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it, soars far above all womanish feelings and scruples to attain it, and stoops upon her victim with the strength and velocity of a vulture; but having committed unflinchingly the crime necessary for the attainment of her purpose, she stops there.
After the murder of Duncan, we see Lady Mac beth, during the rest of the play, occupied in supporting the nervous weakness and sustaining the fortitude of her husband. ... But she is nowhere represented as urging him on to new crimes; so far from it, that when Macbeth darkly hints his purposed assassination of Banquo, and she inquires his meaning, he replies, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou approve the deed.” The same may be said of the destruction of Macduff's family. Every one must perceive how our detestation of the woman had been increased, if she had been placed before us as suggesting and abetting those additional cruelties into which Macbeth is hurried by his mental cowardice.
If my feeling of Lady Macbeth's character be just to the conception of the poet, then she is one who could steel herself to the commission of a crime from necessity and expediency, and be daringly wicked for a great end, but not likely to perpetrate gratuitous murders from any vague or selfish fears. I do not mean to say that the perfect confidence existing between herself and Macbeth could possibly leave her in ignorance of his actions or designs : that heart-broken and shuddering allusion to the murder of Lady Macduff (in the sleeping scene) proves the contrary. But she is nowhere brought before us in immediate connection with these horrors, and we are spared any flagrant proof of her participation in them....
Another thing has always struck me. During the supper scene, . . . her indignant rebuke [to her husband), her low whispered remonstrance, the sarcastic emphasis with which she combats his sick fancies, and endeavours to recall him to himself, have an intenseness, a severity, a bitterness, which makes the blood creep. Yet, when the guests are dismissed, and they are left alone, she says no more, and not a syllable of reproach or scorn escapes her: a few words in submissive reply to his questions, and an entreaty to seek repose, are all she permits herself to utter. There is a touch of pathos and of tenderness in this silence which has always affected me beyond expression : it is one of the most masterly and most beautiful traits of character in the whole play.
Lastly, it is clear that in a mind constituted like that of Lady Macbeth conscience must wake some time or other, and bring with it remorse closed by despair, and despair by death. This great moral retribution was to be displayed to us—but how? Lady Macbeth is not a woman to start at shadows; she mocks at air-drawn daggers; she sees no imagined spectres rise from the tomb to appal or accuse her. The towering bravery of her mind disdains the visionary terrors which haunt her weaker husband. We know, or rather feel, that she who could give a voice to the most direful intent, and call on the spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to “ her,” and “stop up all access and passage of remorse"—to that remorse would have given nor tongue nor sound; and that rather than have uttered a complaint, she would have held her breath and died. To have given her a confidant, though in the partner of her guilt, would have been a de. grading resource, and have disappointed and enfeebled all our previous impressions of her character; yet justice is to be done, and we are to be made acquainted with that which the woman herself would have suffered a thousand deaths rather than have betrayed. In the sleeping scene we have a glimpse into that inward hell: the seared brain and broken heart are laid bare before us in the helplessness of slumber. By a judgment the most sublime ever imagined, yet the most unforced, natural, and inevitable, the sleep of her who murdered sleep is no longer repose, but a condensation of resistless horrors which the prostrate intellect and the powerless will can neither baffle nor repel. We shudder and are satisfied; yet our human sympathies are again touched; we rather sigh over the ruin than exult in it; and after watching her through this wonderful scene with a sort of fascination, we dismiss the unconscious, helpless, despair-stricken murderess with a feeling which Lady Macbeth, in her waking strength, with all her awe-commanding powers about her, could never have excited.
It is here especially we perceive that sweetness of nature which in Shakespeare went hand in hand with his astonishing powers. He never confounds that line of demarcation which eternally separates good from evil, yet he never places evil before us without exciting in some way a consciousness of the opposite good which shall balance and relieve it. ...
What would not the firmness, the self-command, the enthusiasm, the intellect, the ardent affections of this woman have performed, if properly directed ? but the object being unworthy of the effort, the end is disappointment, despair, and death.
