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Shakespeare's plays. It moves upon the verge of an abyss, and is a constant struggle between life and death. tion is desperate and the reaction is dreadful. It is a huddling together of fierce extremes, a war of opposite natures which of them shall destroy the other. There is nothing but what has a violent end or violent beginnings. The lights and shades are laid on with a determined hand; the transitions from triumph to despair, from the height of terror to the repose of death, are sudden and startling; every passion brings in its fellow - contrary, and the thoughts pitch and jostle against each other as in the dark. The whole play is an unruly chaos of strange and forbidden things, where the ground rocks under our feet. Shakespeare's genius here took its full swing, and trod upon the farthest bounds of nature and passion. This circumstance will account for the abruptness and violent antitheses of the style, the throes and labour which run through the expression, and from defects will turn them into beauties. “So fair and foul a day,” etc. “ Such welcome and unwelcome news together.” “ Men's lives are like the flowers in their caps, dying or ere they sicken.” “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” The scene before the castle-gate follows the appearance of the witches on the heath, and is followed by a midnight murder. Duncan is cut off betimes by treason leagued with witchcraft, and Macduff is ripped untimely from his mother's womb to avenge his death. Macbeth, after the death of Banquo, wishes for his presence in extravagant terms, “ To all, and him, we thirst,” and when his ghost appears, cries out, Avaunt and quit my sight," and being gone, he is “himself again.”... In Lady Macbeth's speech, “Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t,“ there is murder and filial piety together, and in urging him to fulfil his vengeance against the defenceless king, her thoughts spare the blood neither of infants nor old age. The description of the witches is full of the same contradictory principle; they “rejoice when good kings bleed,”* they are neither of the earth nor the air, but both; " they should be women, but their beards forbid it;" they take all the pains possible to lead Macbeth on to the height of his ambition, only to betray him “in deeper consequence,” and after showing him all the pomp of their art, discover their malignant delight in his disappointed hopes by that bitter taunt, “Why stands Macbeth thus amazedly?” We might multiply such instances everywhere.

[From Mrs. Jameson's Characteristics of Women.[] In the mind of Lady Macbeth, ambition is represented as the ruling motive, an intense overmastering passion, which is gratified at the expense of every just and generous principle, and every feminine feeling. In the pursuit of her object, she is cruel, treacherous, and daring. She is doubly, trebly dyed in guilt and blood; for the murder she instigates is rendered more frightful by disloyalty and ingratitude, and by the violation of all the most sacred claims of kindred and hospitality. When her husband's more kindly nature shrinks from the perpetration of the deed of horror, she, like an evil genius, whispers him on to his damnation. The full measure of her wickedness is never disguised, the magnitude and atrocity of her crime is never extenuated, forgotten, or forgiven, in the whole course of the play. ... Lady Macbeth's amazing power of intellect, her inexorable determination of purpose, her superhuman strength of nerve, render her as fearful in herself as her deeds are hateful; yet she is not a mere monster of depravity, with whom we have nothing in common, nor a meteor whose destroying path we watch in ignorant affright and amaze. She is a terrible impersonation of evil

* Mr. Furness, quoting this in his edition of Macbeth (p. 415), asks: “Is it not passing strange that azlitt shoul have forgotten that this line is none of Shakespeare's ?” † American ed. (Boston : 1857), p. 443 fol.


passions and mighty powers, never so far removed from our own nature as to be cast beyond the pale of our sympathies ; for the woman herself remains a woman to the last-still linked with her sex and with humanity.

We must bear in mind that the first idea of murdering Duncan is not suggested by Lady Macbeth to her husband : it springs within his mind, and is revealed to us [i. 3. 130-137] before his first interview with his wife-before she is introduced or even alluded to.

It will be said that the same “horrid suggestion” presents itself spontaneously to her, on the reception of his letter; or, rather, that the letter acts upon her mind as a prophecy of the Weird Sisters on the mind of her husband, kindling the latent passion for empire into a quenchless flame. We are prepared to see the train of evil, first lighted by hellish agency, extend itself to her through the medium of her husband; but we are spared the more revolting idea that it originated with her. The guilt is thus more equally divided than we should suppose, when we hear people pitying “the noble nature of Macbeth,” bewildered and goaded on to crime, solely or chiefly by the instigation of his wife.

