« AnteriorContinuar »
posed to belong: when, however, they address Macbeth they assume a loftier tone: their predictions, which they either themselves pronounce, or allow their apparitions to deliver, have all the obscure brevity, the majestic solemnity of oracles.
“We here see that the witches are merely instruments ; they are governed by an invisible spirit, or the operation of such great and dreadful events would be above their sphere. With what intent did Shakspeare assign the same place to them in his play, which they occupy in the history of Macbeth as related in the old chronicles ? A monstrous crime is committed : Duncan, a venerable old man, and the best of kings, is, in defenceless sleep, under the hospitable roof, murdered by his subject, whom he has loaded with honours and rewards. Natural motives alone seem inadequate, or the perpetrator must have been portrayed as a hardened villain. Shakspeare wished to exhibit a more sublime picture : an ambitious but noble hero, yielding to a deep-laid hellish temptation ; and in whom all the crimes to which, in order to secure the fruits of his first crime, he is impelled by necessity, cannot altogether eradicate the stamp of native heroism. He has, therefore, giveri a threefold division to the guilt of that crime. The first idea comes from that being whose whole activity is guided by a lust of wickedness. The weird sisters surprise Macbeth in the moment of intoxication of victory, when his love of glory has been gratified ; they cheat his eyes by exhibiting to him as the work of fate what in reality can only be accomplished by his own deed, and gain credence for all their words by the immediate fulfilment of the first prediction. The opportunity of murdering the King immediately offers; the wife of Macbeth conjures him not to let it slip; she urges him on with a fiery eloquence, which has at command all those sophisms that serve to throw a false splendour over crime. Little more than the mere execution falls to the share of Macbeth; he is driven into it, as it were, in a tumult of fascination. Repentance immediately follows, nay, even precedes the deed, and the stings of conscience leave him rest neither night nor day. But he is now fairly entangled in the snares of hell ; truly frightful is it to behold that same Macbeth, who once as a warrior could spurn at death, now that he dreads the prospect of the life to come,* clinging with growing anxiety to his earthly existence the more miserable it becomes, and pitilessly removing out of the way whatever to his dark and suspicious mind seems to threaten danger. However much we may abhor his actions, we cannot altogether refuse to compassionate the state of his mind ; we lament the ruin of so many noble qualities, and even in his last defence we are compelled to admire the struggle of a brave will with a cowardly conscience. We might believe that we witness in this tragedy the overruling destiny of the ancients represented in perfect accordance with their ideas: the whole originates in a supernatural influence, to which the subsequent events seem inevitably linked. Moreover, we even find here the same ambiguous oracles which, by their literal fulfilment, deceive those who confide in them. Yet it may be easily shown that the poet has, in his work, displayed more enlightened views. He wishes to show that the conflict of good and evil in this world can only take place by the permission of Providence, which converts the curse that individual mortals draw down on their heads into a blessing to others. An accurate scale is followed in the retaliation. Lady Macbeth, who of all the human participators in the king's murder is the most guilty, is thrown by the terrors of her conscience into a state of incurable bodily and mental disease ; she dies, unlamented by her husband, with all the symptoms of reprobation. Macbeth is still found worthy to die the death of a hero on the field of battle. The noble Macduff is allowed the satisfaction of saving his country by punishing with his own hand the tyrant who had murdered his wife and children. Banquo, by an early death, atones for the ambitious curiosity which prompted the wish to know his glorious descendants, as he thereby has roused Macbeth's jealousy ; but he preserved his mind pure from the evil suggestions of the witches : his name is blessed in his race, destined to enjoy for a long succession of ages that royal dignity which Macbeth could only hold for his own life. In the progress of the action, this piece is altogether the reverse of Hamlet :' it strides forward with amazing rapidity, from the first catastrophe (for Duncan's
* “We'd jump the life to coma."
murder may be called a catastrophe) to the last. Thought, and done!' is the general motto; for as Macbeth says,
• The fighty purpose never is o'ertook,
In every feature we see an energetic heroic age, in the hardy North which steels every nerve. The precise duration of the action cannot be ascertained, years perhaps, according to the story; but we know that to the imagination the most crowded time appears always the shortest. Here we can hardly conceive how so very much could ever have been compressed into so narrow a space; not merely external events,—the very inmost recesses in the minds of the dramatic personages are laid open to us. It is as if the drags were taken from the wheels of time, and they rolled along without interruption in their descent. Nothing can equal this picture in its power to excite terror. We need only allude to the circumstances attending the murder of Duncan, the dagger that hovers before the eyes of Macbeth, the vision of Banquo at the feast, the madness of Lady Macbeth ; what can possibly be said on the subject that will not rather weaken the impression they naturally leave? Such scenes stand alone, and are to be found only in this poet; otherwise the tragic muse might exchange her mask for the head of Medusa."-SCHLEGEL.
