Folk-lore of Shakespeare, by T.F. Thiselton Dyer, , at sacred-texts.com
Many of the most beautiful and graphic passages in Shakespeare's writings have pictured the sun in highly glowing language, and often invested it with that sweet pathos for which the poet was so signally famous. Expressions, for instance, such as the following are ever frequent:—"The glorious sun" ("Twelfth Night," iv. 3); "heaven's glorious sun" ("Love's Labour's Lost," i. 1); "gorgeous as the sun at Midsummer" ("1 Henry IV.," iv. 1); "all the world is cheered by the sun" ("Richard III.," i. 2); "the sacred radiance of the sun" ("King Lear," i. 1); "sweet tidings of the sun's uprise" ("Titus Andronicus," iii. 1), &c. Then, again, how often we come across passages replete with pathos, such as "the sun sets weeping in the lowly west" ("Richard II.," ii. 4); "ere the weary sun set in the west" ("Comedy of Errors," i. 2); "the weary sun hath made a golden set" ("Richard III.," v. 3); "the sun for sorrow will not show his head" ("Romeo and Juliet," v. 3), &c. Although, however, Shakespeare has made such constant mention of the sun, yet his allusions to the folk-lore connected with it are somewhat scanty.
According to the old philosophy, the sun was accounted a planet, 1 and thought to be whirled round the earth by the motion of a solid sphere, in which it was fixed. In "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 15), Cleopatra exclaims—
[paragraph continues] Supposing this sphere consumed, the sun must wander in endless space, and, as a natural consequence, the earth be involved in endless night.
In "1 Henry IV.," (i. 2), Falstaff, according to vulgar astronomy, calls the sun a "wandering knight,"—and by this expression evidently alludes to some knight of romance. Mr Douce 1 considered the allusion was to "The Voyage of the Wandering Knight," by Jean de Cathenay, of which the translation, by W. Goodyeare, appeared about the year 1600. The words may be a portion of some forgotten ballad.
A pretty fancy is referred to in "Romeo and Juliet" (iii. 5), where Capulet says—
And so, too, in the "Rape of Lucreece":—
"That Shakespeare thought it was the air," says Singer, 2 "and not the earth, that drizzled dew, is evident from many passages in his works. Thus, in King John" (ii. 1) he says:—"Before the dew of evening fall." Steevens, alluding to the following passage in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. 1), "and when she (i.e. the moon) weeps, weeps every little flower," says that Shakespeare "means that every little flower is moistened with dew, as if with tears; and not that the flower itself drizzles dew."
By a popular fancy, the sun was formerly said to dance at its rising on Easter morning—to which there may be an allusion in "Romeo and Juliet" (iii. 5), where Romeo addressing Juliet, says
[paragraph continues] We may also compare the expression in "Coriolanus" (v. 4):—
Mr Knight remarks, there was "Something exquisitely beautiful in the old custom of going forth into the fields before the sun had risen on Easter Day, to see him mounting over the hills with tremulous motion, as if it were an animate thing, bounding in sympathy with the redeemed of mankind." 1
A cloudy rising of the sun has generally been regarded as ominous—a superstition equally prevalent on the Continent as in this country. In "Richard III." (v. 3), King Richard asks:—
"The learned Moresin in his 'Papatus,'" says Brand, 2 "reckons among omens, the cloudy rising of the sun." Virgil, too, in his 1st Georgic (441–9) considers it a sign of stormy weather 3:—
A red sunrise is also unpropitious, and according to a well-known rhyme:—
This old piece of weather-wisdom is mentioned by our Lord in St Matthew xvi. 2, 3:—"When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowring." Shakespeare in his "Venus and Adonis," thus describes it:—
Mr Swainson 1 shows that this notion is common on the Continent. Thus, at Milan the proverb runs, "If the morn be red, rain is at hand."
Shakespeare in "Richard II." (ii. 4), alludes to another indication of rain:—
A "watery sunset" is still considered by many a forerunner of wet. A red sunset, on the other hand, beautifully described in "Richard III" (v. 3):—
is universally regarded as a prognostication of fine weather, and we find countless proverbs illustrative of this notion—one of the most popular being—"Sky red at night, is the sailor's delight."
From the earliest times an eclipse of the sun was looked upon as an omen of coming calamity; and was oftentimes the source of extraordinary alarm as well as the occasion of various superstitious ceremonies. In 1597, during an eclipse of the sun, it is stated that at Edinburgh, men and women thought the day of judgment was come. 2 Many women swooned, much crying was heard in the streets, and in fear some ran to the kirk to pray. Mr Napier says he remembers "an eclipse about 1818, when about three parts of the sun was covered. The alarm in the village was very great, indoor work was suspended for the time, and in several families
prayers were offered for protection, believing that it portended some awful calamity; but when it passed off there was a general feeling of relief." In "King Lear" (i. 2), Gloucester remarks:—"These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the sequent effects; love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide; in cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ’twixt son and father." Othello, too (v. 2), in his agony and despair, exclaims:—
Francis Bernier 1 says that, in France in 1654, at an eclipse of the sun, "some bought drugs against the eclipse, others kept themselves close in the dark in their caves and their well closed chambers, others cast themselves in great multitudes into the churches; those apprehending some malign and dangerous influence, and these believing that they were come to the last day, and that the eclipse would shake the foundations of nature." 2
In "3rd Henry VI." (ii. 1), Shakespeare refers to a curious circumstance in which, on a certain occasion, the sun is reported to have appeared like three suns. Edward says, "do I see three suns?" to which Richard replies:—
This fact is mentioned both by Hall and Holinshed, the latter says:—"At which tyme the sun (as some write)
appeared to the Earl of March like three sunnes, and sodainely joyned altogether in one, upon whiche sight hee tooke such courage, that he fiercely setting on his enemyes put them to flight."—We may note here that on Trinity Sunday three suns are supposed to be seen. In the "Memoires de l’Academie Celtique" (iii. 447), it is stated that "Le jour de la fête de la Trinite, quelques personne vont de grand matin dans la campagne, pour y voir levre trois soleils à la fois."
