Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

That speak my salutation in their minds;
Whose voices I desire aloud with mine,-
Hail, king of Scotland!
All,

King of Scotland, hail !?

[I lourish. Mal. We shall not spend a large expense of time, Before we reckon with your several loves, And make us even with you. My thanes and kinsmen, Henceforth be earls, the first that ever Scotland In such an honour nam'd.4 What 's more to do,

nament.

The following passage from Ben Jonson's Entertainment of the Queen and Prince at Althorpe, may, however, countenance the old reading, which I have inserted in the text:

“ Queen, prince, duke, and earls,

“ Countesses, ye courtly pearls,” &c. Again, in Shirley's Gentlemen of Venice:

he is the very pearl “Of courtesy - Steevens. Thy kingdom's pearl means thy kingilom's wealth, or rather or.

So, J. Sylvester, England's Parnassus, 1600:

“ Honour of cities, pearle of kingdoms all.Again, in Sir Philip Sydney's Ourania, by N. Breton, 1606:

- an earl, “ And worthily then termed Albion's pearl.John Florio, in a Sonnet prefixed to his Italian Dictionary, 1598, calls lord Southampton—“bright pearle of peers.Malone.

2 King of Scotland, hail!] Old copy-" Hail, king of Scot. land!” For the sake of metre, and in conformity to a practice of our author, I have transplanted the word-bail, from the beginning to the end of this hemistich. Thus, in the third scene of the play, p. 35:

So, all bail, Macbeth, and Banquo!

Banquo, and Macbeth, all bail.Steevens. 3 We shall not spend a large expense of time,] To spend an expense, is a phrase with which no reader will be satisfied. We certainly owe it to the mistake of a transcriber, or the negli. gence of a printer. Perhaps extent was the poet's word. Be it recollected, however, that at the end of the first scene of the third Act of The Comedy of Errors, Antipholus of Ephesus says" This jest shall cost me some expense. Steedens.

the first that ever Scotland In such an honour nam’d.] “ Malcolm immediately after his coronation called a parlement at Forfair, in the which he rewarded them with lands and livings that had assisted him against Macbeth.--Manie of them that were before th.nes, were at this time made earles, as Fife, Menteth, Atholi, Levenox,

VOL. VII.

[ocr errors]

x

Which would be planted newly with the time,
As calling home our exild friends abroad,
That fled the snares of watchful tyranny;
Producing forth the cruel ministers
Of this dead butcher, and his fiend-like queen;
Who, as 'tis thought, by self and violent hands
Took off her life ;—This, and what needful else
That calls upon us, by the grace

of Grace,
We will perform in measure, time, and place:
So thanks to all at once, and io each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.

[Flourish. Exeunt.5

Murrey, Catliness, Rosse, and Angus.” Holinshed's History of Scotland, p. 176. Malone.

5 This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action; but it has no nice discriminations of character; the events are too great to admit the influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents.

The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may not be said, in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that, in Shakspeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity against vain and illusive predictions.

The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall.

Fobnson. How frequent the practice of inquiring into the events of futurity, similar to those of Macbeth, was in Shakspeare's time, may be seen in the following instances: “The Marshall of Raiz wife hath bin heard to say, that queen Katherine beeing de. sirous to know what should become of her children, and who should succeed them, the party which undertooke to assure her, let her see a glasse, representing a hall, in the which either of them made so many turns as he should raigne yeares; and that king Henry the Third, making bis, the duke of Guise crost him like a flash of lightning; after which, the Prince of Navarre presented himselfe, and made 22 turnes, and then vanished.” P. Mathieu's Heroyk Life and deplorable Death of Henry the Fourth, translated by Ed. Grimeston, 4to. 1612, p. 42. Again: “ It is reported that a duke of Bourgondy had like to have died for feare at the sight of the nine worthies which a magician shewed him.” Ibid. p. 116. Reed.

Mr. Whitaker, in his judicious and spirited Vindication of Mary Queen of Scots, 8vo. p. 486, edit. 1790, has the following reference to the prophecies of one John Lenton: “ All this serves to show the propriety of Shakspeare's scenes of the weird sisters, &c. as adapted to his own age. In the remote period of Macbeth, it might be well presumed, the popular faith mounted up into all the wildest extravagance described by him. In his own age it rose, as in lady Shrewsbury here, and in lady Derby, (Camden, Trans. 529, Orig. ii, 129) into a belief in the verbal predictions of some reputed prophet then alive, or into a reliance upon the written predictions of some dead one. And Shakspeare might well endeavour to expose such a faith, when we see here, that though it could not lay hold of queen Mary, yet it fastened firmly upon such a woman of the world as lady Shrewsbury.”

It may be worth while to remark, that Milton, who left be. hind him a list of no less than ClI dramatic subjects, had fixed on the story of this play among the rest. His intention was to have begun with the arrival of Malcolm at Macduff's castle. “ The matter of Duncan (says he) may be expressed by the appearing of his ghost.” It should seem, from this last memo. randum, that Milton disliked the license his predecessor had taken in comprehending a history of such length within the short compass of a play, and would have new-written the whole on the plan of the ancient drama. He could not surely have in. dulged so vain a hope, as that of excelling Shakspeare in the tragedy of Macbeth.

The late Mr. Whateley's Remarks on some of the Characters of Shakspeare, have shown, with the utmost clearness of distinction and felicity of arrangement, that what in Richard !!!, is fortitude, in Macbeth is no more than resolution. But this judicious critick having imputed the cause of Macbeth's inferiority in courage to his natural disposition, induces me to dissent, in one particular, from an Essay, which otherwise is too comprehensive to need a supplement, and too rational to admit of confutation.

