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this, Malone and Chalmers agreed upon the year 1606 as the probable time of the writing. That the composition was subsequent to the union of the English and Scottish crowns, was justly inferred from what the hero says in his last interview with the Weird Sisters: And some I see, that twofold balls and treble sceptres carry." James the First came to the throne of England in March, 1603; but the two crowns were not formally united, at least the union was not proclaimed, till October, 1604. Our earliest authentic notice of Macbeth is from one Simon Forman, M.D., an astrologer, quack, and dealer in the arts of magic, who kept a sort of diary which he entitled The Book of Plays and Notes thereof. In 1836 the manuscript of this diary was discovered in the Ashmolean Museum, and a portion of its contents published. Forman gives a somewhat minute and particular account of the plot and leading incidents of the drama, as he saw it played at the Globe theatre on Saturday the 20th of April, 1610. The passage is too long for my space; but it is a very mark-worthy circumstance, that from the way it begins, and from the wording of it, we should naturally infer that what now stands as the first scene of the play, then made no part of the performance. The passage opens thus: "In Macbeth, at the Globe, 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women, faries or nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, Hail," &c.
It is highly probable, to say the least, that the tragedy was then fresh from the Poet's hand, and was in its first course of performance. Some arguments, indeed, or seeming arguments, have been adduced, inferring the play to have been written three or four years earlier; but I can see no great force in them. On the other hand, it appears that Forman had long been an habitual frequenter of play-houses; and it seems nowise likely that one so eager in quest of novelties would either have missed the play, had it been put upon the stage before, or have made so special a notice of it, but that he then saw it for the first time. Nor have the characteristics of the work itself any thing to say against the date in question; those portions of it that have the
clearest and most unquestionable impress of Shakespeare's hand being in his greatest, richest, most idiomatic style.
The story of Macbeth, as it lived in tradition, had been told by Holinshed, whose Chronicles first appeared in 1577, and by George Buchanan, the learned preceptor of James the First, who has been termed the Scotch Livy, and whose History of Scotland came forth in 1582. The main features of the story, so far as it is adopted by the Poet, are the same in both these writers, save that Buchanan represents Macbeth to have merely 'dreamed of meeting the Weird Sisters, and of being hailed by them successively as Thane of Angus, Thane of Murray, and as King. Holinshed was Shakespeare's usual authority in matters of British history. In the present case the Poet shows no traces of obligation to Buchanan, unless, which is barely possible, he may have taken a hint from the historian, where the latter, speaking of Macbeth's reign, says, “Certain of our writers here relate many idle things which I omit, as being fitter for Milesian fables or for the theatre than for sober history." A passage which, as showing the author's care for the truth of what he wrote, perhaps should make us wary of trusting too much in later writers, who would have us believe that, a war of factions breaking out, Duncan was killed in battle, and Macbeth took the crown by just and lawful title. And it is considerable that both Hume and Lingard acquiesce in the old account which represents Macbeth to have murdered Duncan, and usurped the throne.
According to the history, Malcolm, King of Scotland, had two daughters, Beatrice and Doada, severally married to Abanath Crinen and to Sinel, Thanes of the Isles and of Glamis, by whom each had a son named Duncan and Macbeth. The former succeeded his grandfather in the kingdom; and, he being of a soft and gentle disposition, his reign was at first very quiet and peaceable, but afterwards, by reason of his slackness, was greatly harassed with troubles and seditions, wherein his cousin, who was valiant and warlike, did great service to the State.
I condense the main particulars of the historic matter. After narrating the victory of the Scottish generals over the rebels and invaders, the chronicler proceeds in substance as follows:
Macbeth and Banquo were on their way to Forres, where the King then lay; and, as they were passing through the fields alone, three women in strange and wild attire suddenly met them; and, while they were rapt with wonder at the sight, the first said, "All hail, Macbeth, Thane of Glamis "; the second,
Hail, Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor"; the third, "Hail, Macbeth, that hereafter shalt be King." Then said Banquo, "What manner of women are you, that to my fellow here, besides high offices, ye assign the kingdom, but promise nothing to me?" "Yes," said the first, "we promise greater things to thee: for he shall reign indeed, but shall have no issue to succeed him; whereas thou indeed shalt not reign, but from thee shall spring a long line of kings." Then the women immediately vanished. At first the men thought this was but a fantastical illusion, insomuch that Banquo would call Macbeth king in jest, and Macbeth in like sort would call him father of many kings. But afterwards the women were believed to be the Weird Sisters; because, the Thane of Cawdor being condemned for treason, his lands and titles were given to Macbeth. Whereupon Banquo said to him jestingly, "Now, Macbeth, thou hast what two of the Sisters promised; there remaineth only what the other said should come to pass." And Macbeth began even then to devise how he might come to the throne, but thought he must wait for time to work his way, as in the former preferment. But when, shortly after, the King made his oldest son Prince of Cumberland, thereby in effect appointing him successor, Macbeth was sorely troubled thereat, as it seemed to cut off his hope; and, thinking the purpose was to defeat his title to the crown, he studied to usurp it by force. Encouraged by the words of the Weird Sisters, and urged on by his wife, who was "burning with unquenchable desire to bear the name of queen," he at length whispered his design to some trusty friends, and, having a promise of their aid, slew the King at Inverness; then got himself proclaimed king, and forthwith went to Scone, where, by common consent, he was invested after the usual manner.