According to an old proverb to quit a better for a worse situation was spoken of as to go "out of God's blessing into the warm sun," a reference to which we find in "King Lear" (ii. 2), where Kent says:—
Dr Johnson thinks that Hamlet alludes to this saying (i. 2), for when the king says to him, "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" he replies, "not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun," i.e., out of God's blessing.
This expression, says Mr Dyce, 1 is found in various authors from Heywood down to Swift—the former has:—
And the latter—
There seems to have been a prejudice from time immemorial against sunshine in March; and according to a German saying, it were "better to be bitten by a snake than to feel the sun in March." Thus in "1 Henry IV." (iv. 1), Hotspur says—
Shakespeare employs the words "sun-burned" in the sense of uncomely, ill-favoured. In "Much ado" (ii. 1), Beatrice
says, "I am sunburnt;" and in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 3), Æneas remarks—
Moon. Apart from his sundry allusions to the "pale-faced," "silver moon," Shakespeare has referred to many of the superstitions associated with it, several of which still linger on in country nooks. A widespread legend of great antiquity informs us that the moon is inhabited by a man 1 with a bundle of sticks on his back, who has been exiled thither for many centuries, and who is so far off that he is beyond the reach of death. This tradition, which has given rise to many superstitions, is still preserved under various forms in most countries; but it has not been decided who the culprit originally was, and how he came to be imprisoned in his lonely abode. Dante calls him Cain; Chaucer assigns his exile as a punishment for theft, and gives him a thorn-bush to carry, while Shakespeare also loads him with the thorns, but by way of compensation gives him a dog for a companion. In the "Tempest" (ii. 2), Caliban asks Stephano whether he has "not dropp’d from heaven?" to which he answers, "Out o’ the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man i’ the moon when time was." Whereupon Caliban says—
We may also compare the expression in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (v. 1), where, in the directions for the performance of the play of "Pyramus and Thisbe," Moonshine is represented "with lanthorn, dog, and bush of thorn." And further on in the same scene, describing himself, Moonshine says—"All that I have to say, is, to tell you that the lanthorn is the moon; I, the man in the moon; 2 this thorn-bush, my thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog."
Ordinarily, 3 however, his offence is stated to have been
[paragraph continues] Sabbath-breaking—an idea derived from the Old Testament. Like the man mentioned in the "Book of Numbers" (xv. 32), he is caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath; and, as an example to mankind, he is condemned to stand for ever in the moon, with his bundle on his back. Instead of a dog, one German version places him with a woman, whose crime was churning butter on Sunday. The Jews have a legend that Jacob is the moon, and they believe that his face is visible. Mr Baring Gould 1 says that the "idea of locating animals in the two great luminaries of heaven is very ancient, and is a relic of a primeval superstition of the Aryan race." The natives of Ceylon, instead of a man, have placed a hare in the moon; and the Chinese represent the moon by "a rabbit pounding rice in a mortar." 2
From the very earliest times the moon has not only been an object of popular superstition, but been honoured by various acts of adoration. In Europe, 3 in the fifteenth century, "it was a matter of complaint that some still worshipped the new moon with bended knee, or hood or hat removed. And to this day we may still see a hat raised to her, half in conservatism and half in jest. It is with deference to silver as the lunar metal that money is turned when the act of adoration is performed, while practical peasant wit dwells on the ill luck of having no piece of silver when the new moon is first seen." Shakespeare often incidentally alludes to this form of superstition. To quote one or two out of many instances, Enobarbus, in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 9) says—
In "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2), the king says—
Indeed it was formerly a common practice for people to address invocations to the moon, 4 and even at the present day we find remnants of this practice both in this country and
abroad. Thus in many places it is customary for young women to appeal to the moon to tell them of their future prospects in matrimony, 1 the following or similar lines being repeated on the occasion—
It was also the practice to swear by the moon, to which we find an allusion in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 2), where Juliet reproves her lover for testifying his affections by this means—
And again, in "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1), where Gratiano exclaims—
We may note here that the inconstancy 2 of the moon is the subject of various myths, of which Mr Tylor has given the following examples:—Thus an Australian legend says that Mityan, the moon, was a native cat, who fell in love with some one else's wife, and was driven away to wander ever since. A Slavonic legend tells us that the moon, king of night, and husband of the sun, faithlessly loved the morning star, wherefore he was cloven through in punishment, as we see him in the sky. The Khasias of the Himalaya say that the moon falls monthly in love with his mother-in-law, who throws ashes in his face, whence his spots. 3
As in the case of the sun, an eclipse of the moon was formerly considered ominous. The Romans 4 supposed it was owing to the influence of magical charms, to counteract which they had recourse to the sound of brazen instruments of all
kinds. Juvenal alludes to this practice in his Sixth Satire (44i), when he describes his talkative woman—
Indeed eclipses, which to us are well-known phenomena witnessing to the exactness of natural laws, were in the earlier stages of civilisation regarded as "the very embodiment of miraculous disaster." Thus the Chinese believed that during eclipses of the sun and moon these celestial bodies were attacked by a great serpent, to drive away which they struck their gongs or brazen drums. The Peruvians entertaining a similar notion, raised a frightful din when the moon was eclipsed, 1 while some savages would shoot up arrows to defend their luminaries against the enemies they fancied were attacking them. It was also a popular belief that the moon was affected by the influence of witchcraft, a notion referred to by Prospero in "The Tempest" (v. 1), who says—
In a former scene (ii. 1), Gonzalo remarks:—"You are gentlemen of brave metal; you would lift the moon out of her sphere." Douce 2 quotes a marginal reference from Adlington's translation of "Apuleius" (1596), a book well known to Shakespeare:—"Witches in old time were supposed to be of such power, that they could put downe the moone by their enchantment." 3 One of the earliest references to this superstition among classical authorities is, that in the "Clouds" of Aristophanes, where Strepsiades proposes the hiring of a Thessalian witch, to bring down the moon and shut her up in a box, that he might thus evade paying his debts by a month. Ovid, in his "Metamorphoses" (c. xii. 263), says:—
[paragraph continues] Horace in his fifth Epode (l. 45) tells us:—
Reverting again to the moon's eclipse; such a season being considered most unlucky for lawful enterprises, was held suitable for evil designs. Thus, in "Macbeth" (iv. 1), one of the witches, speaking of the ingredients of the cauldron, says:—
As a harbinger of misfortune it is referred to in "Antony, and Cleopatra" where (iii. 13), Antony says:—
Milton in his "Paradise Lost" (bk. i. S97), speaks much in the same strain:—
And in "Lycidas," he says of the unlucky ship that was wrecked:—
Its sanguine colour is also mentioned as an indication of coming disasters in "Richard II." (ii. 4), where the Welsh captain remarks how
And its paleness, too, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 2), is spoken of as an unpropitious sign.
