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-and I ask-when did Macbeth first design the murder of Duncan? Does not everybody think-in the moment after the Witches have first accosted and left him? Does not -it may be asked-the whole moral significancy of the Witches disappear, unless the invasion of hell into Macbeth's bosom is first made by their presence and voices?
NORTH. NO. The whole moral significancy of the Witches only then appears, when we are assured that they address themselves only to those who already have been tampering with their conscience. "Good sir! why do you start, and seem to fear things that do sound so fair?" That question put to Macbeth by Banquo turns our eyes to his face-and we see Guilt. There was no start at "Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor,"--but at the word "King," well might he start; for-eh?
TALBOYS. We must look up the Scene. NORTH. No need for that. You have it by heart-recite it.
NORTH. Charles Kemble himself could not have given it more impressively.
BULLER. You make him blush, sir. NORTH. Attend to that "start" of Macbeth, Talboys.
TALBOYS. He might well start on being told of a sudden, by such seers, that he was hereafter to be King of Scotland.
NORTH. There was more in the start than
that, my lad, else Shakspeare would not have so directed our eyes to it. I say again-it was the start-of a murderer.
TALBOYS. And what if I say it was not? But I have the candor to confess, that. I am not familiar with the starts of murderers—so may possibly be mistaken.
NORTH. Omit what intervenes-and give But before you us the Soliloquy, Talboys. do so, let me merely remind you that Macbeth's mind, from the little he says in the interim, is manifestly ruminating on something bad, ere he breaks out into Soliloquy. TALBOYS.
"Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Cannot be ill-cannot be good :--If ill,
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:
My thought whose murder is yet but fantastical
NORTH. Now, my dear Talboys, you will agree with me in thinking that this first great and pregnant, although brief soliloquy, stands for germ, type, and law of the whole Play, and of its criticism
and for clue to the labyrinth of the Thane's character. "Out of this wood do not desire to go." Out of it I do not expect soon to go. I regard William as a fair Poet and a reasonable Philosopher; but as a supereminent Playwright. The First Soliloquy must speak the nature of Macbeth, else the Craftsman has no skill in his trade. A Soliloquy reveals. That is its function. Therein is the soul heard and seen discoursing with itself—within itself; and if you carry your eye through -up to the First Appearance of Lady Macbeth-this Soliloquy is distinctly the highest point of the Tragedy-the tragic acme-or dome or pinnacle-therefore of power indefinite, infinite. On this rock I stand, a Colossus ready to be thrown down by—an Earthquake.
BULLER. Pushed off by-a shove. NORTH. Not by a thousand Buller-power. Can you believe, Buller, that the word of the Third Witch, "that shalt be KING HEREAFTER, sows the murder in Macbeth's heart, and that it springs up, flowers, and fruits with such fearful rapidity?
BULLER. Why-Yes and No.
NORTH. Attend, Talboys, to the words "supernatural soliciting." What "supernatural soliciting" to evil is there here? Not a syllable had the Weird Sisters breathed about Murder. But now there is much soliloquizing-and Cawdor contemplates himself objectively seen busy upon an elderly gentleman called Duncan-after a fashion that so frightens him subjectively-that Banquo cannot help whispering to Rosse and Angus
| but once, and then without interchanging a word, leapt momentarily out of this world into that pitch-pot of a pond in Glenco-it is, I say, from no leaning toward the Weird Sisters that I take this view of Macbeth's character. No "sublime flashes of generosity, magnanimity, tenderness, and every exalted quality that can dignify and adorn the human mind," do I ever suffer to pass by without approbation, when coruscating from the character of any well-disposed man, real or imaginary, however unaccountable at other times his conduct may appear to be; but Shakspeare, who knew Macbeth better than
"See how our partner's rapt!" TALBOYS. "My thought whose murder's yet fantastical." I agree with you, sir, in suspecting that he must have thought of the murder.
NORTH. It is from no leaning toward the Weird Sisters-whom I never set eyes on
has here assured us that he was of us, in heart a murderer-for how long he does not specify-before he had ever seen a birse on any of the Weird Sisters' beards. But let's be canny. Talboys-pray, what is the meaning of the word "soliciting," "preternatural soliciting," in this Soliloquy?