The circumstances of the murder, as set forth in the play, were taken from another part of the history, where Holinshed relates how King Duff, being the guest of Donwald and his wife
in their castle at Forres, was there murdered. The story ran as follows: King Duff having retired for the rest of the night, his two chamberlains, as soon as they saw him well a-bed, came forth, and fell to banqueting with Donwald and his wife, who had prepared many choice dishes and drinks for their rear-supper; wherewith they so gorged themselves, that their heads no sooner got to the pillow than they were so fast asleep that the chamber might have been removed without waking them. Then Donwald, goaded on by his wife, though in heart he greatly abhorred the act, called four of his servants, whom he had already framed to the purpose with large gifts; and they, entering the King's chamber, cut his throat as he lay asleep, and carried the body forth into the fields. In the morning, a noise being made that the King was slain, Donwald ran thither with the watch, as though he knew nothing of it, and, finding cakes of blood in the bed and on the floor, forthwith slew the chamberlains as guilty of the murder.
The body of Duncan was conveyed to Colmekill, and there laid in a sepulchre amongst his predecessors, in the year 1040. Malcolm and Donalbain, the sons of Duncan, for fear of their lives fled into Cumberland, where Malcolm remained till Saint Edward recovered England from the Danish power. Edward received Malcolm with most friendly entertainment, but Donalbain passed over into Ireland, where he was tenderly cherished by the King of that land
Macbeth, after the departure of Duncan's sons, used great liberality towards the nobles of the realm, thereby to win their favour; and, when he saw that no man went about to trouble him, he set his whole endeavour to maintain justice, and to punish all enormities and abuses which had chanced through the feeble administration of Duncan. He continued governing the realm for the space of ten years in equal justice; but this was but a counterfeit zeal, to purchase thereby the favour of the people. Shortly after, he began to show what he was, practising cruelty instead of equity. For the prick of conscience caused him ever to fear, lest he should be served with the same cup as he had ministered to his predecessor. The words, also, of the Weird Sisters would not out of his mind; which, as they promised him
the kingdom, did likewise promise it at the same time to the posterity of Banquo. He therefore desired Banquo and his son named Fleance to come to a supper that he had prepared for them; but hired certain murderers to meet them without the palace as they returned to their lodgings, and there to slay them. Yet it chanced, by the benefit of the dark night, that, though the father was slain, the son escaped that danger; and afterwards, having some inkling how his life was sought no less than his father's, to avoid further peril he fled into Wales.
After the slaughter of Banquo, nothing prospered with Macbeth. For every man began to doubt his own life, and durst hardly appear in the King's presence; and as there were many that stood in fear of him, so likewise stood he in fear of many, in such sort that he began to make those away whom he thought most able to work him any displeasure. At length he found such sweetness in putting his nobles to death, that his thirst after blood might nowise be satisfied. For, first, they were rid out of the way whom he feared; then, his coffers were enriched by their goods, whereby he might the better maintain a guard of armed men about him, to defend his person from them whom he had in any suspicion.
To the end he might the more safely oppress his subjects, he built a strong castle on the top of a high hill called Dunsinane. This castle put the realm to great expense, before it was finished; for all the stuff necessary to the building could not be brought up without much toil and business. But Macbeth, being determined to have the work go forward, caused the thanes of each shire within the realm to come and help towards the building, each man his course about. At last, when the turn fell to Macduff, Thane of Fife, he sent workmen with all needful provision, and commanded them to show such diligence, that no occasion might be given for the King to find fault with him for not coming himself; which he refused to do for fear lest the King should lay violent hands upon him, as he had done upon divers others.
Shortly after, Macbeth, coming to behold how the work went forward, was sore offended because he found not Macduff there, and said, "I perceive this man will never obey my commands till he be ridden with a snaffle; but I shall provide enough for