According to a long accepted theory, insane persons are said to be influenced by the moon; and many old writers
have supported this notion. Indeed, Shakespeare himself in "Othello" (v. 2), tells how the moon when "She comes more nearer earth than she was wont, makes men mad." Dr Forbes Winslow, in his "Light: its Influence on Life and Health," says, that "it is impossible altogether to ignore the evidence of such men as Pinel, Daquin, Guislain, and others, yet the experience of modern psychological physicians, is to a great degree opposed to the deductions of these eminent men." He suggests that the alleged changes observed among the insane at certain phases of the moon, may arise, not from the direct, but the indirect, influence of the planet. It is well known that certain important meteorological phenomena, result from the various phases of the moon, such as the rarity of the air, the electric conditions of the atmosphere, the degree of heat, dryness, moisture, and amount of wind prevailing. It is urged then, that those suffering from diseases of the brain, and nervous system affecting the mind, cannot be considered as exempt from the operation of agencies that are admitted to affect patients afflicted with other maladies. Dr Winslow further adds, that "an intelligent lady, who occupied for about five years the position of matron in my establishment for insane ladies, has remarked that she invariably observed among them, a greater agitation when the moon was at its full." A correspondent of "Notes and Queries" (2nd S., xii. 492), explains the apparent aggravated symptoms of madness at the full moon by the fact that the insane are naturally more restless on light than on dark nights, and that in consequence loss of sleep makes them more excitable. We may note here, that in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 9), Enobarbus invokes the moon as the "sovereign mistress of true melancholy."
The moisture of the moon is invariably noticed by Shakespeare. In "Hamlet" (i. 1) Horatio tells how "the moist star upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands, was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse." In "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1) Titania says—
[paragraph continues] And in "The Winter's Tale" (i. 2) Polixenes commences by saying how—
We may compare, too, the words of Enobarbus in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 9), who, after addressing the moon, says—"The poisonous damp of night disponge upon me." And once more in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 4) we read of the "moonshine's watery beams."
The same idea is frequently found in old writers. Thus for instance, in Newton's "Direction for the Health of Magistrates and Studentes," (1574), we are told that "the moone is ladye of moisture." Bartholomœus in "De Proprietate Rerum" describes the moon as "mother of all humours, minister and ladye of the sea." 1 In Lydgate's prologue to his "Story of Thebes" there are two lines not unlike those in "Midsummer Night's Dream" already quoted—
Of course, the moon is thus spoken of as governing the tides, and from its supposed influence on the weather. 2 In 1 Henry IV. (i. 2) Falstaff alludes to the sea being governed "by our noble and chaste mistress the moon"; and in "Richard III." (ii. 2) Queen Elizabeth says—
We may compare, too, what Timon says, "Timon of Athens" (iv. 3)—
The expression of Hecate in "Macbeth" (iii. 5)—
seems to have been meant for the same as the virus lunare of the ancients, being a foam which the moon was supposed
to shed on particular herbs, when strongly solicited by enchantment. Lucan introduces Erictho using it (Pharsalia, book vi. 669)—"Et virus large lunare ministrat."
By a popular astrological doctrine the moon was supposed to exercise great influence over agricultural operations, and also over many "of the minor concerns of life, such as the gathering of herbs, the killing of animals for the table, and other matters of a like nature." Thus the following passage in the "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1), it has been suggested, has reference to the practices of the old herbalists who attributed particular virtues to plants gathered during particular phases of the moon and hours of the night. After Lorenzo has spoken of the moon shining brightly, Jessica adds—
And in "Hamlet" (iv. 7) the description which Laertes gives of the weapon-poison refers to the same notion—
The sympathy of growing and declining nature with the waxing and waning moon is a superstition widely spread, and is as firmly believed in by many as when Tusser in his "Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry," under "February" gave the following advice—
Warburton considers that this notion is alluded to by Shakespeare in "Troilus and Cressida" (iii. 2) where Troilus speaking of the sincerity of his love tells Cressida it is—
There is a little doubt as to the exact meaning of plantage in this passage. Nares observes that it probably
means anything that is planted; but Mr Ellacombe in his "Plant Lore of Shakespeare" (1878, p. 165) says "it is doubtless the same as plantain."
It appears that, in days gone by, "neither sowing, planting, nor grafting was ever undertaken without a scrupulous attention to the increase or waning of the moon." 1 Scot, in his "Discoverie of Witchcraft," notes how "the poore husbandman perceiveth that the increase of the moone maketh plants fruitful, so as in the full moone they are in best strength; decaieing in the wane, and in the conjunction do utterlie wither and vade."
