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period that ghosts cannot bear the light, and so disappear
at the dawn of day; their signal being the cock-crow.'
ghost of Hamlet's father says (i. 5):

"But, soft! methinks I scent the morning air;
Brief let me be "--



"Fare thee well at once.

The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
And 'gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me."

Again, in "King Lear" (iii. 4), Edgar says: "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock."

The time of night, as the season wherein spirits wander abroad, is further noticed by Gardiner in "Henry VIII.” (v. 1):

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As they say spirits do, at midnight.”

It was a prevalent notion that a person who crossed the spot on which a spectre was seen became subject to its malignant influence. In "Hamlet" (i. 1), Horatio says, in reference to the ghost:

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Lodge, in his "Illustrations of British History" (iii. 48), tells us that among the reasons for supposing the death of Ferdinand, Earl of Derby (who died young, in 1594), to have been occasioned by witchcraft, was the following: "On Friday there appeared a tall man, who twice crossed him swiftly; and when the earl came to the place where he saw this man, he fell sick."

Reginald Scot, in his "Discovery of Witchcraft" (158), enumerates the different kinds of spirits, and particularly notices white, black, gray, and red spirits. "So in "Macbeth" (iv. 1), “black spirits" are mentioned -- the charm

1 See p. 104.

song referred to (like the one in act iv.) being found in Middleton's "Witch" (v. 2):

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A well-known superstition which still prevails in this and foreign countries is that of the "spectre huntsman and his furious host." As night-time approaches, it is supposed that this invisible personage rides through the air with his yelping hounds; their weird sound being thought to forbode misfortune of some kind. This popular piece of folk-lore exists in the north of England under a variety of forms among our peasantry, who tenaciously cling to the traditions which have been handed down to them.' It has been suggested that Shakespeare had some of these superstitions in view when he placed in the mouth of Macbeth (i. 7), while contemplating the murder of Duncan, the following metaphors:

“And pity, like a naked new-born babe,

Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind!"

Again, in "The Tempest" (iv. 1), Prospero and Ariel are represented as setting on spirits, in the shape of hounds, to hunt Stephano and Trinculo. This species of diabolical or spectral chase was formerly a popular article of belief. As Drake aptly remarks," "the hell-hounds of Shakespeare appear to be sufficiently formidable, for, not merely commissioned to hunt their victims, they are ordered, likewise, as goblins," to

"grind their joints

With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews

1 See Hardwick's "Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-lore," 1872, pp. 153-176.

2 "Shakespeare and His Times," vol. i. p. 378.

With aged cramps; and more pinch-spotted make them
Than pard or cat o' mountain.


Hark, they roar!

Prospero. Let them be hunted soundly."


Shakespeare has several references to the old superstitious belief in the transmigration of souls, traces of which may still be found in the reverence paid to the robin, the wren, and other birds. Thus, in "The Merchant of Venice” (iv. 1), Gratiano says to Shylock:

"Thou almost makest me waver in my faith
To hold opinion with Pythagoras

That souls of animals infuse themselves
Into the trunks of men: thy currish spirit
Govern'd a wolf, who, hang'd for human slaughter,
Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
And, whilst thou lay'st in thy unhallow'd dam,
Infused itself in thee; for thy desires

Are wolfish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.”

Caliban, when remonstrating with the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, for delaying at the mouth of the cave of Prospero, instead of taking the magician's life ("Tempest," iv. 1),



I will have none on't: we shall lose our time,
And all be turn'd to barnacles, or to apes."

In "Hamlet" (iv. 5), in the scene where Ophelia, in her mental aberration, quotes snatches of old ballads, she says: "They say the owl was a baker's daughter! Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be."

Again, in "Twelfth Night" (iv. 2), there is another reference in the amusing passage where the clown, under the pretence of his being "Sir Topas, the curate," questions Malvolio, when confined in a dark room, as a presumed lunatic:

1 See Owl, chap. vi.

“Mal. I am no more mad than you are: make the trial of it in any constant question.

Clo. What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?
Mal. That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.
Clo. What thinkest thou of his opinion?

Mal. I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion. Clo. Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness: thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam."

Although this primitive superstition is almost effete among civilized nations, yet it still retains an important place in the religious beliefs of savage and uncivilized communities.



THE state of popular feeling in past centuries with regard to the active agency of devils has been well represented by Reginald Scot, who, in his work on Witchcraft, has shown how the superstitious belief in demonology was part of the great system of witchcraft. Many of the popular delusions of this terrible form of superstition have been in a masterly manner exposed by Shakespeare; and the scattered allusions which he has given, illustrative of it, are indeed sufficient to prove, if it were necessary, what a highly elaborate creed it was. Happily, Shakespeare, like the other dramatists of the period, has generally treated the subject with ridicule, showing that he had no sympathy with the grosser opinions shared by various classes in those times, whether held by king or clown. According to an old belief, still firmly credited in the poet's day, it was supposed that devils could at any moment assume whatever form they pleased that would most conduce to the success of any contemplated enterprise they might have in hand; and hence the charge of being a devil, so commonly brought against innocent and harmless persons in former years, can easily be understood. Among the incidental allusions to this notion, given by Shakespeare, Prince Hal ("1 Henry IV.," ii. 4) tells Falstaff "there is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man;"" old white-bearded Satan." In the "Merchant of Venice" (iii. 1) Salanio, on the approach of Shylock, says: “Let me say 'amen betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he comes in the likeness of a Jew."


Indeed, "all shapes that man goes up and down in" seem to have been at the devil's control, a belief referred to in "Timon of Athens" (ii. 2):

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