“ • Macbeth'stands in contrast throughout with “Hamlet;' in the manner of opening more especially. In the latter, there is a gradual ascent from the simplest forms of conversation to the language of impassioned intellect,-yet the intellect still remaining the seat of passion ; in the former, the invocation is at once made to the imagination and the emotions connected therewith. Hence the movement throughout is the most rapid of all Shakspeare's plays, and hence, also, with the exception of the disgusting passage of the Porter (Act II. Sc. 3), which I dare pledge myself to demonstrate to be an interpolation of the actors, there is not, to the best of my remembrance, a single pun or play on words in the whole drama. I have previously given an answer to the thousand times repeated charge against Shakspeare upon the subject of his punning ; and I here merely mention the fact of the absence of any puns in * Macbeth' as justifying a candid doubt, at least, whether even in these figures of speech and fanciful modifications of language, Shakspeare may not have followed rules and principles that merit and would stand the test of philosophic examination. And hence, also, there is an entire absence of comedy, nay, even of irony and philosophic contemplation in ‘ Macbeth,'—the play being wholly and purely tragic. For the same cause, there are no reasonings of equivocal morality, which would have required a more leisurely state and a consequently greater activity of mind ;-no sophistry of self-delusion, except only that previously to the dreadful act, Macbeth mistranslates the recoilings and ominous whispers of conscience into prudential and selfish reasonings, and, after the deed is done, the terrors of remorse into fear from external dangers,-like delirious men who run away from the phantoms of their own brains, or, raised by terror to rage, stab the real object that is within their reach :-whilst Lady Macbeth merely endeavours to reconcile his and her own sinkings of heart by anticipations of the worst, and an affected bravado in confronting them. In all the rest, Macbeth's language is the grave utterance of the very heart, conscience-sick, even to the last faintings of moral death. It is the same in all the other characters. The variety arises from rage, caused ever and anon by disruption of anxious thought, and the quick transition of fear into it.
“In 'Hamlet' and 'Macbeth' the scene opens with superstition ; but in each it is not merely different, but opposite. In the first it is connected with the best and holiest feelings; in the second, with the shadowy, turbulent, and unsanctified cravings of the individual will. Nor is the purpose the same; in the one the object is to excite, whilst in the other it is to mark a mind already excited.
"The Weird Sisters are as true a creation of Shakspeare's as his Ariel and Caliban,-fates, furies, and materializing witches being the elements. They are wholly different from any representation of witches in the contemporary
writers, and yet presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice to act immediately on the audience. Their character consists in the imaginative disconnected from the good ; they are the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, the lawless of human nature,-elemental avengers without sex or kin. The true reason for the first appearance of the Witches is to strike the key-note of the character of the whole drama.
"Macbeth is described by Lady Macbeth so as at the same time to reveal her own character. Could he have everything he wanted, he would rather have it innocently ;-ignorant, as alas, how many of us are, that he who wishes a temporal end for itself does in truth will the means; and hence the danger of indulging fancies. Lady Macbeth, like all in Shakspeare, is a class individualized :-of high rank, left much alone, and feeding herself with day-dreams of ambition, she mistakes the courage of fantasy for the power of bearing the consequences of the realities of guilt. Hers is the mock fortitude of a mind deluded by ambition; she shames her husband with a superhuman audacity of fancy which she cannot support, but sinks in the season of remorse, and dies in suicidal agony."-COLERIDGE.
No edition of this tragedy, previous to that in the folio of 1623, is now known; although, from the fact of its having been entered on the Stationers' Registers by Edward Blount, one of the publishers of the folio, in May, 1608, there is a bare possibility that an earlier impression may some day come to light. It was probably written at the latter end of the year 1607, but we have no evidence to prove when it was first acted, or, indeed, that it was acted at all. There were two preceding dramas on the subject; the “ Cleopatra” of Samuel Daniel, 1594 ; and “ The Trajedie of Antonie," a translation from the French by Lady Pembroke, 1595, to neither of which, however, was Shakespeare under any obligation, his story and incidents being evidently borrowed directly from the Life of Antonius in North’s Plutarch, which he has followed, even to the minutest circumstances, with scrupulous fidelity. The action comprehends the events of ten years ; beginning with the death of Fulvia, B.C. 40, and terminating with the overthrow of the Ptolemean dynasty, B.O. 30.
Friends of Antony.
Friends of Cæsar.
Attendants on Cleopatra.
CLEOPATRA, Queen of Egypt.
Attendants on Cleopatra.
Officers, Soldiers, Messengers, and other Attendants. ,
SCENE,-Dispersed ; in several parts of the Roman Empire,