Page:Elizabethan People.djvu/394

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.


Concerning death the Elizabethans entertained many superstitious notions and performed numerous superstitious rites. It was, doubtless, the earnest seriousness of the moment that prompted them to believe that people about to die were often for a moment on the borderland betwen life and death, thereby seeing beyond, a fact which found expression in the form of prophecy, "Methinks I am a prophet new inspired. And thus, expiring, do foretell of him," cries Gaunt in Richard II. ii. 1). And again, Percy, in Henry IV. (v. 4), alludes to the belief in the words:

"O, I could prophesy.
But that the earthly and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue."

A sudden brightening of the spirits often preceded death and was frequently regarded as a sign.

"How oft, when men are at the point of death.
Have they been merry! which their keepers call
A lightning before death."

(Romeo and Juliet, v. 3.)

And again, in the last act, immediately before Romeo receives the news that prompts him to take his life, he exclaims:

"If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom's lord sits lightly on his throne;
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts."