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"I REGARD Macbeth, upon the whole, as the greatest treasure of our dramatic literature. We may look as Britons at Greek sculpture, and at Italian paintings, with a humble consciousness that our native art has never reached their perfection ; but in the drama we can confront Æschylus himself with Shakespeare ; and of all modern theatres, ours alone can compete with the Greek in the unborrowed nativeness and sublimity of its superstition. In the grandeur of tragedy Macbeth has no parallel, till we go back to the Prometheus and the Furies of the Attic stage. I could even produce, if it were not digressing too far from my subject, innumerable instances of striking similarity between the metaphorical mintage of Shakespeare's and of Æschylus's style,-a similarity, both in beauty and in the fault of excess, that unless the contrary had been proved, would lead me to suspect our great dramatist to have been a studious Greek scholar. But their resemblance arose from the consanguinity of nature. In one respect, the tragedy of Macbeth always reminds me of Æschylus's poetry. It has scenes and conceptions absolutely too bold for representation. What stage could do justice to Æschylus, when the Titan Prometheus makes his appeal to the elements; and when the hammer is heard in the Scythian Desert that rivets his chains? Or when the Ghost of Clytemnestra rushes into Apollo's temple, and rouses the sleeping Furies? I wish to imagine these scenes: I should be sorry to see the acting of them attempted. In like manner, there are parts of Macbeth which I delight to read much more than to see in the theatre. Nevertheless, I feel no inconsistency in reverting from these remarks to my first assertion, that all in all, Macbeth is our greatest possession in dramatic poetry."
The First Edition. Macbeth was first printed in the First Folio, where it occupies pp. 131 to 151, and is placed between Julius Cæsar and Hamlet. It is mentioned among the plays registered in the books of the Stationers' Company by the publishers of the Folio as " not formerly entered to other men." The text is perhaps one of the worst printed of all the plays, and textual criticism has been busy emending and explaining away the
many difficulties of the play. Even the editors of the Second Folio were struck by the many hopeless corruptions, and attempted to provide a better text, The first printers certainly had before them a very faulty transcript, and critics have attempted to explain the discrepancies by assuming that Shakespeare's original version had been tampered with by another hand,
"Macbeth" and Middletons "Witch." Some striking resemblances in the incantation scenes of Macbeth and Middleton's Witch have led to a somewhat generally accepted belief that Thomas Middleton was answerable for the alleged un-Shakespearian portions of Macbeth. This view has received confirmation from the fact that the stage-directions of Macbeth contain allusions to two songs which are found in Middleton's Witch (viz. “ Come away, come away,” III. v.; " Black Spirits and white," IV. i.). Moreover, these very songs are found in D'Avenant's re-cast of Macbeth (1674). * It is, however, possible
• The first of these songs is found in the edition of 1673, which contains also two other songs not found in the Folio version.
that Middleton took Shakespeare's songs and expanded them, and that D'Avenant had before him a copy containing additions transferred from Middleton's cognate scenes. This view is held by the most competent of Middleton's editors, Mr A. H. Bullen, who puts forward strong reasons for assigning the Witch to a later date than Macbeth, and rightly resents the proposals on the part of able scholars to hand over to Middleton some of the finest passages of the play.* Charles Lamb had already noted the essential differences between Shakespeare's and Middleton's Witches, “ Their names and some of the properties, which Middleton has given to his hags, excite smiles. The Weird Sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot co-exist with mirth. But in a lesser degree, the Witches of Middleton are fine creatures. Their power, too, is in some measure over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies, strifes, like a thick scurf o'er life" (specimens of English Dramatic Poets).
The Porter's Speech. Among the passages in Macbeth. that have been doubted are the soliloquy of the Porter, and the short dialogue that follows between the Porter and Macduff,
* The following are among the chief passages supposed to resemble Middleton's style, and rejected as Shakespeare's by the Clarendon Press editors :-Act I. Sc. ii., iii., 1•37 ; Act II. Sc. i. 61, ïïi. (Porter's part); Act III. Sc. v.; Act IV. Sc. i. 39-47, 125-132; iii. 140-159 ; Act V. (?) ii., v. 47• 50; viii. 32-33, 35-75.
The second scene of the First Act is certainly somewhat disappointing, and it is also inconsistent (cp. ll. 52, 53, with Sc. iii., 11. 72, 73, and 112, etc.), but probably the scene represents the compression of a much longer account. The introduction of the superfluous Hecate is perhaps the strongest argument for rejecting certain witch-scenes, viz. : Act III. Sc. v.; Act IV. Sc. i. 39-47; Act IV. i. 125-132.