Throughout such parts of this drama as afford opportunities for a display of personal bravery, Macbeth sometimes screws bis courage to the sticking place, but never rises into constitutional heroism. Instead of meditating some decisive stroke on the enemy, his restless and self-accusing mind discharges itself in splenetic effusions and personal invectives on the attendants about his person. His genuine intrepidity had forsaken him when he ceased to be a virtuous character. He would now de. ceive himself into confidence, and depends on forced alacrity, and artificial valour, to extricate him from his present difficulties. Despondency too deep to be rooted out, and fury too irregular to be successful, have, by turns, possession of his mind. Though he has been assured of what he certainly cre. dited, that none of woman born shall hurt him, he has twice given us reason to suppose that he would have fled, but that he cannot, being tied to the stake, and compelled to fight the course. Sui. cide also has once entered into his thoughts; though this idea, in a paroxysm of noisy rage, is suppressed. Yet here it must be acknowledged that his apprehensions had betrayed him into a strange inconsistency of belief. As he persisted in supposing he could be destroyed by none of woman born, by what means did he think to destroy himself? for he was produced in the common way of nature, and fell not within the description of the only object that could end the being of Macbeth. In short, his efforts are no longer those of courage, but of despair, excited by self-conviction, infuriated by the menaces of an injured father, and confirmed by a presentiment of inevitable defeat. Thus situated, -- Dum nec luce frui, nec mortem arcere licebit,he very naturally prefers a manly and violent, to a shameful and lingering termination of life.

One of Shakspeare's favourite morals is—that criminality reduces the brave and pusillanimous to a level. Every, puny wbipster gets my sword, exclaims Othello, for wby should bonour outlive bonesty? Where I could not be honest, says Albany, I was neper valiant ; lachimo, imputes his want of manbood to the beaviness and guilt within his bosom ; Hamlet asserts that conscience does make cowards of us all; and Imogen tells Pisanio be inay be valiant in a better cause, but now be seems a coward. The late Dr. Johnson, than whom no man was better acquainted with general nature, in his Irene, has also observed of a once faithful Bassa

How guilt, when harbour'd in the conscious breasta
“ Intimidates the brave, degrades the great!
" See Cali, dread of kings, and pride of armies,
"By treason levell’d with the dregs of men!
"Ere guilty fear depress'd the hoary chief,
An angry murmur, a rebellious frown,

“ Had stretch'd the fiery boaster in his grave." Who then can suppose that Shakspeare would have exhibited his Macbeth with increasing guilt, but undiminished bravery? or wonder that our hero

“Whose pester'd senses do recoil and start,
“ When all that is within him does condemn

“ Itself for being there,” should have lost the magnanimity he displayed in a righteous cause, against Macdonwald and the thane of Cawdor? Of this circumstance, indeed, the murderer of Duncan was soon aware, as appears from his asking himself the dreadful question

“How is 't with me, when every noise appals me!" Between the courage of Richard and Macbeth, however, no comparison in favour of the latter can be supported. Richard was so thoroughly designed for a daring, impious, and obdurate character, that even his birth was attended by prodigies, and his person armed with ability to do the earliest mischief of which infancy is capable. Macbeth, on the contrary, till deceived by the illusions of witchcraft, and depraved by the suggestions of his wife, was a religious, temperate, and blameless character

[ocr errors]

The vices of the one were originally woven into his heart; those of the other were only applied to the surface of his disposition. They can scarce be said to have penetrated quite into its substance, for while there was shame, there might have been re. formation.

The precautions of Richard concerning the armour he was to wear in the next day's battle, his preparations for the onset, and his orders after it is begun, are equally characteristick of a calm and intrepid soldier, who possesses the wisdom that appeared so formidable to Macbeth, and guided Banquo's valour to act in safety. But Macbeth appears in confusion from the moment his castle is invested, issues no distinct or material directions, prematurely calls for bis armour, as irresolutely throws it off again, and is more intent on self-crimination, than the repulse of the besiegers, or the disposition of the troops who are to de. fend his fortress. But it is useless to dwell on particulars so much more exactly enumerated by Mr. Whateley.

The truth is, that the mind of Richard, unimpregnated by original morality, and uninfluenced by the laws of Heaven, is harrassed by no subsequent remorse. Repente fuit turpissimus. Even the depression he feels from preternatural objects, is speedily taken off. In spite of ominous visions he sallies forth, and seeks his competitor in the throat of death. Macbeth, though he had long abandoned the practice of goodness, had not so far forgot his accustomed influence, but that a virtuous adversary whom he had injured, is as painful to his sight as the spectre in a former scene, and equally blasts the resolution he was willing to think he had still possessed. His conscience (as Hamlet says of the poison) overcrows his spirit, and all his enter. prizes are sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. The curse that attends on him is, virtutum videre, et intabescere relictâ. Had Richard once been a feeling and conscientious character, when his end drew nigh, he might also have betrayed evidences of timidity—" there sadly summing what he late had lost;" and if Macbeth originally had been a hardened villain, no ter.. rers might have obtruded themselves in his close of life. Qualis ab incepto processerat. In short, Macbeth is timid in spite of all his boasting, as long as he thinks timidity can afford resources; nor does he exhibit a specimen of determined intrepidity, till the completion of the prophecy, and the challenge of Macduff, have taught him that life is no longer tenable. Five counterfeit Richmonds are slain by Richard, who, before his fall, has enact. ed wonders beyond the common ability of man. of Macbeth is confined to the single conquest of Siward, a novice in the art of war. Neither are the truly brave ever dis. graced by unnecessarv deeds of cruelty. The victims of Rich therefore, are merely such as obstructed his progress to the crown, or betrayed the confidence he had reposed in their assurances of fidelity: Macbeth, with a savage wantonness that would have dishonoured a Scythian female, cuts off a whole

T'he prowess

« ZurückWeiter »