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The wretched man's mind is petrified with images of fear, presented to his eyes by a guilty conscience: he sees the dead Banquo, sitting in his place at the table, and hears a voice saying, “Sleep no more". Lady Macbeth's derangement ends in death; and the lonely man is informed that the avenging army from the South has invaded the kingdom. He pulls himself together for a last effort, but it is with despair in his heart:
I have lived long enough; my way of life
The Witches had promised that, till Birnam should come to Dunsinane, he should not suffer defeat; but, when he saw the enemy advancing with branches plucked from this wood, like a moving forest, he realised how the powers of evil had paltered with him in a double sense, keeping the word of promise to the ear but breaking it to the hope; and, though with reckless valour he plunged into the battle, his end was a foregone conclusion, and he fell by the hand of Macduff, the man whose wife and children he had cruelly murdered.
In Othello, the kindling of the passion of jealousy, till it becomes a devouring fire, consuming everything that comes in its way, is depicted with equal skill. But here what chiefly fascinates is the figure of the tempter behind the principal actor. Lady Macbeth, in spite of her unwomanly ferocity, yet, when the paroxysm of guilty passion is over and the deed done, becomes a woman again, suffering the tortures of remorse, and at last loses her reason and even her life in expiation of her guilt. But Iago is a villain who has no idea what remorse is. He acknowledges the nobleness of Othello's nature and is able to appreciate the sweetness of Desdemona, but, for a slight done him by the former and in order to mount a single step on the ladder of promotion, he is the cause of the death not only of them both, but also of others involved in their downfall. In one passage he attempts to justify his conduct and to argue that he is not a villain ; but it is only in fun: his selfishness is perfect; nothing causes him a moment's compunction; and he does not hesitate to adopt any means to attain his end. Outwardly he wears a mask of good humour so well that those nearest to him do not suspect his hypocrisy ; but his own wife exposes his treachery; and, in spite of the many doublings of the fox, the teeth of the trap close upon him at last.
In Regan and Goneril, the undutiful daughters of King Lear, we have, if possible, still more revolting
examples of unredeemed wickedness. Their conduct is utterly abominable, and their figures are such as we should expect from the blood-and-thunder dramatists who preceded Shakspeare rather than from him, as, indeed, in the whole drama of King Lear, there is an unnatural exaggeration which, I confess, takes away, for me, very much of the pleasure which others seem to have derived from reading it. It is a defect that Shakspeare does not account for such utterly graceless figures as Iago, Regan and Goneril. Perhaps he holds that there are human beings who have derived from nature a double or treble dose of original sin and are irredeemably bad from the beginning—an opinion in which there are a good many who would agree with him and for which, I suspect, a great deal of proof could be easily accumulated.
The principal interest in the Tragedies of Shakspeare is the development in the leading characters of the passions which ultimately bring them to ruin, this involving the influence on them of the personages and events by which this development is stimulated, as well as the reaction in the body of surrounding circumstances, by which the wrong is ultimately crushed out of existence. The scene of the poet is a little image of the mighty world; and it terminates, as the great world will do, with a judgment-day, in which all are rewarded according to their deeds. Herein consists the majesty of the Shakspearean drama. It postulates
a moral order of the universe, which is inherent in the frame of things and slowly but inevitably overcomes and pulverises everything that erects itself in opposition to it. This divine element, ever at work in the constitution of nature, has its counterpart in conscience, which in the breast of a Macbeth sheds on crime so searching a light, while it produces in the minds of the spectators, witnessing the punishment of wrongdoing, a solemn sense of satisfaction and approval. The poet who can thus shape a world with righteousness at its core is a true creator, and the skill with which he disposes events in the fictitious world of his invention is an imitation of the Providence by which the real world is governed.
But, side by side with this predominant interest, there are minor sources of interest, which invest these productions with attraction and illustrate the genius of their author.
For instance, the scenery in which the drama is laid is generally most appropriate. This has been specially noted in Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, and has been used to support the contention that Shakspeare must have travelled in Scotland and Italy. There is some slight evidence that the company of players to which he belonged travelled as far north as Aberdeen; and it would be pleasant to be able to believe that the
sense of the open air and of the windy expanses of heather in Macbeth is a reminiscence of personal observation in the land of the mountain and the flood. Does not the following description sound very like the recollected experience of a balmy day spent amidst the ruins of Tantallon or some similar bit of characteristically Scottish scenery?
This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
In Romeo and Juliet the atmosphere is as unmistakably Italian. Juliet is only fourteen-an age at which our girls are still playing with their dolls but, in the more forcing climate of the South, girls are already women. Under the potent influence of love she shoots up into the fulness of womanhood in a day, and is clear in vision, prompt in action, and unshaken in resolution and loyalty. Such protestations of affection as she and Romeo pour into each other's ears after the acquaintance of a few hours belong not