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The Text used is the Neilson Text copyrighted in 1906

by CWilliam Allan Neilson

Copyright, 1911

By The Macmillan Company first edition of this issue of “The Tragedy of Macbeth"

printed December, 1911

Introduction

Tert. - The only authority for the text is the First Folio (Fı), and the play was recorded in the Stationers' Register among those“ not formerly entered to other men.” The Second, Third, and Fourth Folios and a Quarto of 1673, are based on the First Folio text.

The play is only about half as long as Hamlet, and is nearly five hundred lines shorter than any other of the tragedies. To explain this brevity some have supposed that it is Shakespeare's hastily written first draft, others that it has been cut down from what Shakespeare wrote. Abridgment seems suggested by the number of broken lines, by the way in which the First Folio mangles the meter, although it prints the language of the play with fair accuracy, and by the probability that some one has made additions to the play.

Doubts concerning the authenticity of the following passages were set forth by the Clarendon editors: I. ii, I. iii. 1-37, II. iii. 1-23, III. v, IV. i. 39–47, 125-132, IV. iii. 140-159, V. ii, V. viii. 35–75, but their opinion has not been generally sustained, except with regard to III. V, IV. i. 39–43 (44-47 seem to be Shakespeare's), and 125132. The three passages last mentioned are set apart from the rest of the play by a distinctive meter, iambic couplets of eight syllables, which is not elsewhere used in

Macbeth, and by the appearance of Hecate. The passages fulfil no dramatic purpose, and interrupt the action. They differ markedly in tone from the rest of the play, and seem to be in the style of Middleton, not of Shakespeare. Hecate, as mistress over the three witches, is an intolerable excrescence. Elsewhere in the play the three sisters are women of more than mortal power and dignity, who control the fates of men. Shakespeare would not have introduced a mistress over them at all, or if he had, would have made her excel them in dignity and awe. But the Hecate of these scenes is the frivolous leader of an infernal ballet. Quasi-external evidence that the play has suffered alteration appears in IV. i. 38–39, where the stage direction in the Folio reads, “ Enter Hecate and the other three witches,” the witches being all the while upon the stage. Moreover, the stage directions at III. V. 35, and IV. i. 43, give the first words of two songs found printed in full in The Witch, a play by Thomas Middleton, which scholars are agreed was written later than Macbeth. It is probable that Middleton, who lived till 1627, may have been employed after Shakespeare's death to add to the witch scenes of Macbeth, and that in making the interpolations he added at the same time two songs from his own drama. It is not unreasonable to hold that he may also have cut the text of the play somewhat, possibly in order to give time for more elaborate stage effects in the witch scenes.

Date of Composition, Nearly all scholars believe that Macbeth was written about 1606, but it must be admitted that the external evidence for the date is not very conclusive. It was certainly written between a few months before October 24, 1604, the date at which James was officially proclaimed “ King of Great Britain, France and Ireland," and April 20, 1610 (unless this be an error for 1611), when Dr. Simon Forman records in his “ Booke of Plaies" a performance at the Globe Theater. The earlier limit is fixed by a reference to “ twofold balls and treble sceptres,” IV. i. 121.

Several points in the play seem calculated to interest King James. The King's Evil passage, IV. iii. 140-159, may refer to a revival of the old custom of touching for the Evil to which King James was persuaded in 1605. In this same year, on the occasion of a visit to Oxford, King James was addressed by three students attired to represent the Weird Sisters, and in a Latin dialogue they alluded to his descent from Banquo. But whether this address was due to the influence of Shakespeare's play, or whether it suggested to Shakespeare the subject as one likely to be acceptable at court, is not clear. Finally the “ equivocator " of the porter's speech (II. iii) has been thought to be a contemporary allusion to Henry Garnet, a Jesuit Superior, who in his trial, March, 1606, for complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, avowed the doctrine of equivocation.

The style of the play, which plainly belongs to Shakespeare's mature period, and the evidence of the meter, which forbids its being placed too near to his last plays, such as Cymbeline and The Tempest, make the date 1606, or a little earlier, very probable.

1 On the metrical tests as applied to Macbeth, see Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, pp. 470 ff.

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