It was a prevailing notion that the moon had an attending star—Lilly calls it "Lunisequa;" and Sir Richard Hawkins, in his "Observations in a voyage to the South Seas in 1593," published in 1622, remarks: "Some I have heard say, and others write, that there is a starre which never separateth itself from the moon, but a small distance." Staunton considers that there is an allusion to this idea in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 3), where the king says—
The sharp ends of the new moon are popularly termed horns—a term which occurs in "Coriolanus" (i. 1)—"They threw their caps as they would hang them on the horns o’ the moon." It is made use of in Decker's "Match me in London" (i.)—
When the horns of the moon appear to point upwards, the moon is said to be like a boat, and various weather prognostications are drawn from this phenomena. 2 According to sailors, it is an omen of fine weather, whereas others affirm it is a sign of rain—resembling a basin full of water about to fall.
Among other items of folk-lore connected with the moon, we may mention the moon-calf, a false conception, or fœtus imperfectly formed, in consequence, as was supposed, of the influence of the moon. The best account of this fabulous substance may be found in Drayton's poem with that title. Trinculo in the "Tempest" (ii. 2), supposes Caliban to be a moon-calf—
It has been suggested that in calling Caliban a moon-calf, Shakespeare alluded to a superstitious belief formerly current, in the intercourse of demons and other non-human beings with mankind. In the days of witchcraft, it was supposed that a class of devils called Incubi and Succubi roamed the earth with the express purpose of tempting people to abandon their purity of life. Hence, all badly deformed children were suspected of having had such an undesirable parentage. 1
A curious expression, "a sop o’ the moonshine," occurs in "King Lear" (ii. 2), which probably alludes to some dish so called. Kent says to the steward—"Draw, you rogue; for, though it be night, yet the moon shines; I'll make a sop o’ the moonshine of you."
There was a way of dressing eggs, called "eggs in moonshine," of which Douce 2 gives the following description:—"Eggs were broken and boiled in salad oil till the yolks became hard. They were eaten with slices of onion fried in oil, butter, verjuice, nutmeg, and salt." "A sop in the moonshine" must have been a sippet in this dish. 3
Planets.—The irregular motion of the planets was supposed to portend some disaster to mankind. Ulysses in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 3), declares how—
Indeed, the planets themselves were not thought in days gone by, to be confined in any fixed orbit of their own, but ceaselessly to wander about, as the etymology of their name demonstrates. A popular name for the planets was "wandering stars," of which Cotgrave says, "they bee also called wandering starres, because they never keep one certain place or station in the firmament." Thus Hamlet (v. 1), approaching the grave of Ophelia, addresses Laertes—
In Tomkis's "Albumazar" (i. 1), they are called "wanderers"—
According to vulgar astrology, the planets like the stars, were supposed to affect, more or less, the affairs of this world, a notion frequently referred to by old writers. In "Winter's Tale" (ii. 1), Hermione consoles herself in the thought—
In 1 Henry VI. (i. 1), the Duke of Exeter asks—
Again, King Richard (Richard III., iv. 4)—
And once more, in "Hamlet" (i. 1), Marcellus, speaking of the season of our Saviour's birth, says, "then no planets strike."
That diseases, too, are dependent upon planetary influence is referred to in "Timon of Athens" (iv. 3)—
"Fiery Trigon" was a term in the old judicial astrology, when the three upper planets met in a fiery sign,—a phenomenon which was supposed to indicate rage and contention. It is mentioned in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4)—
Dr Nash, in his notes to Butler's "Hudibras," says, "the twelve signs in astrology are divided into four trigons or triplicities, each denominated from the connatural element; so they are three fiery [signs], three airy, three watery, and three earthy:"—
Airy—Gemini, Libra, Aquarius.
Watery—Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.
Earthly—Taurus, Virgo, Capricornus.
Thus, when the three superior planets met in Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius, they formed a fiery trigon; when in Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, a watery one.
Charles’s Wain was the old name for the seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major. The constellation was so named in honour of Charlemagne; or, according to some, it is a corruption of chorles or churl's, i.e., rustic's wain. Chorl is frequently used for a countryman in old books, from the Saxon ceorl. In "1 Henry IV." (ii. 1), the Carrier says, "Charles’ wain is over the new chimney."
Music of the spheres.—Pythagoras was the first who suggested this notion, so beautifully expressed by Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1).
Plato says that a syren sits on each planet, who carols a most sweet song, agreeing to the motion of her own particular planet, but harmonising with the other seven. Hence Milton in his "Arcades" speaks of the "celestial syrens’ harmony, that sits upon the nine enfolded spheres."
Stars.—An astrological doctrine, which has kept its place
in modern popular philosophy, asserts that mundane events are more or less influenced by the stars. That astronomers should have divided the sun's course into imaginary signs of the Zodiac, was enough, says Mr Tylor, 1 to originate astrological rules "that these celestial signs have an actual effect on real earthly rams, bulls, crabs, lions, virgins." Hence we are told that a child born under the sign of the Lion will be courageous; but one born under the Crab will not go forth well in life; one born under the Waterman is likely to be drowned, and so forth. Shakespeare frequently alludes to this piece of superstition, which, it must be remembered, was carried to a ridiculous height in his day. In "Julius Cæsar" (i. 2), Cassius says—
In the following passage in "Twelfth Night" (i. 3)—
"Both the knights," says Mr Douce ("Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 54), "are wrong in their astrology, according to the Almanacs of the time, which make Taurus govern the neck and throat."
