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(e) The imperative of the first person plural.
" Retire we to our chamber.”
II. ii. 65.
(f) The absence of the possessive pronoun its, and of the reflexive forms ending in -self; his (the correct A.S. form) being used for the former, and the simple pronoun for the latter :
“I would, while it was smiling in my face
I. vii. 56, 57.
“And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” I. v. 49.
The student must be careful not to mistake the form his for an example of personification.
(g) The tendency to omit the relative, or to prefer that where we now should use which or what :
“but without The illness should attend it."
I. v. 17, 18.
(h) The use of Anglo-Saxon words now obsolete, or of Anglo-Saxon words in their older and original meaning, such as will, meaning wish; owg, meaning possess; present, meaning immediate.
2. Norman-French Influence. This was much more strongly marked than at the present time, and to this may be attributed :
(a) The common use of the verb “to be” with verbs of motion, c.g.: “ Whose care is gone before to bid us welcome.”
I. iv. 57.
Cf. the French il est allé. The same usage occurs also in Anglo-Saxon, and is still sometimes found in Modern English,
(b) The apparently redundant that after conjunctions, as in since that :
“ Since that the truest issue of thy throne.” IV. iii. 106.
(c) The employment of such reflexives as “repent me" (II. iii. 103).
(d) The peculiar use of the before a relative, e.g.:
3. The New Learning.–At the period to which this play refers the English language had just proved its strength by the complete absorption of the Norman-French element as shown in the writings of Chaucer and Wycliffe. At the beginning of the century in which the play was written a general impulse towards the study of Latin and Greek had resulted in an excess of borrowing from those languages, a general neglect of the history of the true mother tongue, and a desire to re-frame our Teutonic home-speech on the classical model. To this New Learning, or Renaissance may be traced :
(a) The introduction into the play of such words as: incarnadine, informs, exasperate.
(6) The pronunciation of the terminations -tion, -sion, as two syllables, e.g.:-ex-e-cu-ti-on, I. ii. 18; re-flec-ti-on, I. ii. 25.
Ben Jonson's “English Grammar proves that this was the accepted pronunciation of the time. He says:
“Nouns ending in -tion or -sion are accented in ante
penultima (i.e., on the last syllable but two); as condition, infusion.”
4. Written for Representation.—The few instances of faulty construction which occur in the play can be explained by the fact that the passages were intended to be spoken, and that in consequence the author's meaning is clearly conveyed, even
though the grammar is incorrect. Such lapses may be classified as :
(a) Attracted agreement, i.e., when the verb is singular in agreement with the nearer of two or more nouns, instead of plural, as the rule demands :
“ Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.” II. i. 61. ,
(b) Double negatives, perhaps due in some degree to the influence of Anglo-Saxon, in which they are common, are frequent.
• Tongue nor heart Cannot conceive."
II. iii. 45, 46.
5. The Genius of the Writer.—The results of the four factors already mentioned were shared by Shakespeare with the other writers of his time—to his own genius in language must be ascribed the superlative merit of his works. This play displays his powers almost at their zenith, and here they are present in such abundance as to place him above all rivalry. It is difficult to classify the points in which these merits are exhibited, but, among others, the student will readily observe :
(a) The wonderful extent of his vocabulary.—No writer before or since has compelled so many words to his service, or has used them with such natural skill.
(6) The command of all the poet's artifices, or figures of speech.”—These are always used with the art which conceals art, and they consequently do not seem forced or strained.
(c) The excellent delineation of character. This is shown especially in the case of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Malcolm.
(d) The power of observation and selection displayed especially in the dramatist's magnificent descriptions and in the wealth of illustrations borrowed from every source.
To these may be added, as a sixth factor, the FASHION OF THE TIME. Language in Shakespeare's days was not so fixed as at the present time, owing to the absence of the crystallising forces of printing and the newspapers. We find, therefore :
(i.) A great freedom in the use of words in different parts of speech, e.g.,
Such verbs as devil-porter, parallel, uproar. (ii.) Intransitive verbs used transitively, e.g., Listening their fear.”
II. ii. 28. (iii.) The omission of the verb of motion after the verbs will or shall. “I'll to England.”
II. iii. 118. (iv.) Compound alliterative expressions, such as summerseeming, king-becoming, blood-boltered.
(v.) Peculiar comparisons, such as perfectest (I. v. 2); secret'st (III. iv. 126).
Critics have frequently objected that Shakespeare in his plays has shown too little originality in his plots, and has exhibited too great a fondness for the trick of playing upon words. Certainly in this play both these points of objection are in evidence, and it is possible that the play might be improved by the omission of the latter (cf. the double meaning of gild and gilt in II. ii. 55, 56), but the student who compares this play with the sources from which it is derived will no doubt consider that the artist who has woven such materials into so excellent a fabric can claim all the honours of his craft.
The Metre of the Play.
AMONG the other drawbacks from which the English language has suffered in the attempts to model its grammar upon that of the classical languages (i.e., Latin and Greek) has been the fact that the terms used in describing our metres are of classical origin, while the character of the metre is entirely different. Thus, in classical poetry, the length of the syllables only was taken into account, while in English length is of no importance, and accent determines the measure. The classic
was measured by “time,” the English verse is ruled by
Using, therefore, “strong” and “weak” accent in English as equivalent to “long” and “short” syllable in classic metre, each regular line of Macbeth consists of five feet, each containing a weak and strong accent, shown thus :
1" :-" :: Iw S- /": Each line is called a Verse, the two accents, weak and strong, together form an lambic Foot, and the whole line is made up of five iambic feet. The metre used in the play is consequently called lambic Pentameter. When the verse is unrimed, it is called Blank Verse.
A long play of five acts and many scenes written throughout in regular verses of this character would become monotonous, and in consequence the skilful dramatist has used many artifices to relieve the regular line. The character and variety