGE,
IMITATIO VITAE, SPECULUM CONSUETUDINIS, IMAGO VERITATIS.
SHAKSPERE'S MERCHANT OF VENICE.
Shylock. For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
I CONCEIVE that, in the above passage, Shakspere, who is ever fond of a joke or allusion by which a person can be called an ass, meant to confer that appellation on Shylock, and to deduce the ap plication from the Jew's own expression. In common speech, aud particularly by modern licence, tribe may be taken to signify nation, or sect, but a Jew speaking emphatically the word tribe, must be taken to mean some particular family or division of his nation or sect, to which he belongs in a most peculiar manner. From this reasoning, it would follow that the poet intended to turn the boasted patience and forbearance of the Jew into ridicule, by representing it as derived, not from philanthropy, or a disposition to disarm insolence by sufferance, but from an abject passiveness of nature, incapable of dignified resentment, though harbouring allthe petty malignity which opportunity could aggravate into relentless revenge. When, therefore, Shylock uses the above expression, I apprehend the poet meant that he should describe himself as one of the tribe of Issachar, whom, in the xlix Genesis, v. 14, 15, Jacob blesses in these words, "Issachar is a strong ASS, crouching down between two burthens. And he saw that the rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant, and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute." Other poets and satirists since Shakspere have used the word Issachar to signify an ass; and the suffering quality of that beast has been, on many occasions, a topic of ridicule, as may be particularly seen in the notes on the Dunciad, which contain the parallel invectives against Dryden and Pope.
To me this seems a clear explanation of the passage; for the beast most derided for sufferance is really the badge of the whole tribe of Issachar, though the Jews, as a nation or sect, were never generally famous for that attribute.
I know not whether this clucidation has been adopted by any of the annotators on Shakspere, but if it has not, I shall be glad to obtain for it a fair chance of impartial investigation; and therefore
request the insertion of this letter in your valuable miscellany. I assure you I speak not the empty language of compliment when I affirm that I prefer your work to any other as a vehicle for enquiry, from a conviction that it contains more frank and impartial criticism, sound information on literary subjects, and elegant specimens in all branches of the belles lettres, unmixed with the base alloy of faction or irreligion, than any other publication of the same description.
I am, Sir,
Your constant reader,
SINGULAR DETECTIONS OF MURDER.
I have heard
That guilty creatures, sitting at a play,
Been struck so to the soul, that presently
They have proclaim'd their malefactions:
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
THE following instances, to which Shakspere is supposed to have alluded in the above lines, are extracted from a scarce and curious book called "The Actor's Vindication," by THOMAS HEYWOOD. Yours, &c.
THE unchaste are by us shewed their errors, in the persons of Phrine Thais, Lais, Flora, and amongst us Rosamond and Mistress Shore. What can sooner print modesty in the souls of the wanton, than by discovering unto them the monstrousness of their sin? It follows that we prove these exercises to have been the discoverers of many notorious murders, long concealed from the eyes of the world. To omit all far-fetcht instances, we will prove it, by a domestick and home-born truth, which within these few years happened. At Lin, in Norfolk, the then Earle of Sussex's players, acting the old History of Fryer Francis, and presenting a woman, who insatiately doting on a young gentleman, had (the more securely to enjoy his affection) mischeviously and secretly murdered her husband, whose ghost haunted her, and, at diverse times, in her most solitary and private contemplations, in most horrid and fearful shapes, appeared and stood before her. As this was acted, a towns-woman (till then of good
estimation and report) finding her conscience, (at this presentment) extremely troubled, suddenly skrieked and cryed out-Oh my husband, my husband! I see the ghost of my husband fiercely threatening and menacing me. At which shrill and unexpected outcry, the people about her, moved to a strange amazement, inquired the reason of her clamor; when presently, unurged, she told them, that seven years ago, she, to be possest of such a gentleman (meaning him) had poisoned her husband, whose fearfull image presented itself in the shape of that ghost: whereupon the murdress was apprehended, before the justices further examined, and by her voluntary confession, after condemned. That this is true, as well by the report of the actors, as the records of the town, there are many eye witnesses of this accident of late years living, who did confirm it.
As strange an accident happened to a company of the same quality 60 years ago, or thereabout, who playing late in the night, at a place called Perin in Cornwall, certain Spaniards were landed the same night, unsuspected and undiscovered, with intent to take in the town, spoil and burn it; when suddenly, even upon their entrance, the players (ignorant as the townsmen of any such attempt) presenting a battle on the stage, with their drum and trumpets, struck up a loud alarm; which the enemy hearing, and fearing they were discovered, amazedly retired, made some few idle shot in a bravado, and so in a hurly-burly fled disorderly to their boats. At the report of this tumult, the towns-men were immediately armed, and pursued them to the sea, praising God for their happy deliverance from so great a danger, who, by his Providence, made these strangers the instrument and secondary means of their escape from such imminent mischief, and the tyranny of so remorseless an enemy.
Another of the like wonder happened at Amsterdam in Holland. A company of our English comedians (well known) travelling those countries, as they were before the burghers and other the chief inhabitants, acting the last part of the four Sons of Amon, towards the last act of the history, where penitent Renaldo, like a common labourer, lived in disguise, vowing, as his last penance, to labour and carry burdens to the structure of a goodly church, there to be erected whose diligence the labourers annoying, since by reason of his stature and strength, he did usually perfect more work in a day than a dozen of the best, (he working for his conscience, they for their lucres.) Whereupon, by reason his industry had so much disparaged their living, they conspired among themselves to kill him,
waiting some opportunity to find him asleep, which they might easily do, since the sorest labourers are the soundest sleepers, and industry is the best preparative to rest. Having spied their oppor tunity, they drave a nail into his temples, of which wound immediately he died. As the actors handled this, the audience might on a suddain understand an out-cry, and loud shriek in a remote galery, and pressing about the place, they might perceive a woman of great gravity strangely amazed, who, with a distracted and troubled train, oft sigh'd out these words ;-" Oh my husband, my husband!" The play, without further interruption, proceeded; the woman was to her own house conducted, without any apparent suspicion, every one conjecturing as their fancies led them. In this agony she some of these few dayes languished, and on a time, as certain of her well disposed neighbours came to comfort her: one amongst the rest being churchwarden, to him the sexton posts, to tell him of a strange thing happening him in the ripping up of a grave. "See here," quoth he," what I have found, and shews them a fare skull, with a great nail pierced quite through the brainpan, "but we cannot conjecture to whom it should belong, how long it hath lain in the earth, the grave being confused, and the flesh consumed." At the report of this accident, the woman out of the trouble of her afflicted conscience, discovered a former murther; for 12 years ago, by driving that nail into that skull, being the head of her husband, she hath treacherously slain him. This being pub lickly confest, she was arraigned, condemned, adjudged, and burned. But I draw my subject to greater length than I purposed; those therefore, out of other infinities, I have collected both for their familiarness and latenesse of memory.
MR. SKEFFINGTON'S “WORD OF HONOUR."
FROM Some mis-information, no doubt, it was, last month, indirectly insinuated in your elegant and interesting Miscellany, that the new comedy of "The Word of Honour," was the production of Mr. Skeffington and Mr. Ireland. The fact is, that the comedy was solely the production of Mr. S. who had never known Mr. Ireland till the piece had been upwards of a fortnight in rehearsal. Mr. Ireland was then requested by Mr. Skeffington to write the prologue and epilogue, which (particularly the latter) have been so much! admired.
The "Word of Honour," though, as you rightly observe, deficient in "variety of character," and "display of humour," certainly indicated a talent for the drama, which, should the author think proper to cultivate, may be improved to advantage; at the same time the warmest friend must own, that it carried with it the appearance of having been composed in all that hurry of the haut ton, in which the author is, as I am told, perpetually engaged.
Your candour and liberality will, I trust, excuse this trouble from your constant reader.
Fleet Street, July 16.
MR. SEYMOUR'S NOTES UPON SHAKSPEARE.
JULIUS CAESAR-ACT III.
"Friends, countrymen, &c."
This speech of Brutus, wherein I can by no means recognise the justness of Dr. Warburton's remark, who says, "it is very fine in its kind," impresses me with a strong persuasion that it is not at all the production of our poet; it is more like the manufacture of Ben Jonson; and would better suit Polonius than Brutus, in those scenes of Hamlet where there is evident reason to suspect corruption. It is very remarkable that Voltaire, who has stolen and transplanted into his own tragedy of Brutus the fine speech of Anthony to the people, and has, unblushingly, received the highest compliments . upon it from the King of Prussia and others, affects to extol this address of Brutus, while he is most disingenuously silent on the subject of that which he chose to purloin.
"That tidings," though it now seems uncouth, is proper; "tidings" like " 99.66 "" riches,' news," manners," &c. is the singular number; as will be evident if we try to detach from it the seeming plural termination. Tiding is no word at all, at least not in the sense here required. On this subject Dr. Lowth appears to be mistaken in his excellent Essay on Grammar, edit. 1787, p. 34, where, quoting a passage from Atterbury, and another from Addison