Beatrice, in "Much Ado about Nothing" (ii. 1), says:" There was a star danced, and under that was I born;" Kent, in "King Lear" (iv. 3), remarks, "it is the stars, the stars above us, govern our conditions;" and once more, in "Pericles" (i. 1), King Antilochus, speaking of the charming qualities of his daughter, says:—
Throughout the East, says Mr Tylor, 1 astrology even now remains a science in full esteem. The condition of mediæval Europe may still be perfectly realised by the traveller in Persia, where the Shah waits for days outside the walls of his capital till the constellations allow him to enter; and where, on the days appointed by the stars for letting blood, it literally flows in streams from the barbers’ shops in the streets. Professor Wuttke declares that there are many districts in Germany where the child's horoscope is still regularly kept with the baptismal certificate in the family chest." Astrology is ridiculed in a masterly manner in "King Lear" (i. 2); and Warburton suggests that if the date of the first performance of "King Lear" were well considered, "it would be found that something or other had happened at that time which gave a more than ordinary run to this deceit, as these words seem to indicate—"I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other day, what should follow these eclipses." Zouch, 2 speaking of Queen Mary's reign, tells us that "Judicial astrology was much in use long after this time. Its predictions were received with reverential awe; and even men of the most enlightened understandings were inclined to believe that the conjunctions and oppositions of the planets had no little influence in the affairs of the world."
The pretence, also, of predicting events—such as pestilence from the aspect of the heavenly bodies—one form of medical astrology—is noticed in "Venus and Adonis"—
Heroes were in ancient times immortalised by being placed among the stars, a custom to which Bedford refers in "1 Henry VI." (i. 1)—
[paragraph continues] And, again, "Pericles" (v. 3) exclaims—
On a medal of Hadrian, the adopted son of Trajan and Plotina, the divinity of his parents is expressed by placing a star over their heads; and in like manner the medals of Faustina the Elder exhibit her on an eagle, her head surrounded with stars. 1
In "2 Henry IV." (iv. 3) a ludicrous term for the stars is, "cinders of the elements;" and in "Merchant of Venice" (v. 1) they are designated "candles of the night."
Meteors.—An elegant description of a meteor well-known to sailors is given by Ariel in "The Tempest" (i. 2)—
It is called by the French and Spaniards inhabiting the coasts of the Mediterranean—St Helme's or St Telme's fire; by the Italians—the fire of St Peter and St Nicholas. It is also known as the fire of St Helen, St Herm, and St Clare. Douce 2 tells us that whenever it appeared as a single flame it was supposed by the ancients to be Helena, the sister of Castor and Pollux, and in this state to bring ill luck, from the calamities which this lady is known to have caused in the Trojan war. When it came as a double flame it was called Castor and Pollux, and accounted a good omen. It has been described as a little blaze of fire, sometimes appearing by night on the tops of soldiers’ lances, or at sea on masts and sailyards, whirling and leaping in a moment from one place to another. According to some, it never appears but after a tempest, and is supposed to lead people to suicide by drowning. Shakespeare in all probability consulted Batman's "Golden Books of the Leaden Goddes," who, speaking of Castor and Pollux, says—"They were figured like two lampes or cresset lightes—one on the toppe of a maste, the other on the stemme or foreshippe." He adds that if the first light appears in the stem or foreship and ascends upwards, it is a
sign of good luck; if "either lights begin at the topmast, bowsprit," or foreship, and descend towards the sea, it is a sign of a tempest. In taking, therefore, the latter position, Ariel had fulfilled the commands of Prospero and raised a storm. 1 Mr Swainson, in his "Weather Lore" (1873, p. 193), quotes the following, which is to the same purport—
Capell, in his "School of Shakespeare" (1779, iii. 7), has pointed out a passage in Hakluyt's "Voyages" (1598, iii. 450), which strikingly illustrates the speech of Ariel, quoted above:—"I do remember that in the great and boysterous storme of this foule weather, in the night, there came vpon the toppe of our maine yarde and maine maste, a certaine little light, much like unto the light of a little candle, which the Spaniards called the Cuerpo-Santo, and said it was St Elmo, whom they take to bee the aduocate of sailers. . . . . This light continued aboord our ship about three houres, flying from maste to maste, and from top to top; and sometimes it would be in two or three places at once." This meteor was by some supposed to be a spirit; and by others "an exhalation of moyst vapours, that are ingendered by foul and tempestuous weather." 2 Mr Thoms in his "Notelets on Shakespeare" (1865, 59), says that, no doubt, Shakespeare had in mind the will-o’-the wisp. 3
Fire-Drake,—which is jocularly used in "Henry VIII." (v. 4), for a man with a red face, was one of the popular terms for the will-o’ the wisp, 4 and Burton in his "Anatomy of Melancholy" says:—"fiery spirits or devils are such as commonly work by fire-drakes, or ignes fatui, which lead men often in flumina et praecipitia." In Bullokar's "English Expositor" (1616), we
have a quaint account of this phenomenon, "Fire-drake; a fire sometimes seen flying in the night like a dragon. Common people think it a spirit that keepeth some treasure hid, but philosophers affirme it to be a great unequal exhalation inflamed betweene two clouds, the one hot, the other cold, which is the reason that it also smoketh, the middle part whereof, according to the proportion of the hot cloud being greater than the rest, maketh it seem like a bellie, and both ends like unto a head and tail." 1 White, however, in his "Peripateticall Institutions" (p. 156), calls the fiery-dragon or fire-drake, "a weaker kind of lightning. Its livid colours, and its falling without noise and slowly, demonstrate a great mixture of watery exhalation in it. . . . . . ’Tis sufficient for its shape, that it has some resemblance of a dragon not the expresse figure."