The power of religion could alone have controlled such a mind; but it is the misery of a very proud, strong, and gifted spirit, without sense of religion, that instead of looking upward to find a superior, it looks around and sees all things as subject to itself. Lady Macbeth is placed in a dark, ignorant, iron age; her powerful intellect is slightly tinged with its credulity and superstitions, but she has no religious feeling to restrain the force of will. She is a stern fatalist in principle and action—“What is done, is done,” and would be done over again under the same circumstances; her remorse is without repentance or any reference to an offended Deity; it arises from the pang of a wounded conscience, the recoil of the violated feelings of nature; it is the horror of the past, not the terror of the future; the torture of selfcondemnation, not the fear of judgment; it is strong as her
soul, deep as her guilt, fatal as her resolve, and terrible as her crime.
If it should be objected to this view of Lady Macbeth's character, that it engages our sympathies in behalf of a perverted being, and that to leave her so strong a power upon our feelings in the midst of such supreme wickedness involves a moral wrong, I can only reply in the words of Dr. Channing, that“ in this and the like cases our interest fastens on what is not evil in the character—that there is something kindling and ennobling in the consciousness, however awakened, of the energy which resides in mind : and many a virtuous man has borrowed new strength from the force, constancy, aud dauntless courage of evil agents.”
This is true; and might he not have added that many a powerful and gifted spirit has learned humility and self-government from beholding how far the energy which resides in mind may be degraded and perverted ?
[From Fletcher's “Studies of Shakespeare."*] Macbeth seems inspired by the very genius of the tempest. This drama shows us the gathering, the discharge, and the dispelling of a domestic and political storm, which takes its peculiar hue from the individual character of the hero. It is not in the spirit of mischief that animates-the “ weird sisters,” nor in the passionate and strong-willed ambition of Lady Macbeth, that we find the mainspring of this tragedy, but in the disproportioned though poetically tempered soul of Macbeth himself. A character like this, of extreme selfishness, with a most irritable fancy, must produce, even in ordinary circumstances, an excess of morbid apprehensiveness; which, however, as we see in him, is not inconsistent with the greatest physical courage, but generates of necessity the most entire moral cowardice. When, therefore, a man
* Studies of Shakespeare, etc., by George Fletcher (London, 1847), p.
like this, ill enough qualified even for the honest and straightforward transactions of life, has brought himself to snatch at an ambitious object by the commission of one great sanguinary crime, the new and false position in which he finds himself by his very success will but startle and exasperate him to escape, as Macbeth says, from “horrible imaginings” by the perpetration of greater and greater actual horrors, till inevitable destruction comes upon us amidst universal execration. Such, briefly, are the story and the moral of Macbeth. The passionate ambition and indomitable will of his lady, though agents indispensable to urge such a man to the one decisive act which is to compromise him in his own opinion and that of the world, are by no means primary springs of the dramatic action. Nor do the “weird sisters" themselves do more than aid collaterally in impelling a man, the inherent evil of whose nature and purpose has predisposed him to take their equivocal suggestions in the most mischievous sense. And, finally, the very thunder-cloud which, from the beginning almost to the ending, wraps this fearful tragedy in physical darkness and lurid glare, does but reflect and harmonize with the moral blackness of the piece. ..
The very starting point for an inquiry into the real, inherent, and habitual nature of Macbeth, independent of those particular circumstances which form the action of the play, lies manifestly, though the critics have commonly overlooked it, in the question, with whom does the scheme of usurping the Scottish crown by the murder of Duncan actually originate? We sometimes find Lady Macbeth talked of as if she were the first contriver of the plot, and suggester of the assassination; but this notion is refuted, not only by implication, in the whole tenor of the piece, but most explicitly in i. 7. 48–52. Most commonly, however, the witches (as we find the “ weird sisters” pertinaciously miscalled by all sorts of players and of critics) have borne the imputation of