It is true that she afterwards appears the more active agent of the two; but it is less through her preëminence in wickedness than through her superiority of intellect. The eloquence-the fierce, fervid eloquence with which she bears down the relenting and reluctant spirit of her husband, the dexterous sophistry with which she wards off his objections, her artful and affected doubts of his courage—the sarcastic manner in which she lets fall the word coward—a word which no man can endure from another, still less from a woman, and least of all from a woman he loves—and the bold address with which she removes all obstacles, silences all arguments, overpowers all scruples, and marshals the way before him, absolutely make us shrink before the commanding intellect of the woman, with a terror in which interest and admiration are strangely mingled.

Again, in the murdering scene, the obdurate inflexibility of purpose with which she drives on Macbeth to the execution of their project, and her masculine indifference to blood and death, would inspire unmitigated disgust and horror, but for the involuntary consciousness that it is produced rather by the exertion of a strong power over herself than by absolute depravity of disposition and ferocity of temper. This impression of her character is brought home at once to our very hearts with the most profound knowledge of the springs of nature within us, the most subtle mastery over their various operations, and a feeling of dramatic effect not less wonderful. The very passages in which Lady Macbeth displays the most savage and relentless determination are so worded as to fill the mind with the idea of sex, and place the woman before us in all her dearest attributes, at once softening and refining the horror and rendering it more intense. Thus when she reproaches her husband for his weakness—“From this time such I account thy love.” Again, “ Come to my woman's breasts And take my milk for gall,” etc. “I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis To love the babe that milks me,” etc. And lastly, in the moment of extremest terror comes that unexpected touch of feeling, so startling, yet so wonderfully true to nature—“Had he not resembled my father,” etc. Thus in one of Weber's or Beethoven's grand symphonies, some unexpected soft minor chord or passage will steal on the ear, heard amid the magnificent crash of harmony, making the blood pause and filling the eyes with unbidden tears.

It is particularly observable that in Lady Macbeth's concentrated, strong-nerved ambition, the ruling passion of her mind, there is yet a touch of womanhood : she is ambitious less for herself than for her husband. It is fair to think this, because we have no reason to draw any other inference either from her words or her actions. In her famous soliloquy, after reading her husband's letter, she does not once refer to herself. It is of him she thinks : she wishes to see her husband on the throne, and to place the sceptre within his grasp. The strength of her affection adds strength to her ambition. Although in the old story of Boethius we are told that the wife of Macbeth “burned with unquenchable desire to bear the name of queen,” yet in the aspect under which Shakespeare has represented the character to us the selfish part of this ambition is kept out of sight. We must remark also, that in Lady Macbeth's reflections on her husband's character, and on that milkiness of nature which she fears “may impede him from the golden round,” there is no indication of female scorn : there is exceeding pride, but no egotism, in the sentiment or the expression; no want of wifely or womanly respect and love for him, but, on the contrary, a sort of unconsciousness of her own mental superiority, which she betrays rather than asserts, as interesting in itself as it is most admirably conceived and delineated. Nor is there any thing vulgar in her ambition; as the strength of her affections lends to it something profound and concentrated, so her splendid imagination invests the object of her desire with its own radiance. We cannot trace in her grand and capacious mind that it is the mere baubles and trappings of royalty which dazzle and allure her: hers is the sin of the “star-bright apostate," and she plunges with her husband into the abyss of guilt to procure for “all their days and nights sole sovereign sway and masterdom.” She revels, she luxuriates, in her dream of power. She reaches at the golden diadem which is to sear her brain; she perils life and soul for its attainment, with an enthusiasm as perfect, a faith as settled, as that of the martyr who sees at the stake heaven and its crowns of glory opening upon him. ...

Lady Macbeth having proposed the object to herself, and arrayed it with an ideal glory, fixes her eye steadily upon

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