Among other allusions to the will-o’ the wisp by Shakespeare, Mr Hunter 2 notices one in "King Lear" (iii. 3), where Glo’ster's torch being seen in the distance, the fool says, "Look, here comes a walking fire." Whereupon Edgar replies, "This is the foul fiend, Flibbertigibbet; he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock." "From which," observes Mr Hunter, "Flibbertigibbet seems to be a name for the will-o’-the-wisp. Hence the propriety of 'He begins at curfew, and walks till the crowing of the cock,' that is, is seen in all the dark of the night." It appears that when Shakespeare wrote, "a walking fire" was a common name for the ignis fatuus, as we learn from the story "How Robin Goodfellow lead a company of fellows out of their way'':—A company of young men having been making merry with their sweethearts, were, at their coming home, to come over a heath—Robin Goodfellow, knowing of it, met them, and to make some pastime hee led them up and downe the heathe a whole night, so that they could not get out of it, for hee went
before them in the shape of a walking fire, which they all saw and followed till the day did appeare, then Robin left them, and at his departure spake these words:—
Another allusion to this subject occurs in the "Tempest" (iv. 1), where Stephano, after Ariel has led him and his drunken companions through "tooth’d briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss and thorns," and at last "left them i’ the filthy mantled pool," reproaches Caliban in these words—"Monster, your fairy, which you say is a harmless fairy, has done little better than played the Jack with us"—that is, to quote Dr Johnson's explanation of this passage "he has played Jack-with-a-lanthorn, has led us about like an ignis fatuus, by which travellers are decoyed into the mire." 1 Once more, when Puck, in "Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. 1) speaks of the various forms he assumes in order to "mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harm," he says—
Shakespeare, no doubt, here alludes to the will-o’-the-wisp, an opinion shared by Mr Joseph Ritson, 2 who says—"This Puck, or Robin Goodfellow, seems likewise to be the illusory candle-holder, so fatal to travellers, and who is more usually called 'Jack-a-lantern,' 3 or 'Will-with-a-wisp,' and 'Kit-with-the-can-stick.'"
[paragraph continues] "Milton in "Paradise Lost" (b. ix.) alludes to this deceptive gleam in the following lines
This appearance has given rise to a most extensive folklore, and is embodied in many of the fairy legends and superstitions of this and other countries. Thus, in Germany, Jack o’ Lanterns are said to be the souls of unbaptized children, that have no rest in the grave, and must hover between heaven and earth. In many places they are called land-measurers, and are seen like figures of fire, running to and fro with a red-hot measuring rod. These are said to be persons who have falsely sworn away land, or fraudulently measured it, or removed land-marks. 2 In the neighbourhood of Magdeburg, they are known as "Lüchtemännekens; and to cause them to appear, it is sufficient to call out "Ninove, Ninove." In the South Altmark they are termed "Dickepôten;" and if a person only prays as soon as he sees one, he draws it to him; if he curses, it retires. In some parts, too, a popular name is "Huckepôten," and "Tuckbolde." The Jack o’ Lanterns of Denmark 3 are the spirits of unrighteous men, who by a false glimmer, seek to mislead the traveller , and to decoy him into bogs and moors. The best safeguard against them, when they appear, is to turn one's cap inside out. A similar notion occurs in Devonshire with regard to the Pixies, who delight in leading astray such persons as they find abroad after nightfall; the only remedy to escape them being to turn some part of the dress. In Normandy, these fires are called "Feux Follets," and they are believed to be
cruel spirits, whom it is dangerous to encounter. Among the superstitions which prevail in connection with them, two, says Mr Thoms, 1 are deserving of notice:—"One is, that the ignis fatuus is the spirit of some unhappy woman, who is destined to run en furolle, to expiate her intrigues with a minister of the church, and it is designated from that circumstance La Fourlore, or La Fourolle. Another opinion is, that Le Feu Follet is the soul of a priest, who has been condemned thus to expiate his broken vows of perpetual chastity; and it is very probable that it is to some similar belief existing in this country at the time when he wrote, that Milton alludes in "L’Allegro," when he says—
In Brittany, the "Porte-brandon" appears in the form of a child bearing a torch, which he turns like a burning wheel; and with this, we are told, he sets fire to the villages, which are suddenly, sometimes in the middle of the night, wrapped in flames.
The appearance of meteors, Shakespeare ranks among omens, as in "1 Henry IV." (ii. 4), where Bardolph says:—"My lord, do you see these meteors? do you behold these exhalations? what think you they portend?" And in "King John" (iii. 4), Pandulph speaks of meteors as "prodigies and signs." The Welsh Captain in "Richard II." (ii. 4), says—
Comet.—From the earliest times comets have been superstitiously regarded, and ranked among omens. Thus Thucydides tells us, that the Peloponnesian war was heralded by an abundance of earthquakes and comets; and Virgil, in speaking of the death of Cæsar, declares that at no other time did comets and other supernatural prodigies appear in greater numbers. It is probably to this latter event that Shakespeare alludes in "Julius Cæsar" (ii. 2), where he represents Calpurnia as saying:—
[paragraph continues] Again, in "1 Henry VI." (i. 1), the play opens with the following words uttered by the Duke of Bedford:—
In "Taming of the Shrew," too (iii. 2), Petruchio, when he makes his appearance on his wedding-day, says:—
In "1 Henry IV." (iii. 2), the king, when telling his son how he had always avoided making himself "common-hackney’d in the eyes of men," adds—
Arcite, in the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (v. 1), when addressing the altar of Mars, says:—
Dew.—Amongst the many virtues ascribed to dew was its supposed power over the complexion, a source of superstition which still finds many believers, especially on May morning. 1* All dew, however, does not appear to have possessed this quality—some being of a deadly or malignant quality. Thus Ariel, in the "Tempest" (i. 2), speaks of the "deep brook" in the harbour—
And "Caliban" (i. 2), when venting his rage on Prospero and Miranda, can find no stronger curse than the following
It has been suggested that, in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iii. 12), Shakespeare may refer to an old notion whereby the sea was considered the source of dews as well as rain, Euphronius is represented as saying:—
According to an erroneous notion formerly current, it was supposed that the air, and not the earth, drizzled dew—a notion referred to in "Romeo and Juliet" (iii. 5):—
And in "King John" (ii. 1)—
Then there is the celebrated honey-dew, a substance which has furnished the poet with a touching simile, which he has put into the mouth of "Titus Andronicus" (iii. 1):—
According to Pliny, "honey-dew" is the saliva of the stars, or a liquid produced by the purgation of the air. It is, however, a secretion deposited by a small insect, which is distinguished by the generic name of Aphis. 1
Rainbow.—Secondary rainbows, the watery appearance in the sky accompanying the rainbow, are in many places termed "water-galls"—a term we find in the "Rape of Lucreece" [1586–9]:—
Horace Walpole several times makes use of the word—"False good news are always produced by true good, like the water-gall by the rainbow"; and again, "Thank heaven it is complete, and did not remain imperfect like a water-gall." 2
[paragraph continues] In "The Dialect of Craven" we find "Water-gall, a secondary or broken rainbow. Germ. Wasser-galle."