TALBOYS. Soliciting, sir, is, in my interpreting, "an appealing, intimate visitation." NORTH. Right. The appeal is generalas that challenge of a trumpet-Fairy Queen, book III., canto xii., stanza 1—
Signe of nigh battail or got victorye." which, all indeterminate, is notwithstanding a challenge-operates, and is felt as such.
TALBOYS. So a thundering knock at your door-which may be a friend or an enemy. It is more than It comes as a summoning. internal urging and inciting of me by my own thoughts-for, mark, sir, the rigor of the word "supernatural," which throws the soliciting off his own soul upon the Weirds. The word is really undetermined to pleasure or pain-the essential thought being that there is a searching or penetrating provocative-a stirring up of that which lay dead and still. Next is the debate whether this intrusive, and pungent, and stimulant assault of a presence and an oracle be good or ill?
NORTH. Does the hope live in him for a moment that this home-visiting is not ill— that the spirits are not ill? They have spoken truth so far-ergo, the third "All hail!" But more than thatshall be true, too. they have spoken truth. Ergo, they are not spirits of Evil. That hope dies in the same instant, submerged in the stormy waves The inwhich the blast from hell arouses. fernal revelation glares clear before him—a Crown held out by the hand of Murder. One or two struggles occur. Then the truth stands before him fixed and immutable— "Evil, be thou my good." He is dedicated:
and passive to fate. I cannot comprehend | this so feeble debate in the mind of a good man-I cannot comprehend any such debate at all in the mind of a previously settled and determined murderer; but I can comprehend and feel its awful significancy in the mind of a man already in a most perilous moral condition.
SEWARD. The "start" shows that the spark has caught-it has fallen into a tun of gunpowder.
TALBOYS. The touch of Ithuriel's spear. NORTH. May we not say, then, that perhaps the Witches have shown no more than this-the Fascination of Contact between Passion and Opportunity?
SEWARD. TO Philosophy reading the hieroglyphic; but to the People what? To them they are a reality. They seize the imagination with all power. They come like blasts from hell"-like spirits of Plague, whose breath-whose very sight kills.
words have become favorites with us, who are an affectionate and domestic people-and are lovingly applied to the loving; but Lady Macbeth attached no such profound sense to them as we do; and meant merely that she thought her husband would, after all, much prefer greatness unbought by blood; and, at the time she referred to, it is probable he would; but that she meant no more than that, is plain from the continuation of her praise, in which her ideas get not a little confused; and her words, interpret them as you will, leave nothing "milky" in Macbeth at all. Milk of human kindness, indeed! TALBOYS.
That is her Ladyship's n tion of the "milk of human kindness!" "I wish somebody would murder Duncan-as for murdering him myself, I am much too tender-hearted and humane for perpetrating such cruelty with my own hand!"
BULLER. Won't you believe a Wife to be a good judge of her husband's disposition? NORTH. Not Lady Macbeth. For does not she herself tell us, at the same time, that he had formerly schemed how to commit Murder?
BULLER. Gagged again.
NORTH. I see no reason for doubting that she was attached to her husband; and Shak
speare loved to put into the lips of women beautiful expressions of love-but he did not intend that we should be deceived thereby in our moral judgments.
SEWARD. Did this ever occur to you, sir? Macbeth, when hiring the murderers who are to look after Banquo and Fleance, cites a conversation in which he had demonstrated to them that the oppression under which they had long suffered, and which they had supposed to proceed from Macbeth, proceeded really from Banquo? My firm belief is that it proceeded from Macbeth—that their suspicion was right-that Macbeth was misleading them-and that Shakspeare means you to apprehend this. But why should Macbeth have oppressed his inferiors, unless he had been-long since-of a tyrannical nature? He oppresses his inferiors-they are sickened and angered with the world-by his oppression-he tells them 'twas not he
but another who had oppressed them-and that other—at his instigation-they willingly murder. An ugly affair altogether.