Thunder.—According to an erroneous fancy the destruction occasioned by lightning was effected by some solid body known as the thunder-stone or thunder-bolt. Thus in the beautiful dirge in "Cymbeline" (iv. 2)—
Othello asks (v. 2)—
And in "Julius Cæsar" (i. 3) Cassius says
The thunder stone is the imaginary product of the thunder, which the ancients called Brontia, mentioned by Pliny (Nat. Hist. xxxvii. 10) as a species of gem, and as that which, falling with the lightning, does the mischief. It is the fossil commonly called the Belemnite, or Finger Stone, and now known to be a shell.
A superstitious notion prevailed among the ancients, that those who were stricken with lightning were honoured by Jupiter, and therefore to be accounted holy. It is probably to this idea that Shakespeare alludes in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 5)—
The bodies of such were supposed not to putrify; and, after having been exhibited for a certain time to the people, were not buried in the usual manner, but interred on the spot where the lightning fell, and a monument erected over them. Some, however, held a contrary opinion. Thus Persius (Sat. ii. line 27), says—
The ground, too, that had been smitten by a thunderbolt was accounted sacred, and afterwards enclosed; nor did anyone even presume to walk on it. Such spots were, therefore,
consecrated to the gods, and could not in future become the property of anyone.
Among the many other items of folk-lore associated with thunder is a curious one referred to in "Pericles" (iv. 2)—
The notion formerly being that thunder had the effect of rousing eels from their mud, and so rendered them more easy to be taken in stormy weather. Marston alludes to this superstition in his satires ("Scourge of Villainie," sat. vii.)—
The silence that often precedes a thunder storm is thus graphically described in "Hamlet" (ii. 2)—
Earthquakes, around which so many curious myths and superstitions have clustered, 1 are scarcely noticed by Shakespeare. They are mentioned among the ominous signs of that terrible night on which Duncan is so treacherously slain ("Macbeth," ii. 3)—
And in "1 King Henry IV." (iii. 1) Hotspur assigns as a reason for the earthquakes the following theory:—
Equinox—The storms that prevail in spring at the vernal equinox are aptly alluded to in "Macbeth" (i. 2)—
—the meaning being:—the beginning of the reflexion of the sun is the epoch of his passing from the severe to the milder season, opening, however, with storms.
Wind—An immense deal of curious weather lore 1 has been associated with the wind from the earliest period; and in our own and foreign countries innumerable proverbs are found describing the future state of the weather from the position of the wind, for, according to an old saying, "every wind has its weather." Shakespeare has introduced some of these, showing how keen an observer he was of those everyday sayings which have always been much in use, especially among the lower classes. Thus the proverbial wet which accompanies the wind when in the south is mentioned in "As you Like It" (iii. 5)—
And again in "1 Henry IV." (v. 1)—
A popular saying to the same effect, still in use, tells us that—
Again, in days gone by, the southerly winds were generally supposed to be bearers of noxious fogs and vapours, frequent allusions to which are given by Shakespeare. Thus in the "Tempest" (i. 2), Caliban says
[paragraph continues] A book, 1 too, with which, as already noticed, Shakespeare appears to have been familiar, tells us, "This southern wind is hot and moist. Southern winds corrupt and destroy; they heat, and make men fall into the sickness." Hence, in "Troilus and Cressida" (v. 1), Thersites speaks of "the rotten diseases of the south;" and in "Coriolanus" (i. 4), Marcius exclaims—"All the contagion of the south light on you." Once more, in"Cymbeline" (ii. 3), Cloten speaks in the same strain—"The south fog rot him."
Flaws—These are sudden gusts of wind. It was the opinion, says Warburton, "of some philosophers that the vapours being congealed in the air by cold (which is the most intense in the morning), and being afterwards rarefied and let loose by the warmth of the sun, occasion those sudden and impetuous gusts of winds which were called 'flaws.'" Thus he comments on the following passage in "2 Henry IV." (iv. 4)—
In "2 Henry VI." (iii. 1), these outbursts of wind are further alluded to—
Again, in "Venus and Adonis" (425), there is an additional reference—
In the Cornish dialect a flaw signifies primitively a cut. 2 But it is also there used in a secondary sense for those sudden or cutting gusts of wind. 3
Squalls.—There is a common notion that "the sudden
storm lasts not three hours," an idea referred to by John of Gaunt in "Richard II." (ii. 1)—
Thus, in Norfolk, the peasantry say that "the faster the rain, the quicker the hold up," which is only a difference in words from the popular adage, "after a storm comes a calm."
Clouds.—In days gone by, clouds floating before the wind, like a reek or vapour, were termed racking clouds. Hence in "3 Henry VI." (ii. 1), Richard speaks of—
This verb though now obsolete, was formerly in common use; and in "King Edward III.," 1596, we read:—
At the present day one may often hear the phrase, the rack of the weather, in our agricultural districts; many, too, of the items of weather-lore noticed by Shakespeare being still firmly credited by our peasantry.
59:1 Singer's "Shakespeare," x. p. 292.
60:1 "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, pp. 255, 256.
60:2 Singer's Shakespeare, viii., p. 208.
61:1 See Knight's "Life of Shakespeare," 1843, p. 63.
61:2 "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, iii., p. 241.
61:3 See Swainson's "Weather-Lore," 1873, p. 176, for popular adages on the Continent.
62:1 "Weather-Lore," pp. 175, 176.
62:2 Napier's "Folk Lore of West of Scotland," 2899, p. 241.
63:1 Quoted in Southey's "Common Place Book," 1849. 2 series, p. 462.
63:2 See Tylor's "Primitive Culture," 1871, i. pp. 261, 296–7, 321.
63:3 In 3rd Henry VI. (ii. 1), Edward says:
64:1 "Glossary to Shakespeare," 283.
64:2 Ray gives the Latin equivalent, "Ab equis ad asinos."
65:1 Baring Gould's "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," 1877, p. 190.
65:2 Cf. "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2), "Yet still she is the moon, and I the man."
65:3 Fiske, "Myths and Mythmakers," 1873, p. 27.
66:1 "Curious Myths of the Middle Ages," 1877, p. 197.
66:2 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 10.
66:3 For further information on this subject, see Tylor's "Primitive Culture," 1873, i., pp. 288, 354–356; ii., pp. 70, 202, 203.
66:4 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," iii. pp. 142, 143.
67:1 See "English Folk-lore," pp. 43, 44.
67:2 "Primitive Culture," 1873, i., pp. 354, 355.
67:3 The words "moonish" ("As You Like It," iii. 2) and "moonlike" ("Love's Labour's Lost," iv. 3) are used in the sense of inconstant.
67:4 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 18.
68:1 Tylor's "Primitive Culture," i., p. 329.
68:2 "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 16.
68:3 See Scot's "Discoverie of Witchcraft," 1584, pp. 174, 226, 227, 250.
69:1 For further examples, see Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," p. 27.
71:1 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 116.
71:2 See Swainson's "Weather Lore," 1893, pp. 182–192.
73:1 See Tylor's "Primitive Culture," 1873, i. 130; "English Folk-lore," 1878, pp. 41, 42.
73:2 See Swainson's "Weather-lore," pp. 182, 183.
74:1 See William's "Superstitions of Witchcraft," pp. 123–125; Scot's "Discovery of Witchcraft," bk. iv. p. 145.
74:2 "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 405.
74:3 Nares’ "Glossary," 1872, ii. p. 580.
77:1 "Primitive Culture," i. p. 131.
77:2 Cf., "Richard III." (iv. 4); "1 Henry IV." (i. 1, iii. i); "Antony and Cleopatra" (iii. 13); "The Tempest" (i. 2); "Hamlet" (i. 4); "Cymbeline" (v. 4); "Winter's Tale" (iii. 2);"Richard II." (iv. 1).
78:1 "Primitive Culture," i., p. 131; see Brand's "Popular Antiquities," 1849, iii., PP. 341–348.
78:2 "Walton's Lives," 1796, p. 113, note.
79:1 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," 1839, p. 397.
79:2 Ibid., p. 3.
80:1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, iii., p. 400.
80:2 Purchas, "His Pilgrimes" (1625, pt. i. lib. iii., 333), quoted by Mr Aldis Wright in his notes to the "Tempest," 1895, p. 86.
80:3 See Puck as Will-o’ the Wisp; chapter on "Fairy-Lore."
80:4 See "Notes and Queries," 5th S. X., p. 499; Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, iii. p. 410; Nares’ Glossary, i. p. 309.
81:1 A "fire-drake" appears to have been also an artificial firework, perhaps what is now called a serpent. Thus in Middleton's "Your Five Gallants" (1609)
81:2 "New Illustrations of the Life, Studies, and Writings of Shakespeare," Vol. ii. p. 272.
82:1 See Thoms's "Notelets on Shakespeare," p. 59.
82:2 "Fairy Mythology," edited by Hazlitt, 1895, p. 40.
82:3 Among the many other names given to this appearance may be mentioned the following: "Will-a-wisp," "Joan-in-the-wad," "Jacket-a-wad," "Peg-a-lantern," "Elf-fire," &c. A correspondent of "Notes and Queries" (5th S., x. 499) says—"The wandering meteor of the moss or fell appears to have been personified as Jack, Gill, Joan, Will, or Robin, indifferently, according as the supposed spirit of the lamp seemed to the particular rustic mind to be a male or female apparition." In Worcestershire it is called "Hob-and-his-lanthorn," and "Hobany's," or "Hobnedy's-lanthorn."
83:1 Mr Ritson says that Milton "is frequently content to pilfer a happy expression from Shakespeare—on this occasion, 'night-wanderer.'" He elsewhere calls it "the friar's lantern."
83:2 Thorpe, "Northern Mythology," 1852, iii. pp. 85, 258, 220.
83:3 "Notelets on Shakespeare," pp. 64, 65.
84:1 "Notelets on Shakespeare," pp. 64, 65.
85:1 See Proctor's "Myths of Astronomy;" Chambers’ "Domestic Annals of Scotland," 1858, vol. ii. pp. 410–412. Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," pp. 364, 365.
86:1 See Patterson's "Insects mentioned by Shakespeare," 1841, p. 145.
86:2 "Letters," i., p. 310; vi., pp. 1, 187—Ed. Cunningham.
87:1 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakespeare," 1839, p. 369.
88:1 See Tylor's "Primitive Culture," i. pp. 364–367.
89:1 See Swainson's "Weather Lore."
90:1 Batman upon Bartholomæus—"De Proprietatibus Rerum," Lib. xi. c. 3.
90:2 Polwhele's "Cornish Vocabulary."
90:3 Cf. "Macbeth," iii. 4, "O, these flaws and starts."