NORTH. Very. But let us keep to the First Act and see what a hypocrite Macbeth has so very soon become-what a savage assassin! He has just followed up his Soliloquy with these significant lines
"Come what come may, Time and the hour run through the roughest day;"
when he recollects that Banquo, Rosse, and Angus are standing near. Richard himself is not more wily-guily-smily-and oily; to the Lords his condescension is already quite kingly
"Kind gentlemen, your pains
Are registered where every day I turn
"The Prince of Cumberland!-That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies."
But the remorseless miscreant becomes poetical
"Stars, hide your fires!
The milk of human kindness has coagulated
TALBOYS. And soon after, to the King, successfully have resisted. I again repudiate
"The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your Highness' part
Are to your throne and state, children, and
-should it be preferred against me-the charge of a tendresse toward the Bearded Beauties of the Blasted Heath; but rather would I marry them all Three-one after the other ser-nay, all three at once, and as many more as there may be in our Celtic Mythologythan see your Sophia, Seward, or, Buller, your
Which do but what they should by doing everything
Safe toward you love and honor."
"We will establish our estate upon
Now was the time for "the manly but in-
BULLER. We have but Marmy.
SEWARD. We know your affection, my dear sir, for your god-daughter. She is insured.
NORTH. Well, this Milk of Human Kindness is off at a hand-gallop to Inverness. The King has announced a Royal Visit to Macbeth's own Castle. But Cawdor had before this dispatched a letter to his lady, from which Shakspeare has given us an exAnd then, as I understand it, a special messenger besides, to say "the King comes here to-night." Which of the two is the more impatient to be at work 'tis hard to say; but the idea of the murder originated with the male Prisoner. We have his wife's word for it-she told him so to his faceand he did not deny it. We have his own word for it he told himself so to his own face and he never denies it at any time during the play.
TALBOYS. You said, a little while ago, sir, that you believed Macbeth and his wife were a happy couple.
NORTH. Not I. I said she was attached to him-and I say now that the wise men are not of the Seven, who point to her reception of her husband, on his arrival at home, as a proof of her want of affection. They seem to think she ought to have rushed
into his arms-slobbered upon his shoulder -and so forth. For had he not been at the Wars? Pshaw! The most tenderhearted Thanesses of those days-even those that kept albums--would have been ashamed of weeping on sending their Thanes off to 'battle--much more on receiving them back in a sound skin-with new honors nodding on their plumes. Lady Macbeth was not one of the turtle-doves-fit mate she for the King of the Vultures. I am too good an ornithologist to call them Eagles. She received her mate fittingly-with murder in her soul; but more cruel-more selfish than he, she could not be--nor, perhaps, was she less; but she was more resolute-and resolution even in evil-in such circumstances as hers-seems to argue a superior nature to his, who, while he keeps vacillating, as if it were between good and evil, betrays all the time the bias that is surely inclining him to evil, into which he makes a sudden and sure wheel at last.
NORTH. Ay, Seward-reserved and close as he is he wants nerve-pluck-he is close upon the coward-and that would be well, were there the slightest tendency toward change of purpose in the Pale Face; but there is none-he is as cruel as ever-the more close the more cruel-the more irresolute the more murderous-for to murder he is sure to come. Seward, you said wellwhy does not the poor devil speak up-speak out? Is he afraid of the spiders?
TALBOYS. Murderous-looking villain—no need of words.
NORTH. I did not say, sir, there was any need of words. Why will you always be contradicting one?
TALBOYS. Me? I? I hope I shall never live to see the day on which I contradict Christopher North in his own Tent. At least―rudely.
NORTH. Do it rudely-not as you did now --and often do-as if you were agreeing with e--but you are incurable. I say, my dear Talboys, that Macbeth so bold in a
BULLER. The Weirds--the Weirds!-themeWeirds have done it all!
NORTH. Macbeth - Macbeth!- Macbeth haun'd crack" with himself in a Soliloquyhath done it all!
BULLER. Furies and Fates!
NORTH. Who make the wicked their vic
so figurative—and so fond of swearing by the Stars and old Mother Night, who were not aware of his existence-should not have been thus tongue-tied to his own wife in their own
SEWARD. Is she sublime in her wicked- secretest chamber-should have unlocked ness?
and flung open the door of his heart to herlike a man. I blush for him-I do. So did his wife.
BULLER. I don't find that in the record. NORTH. Don't you? "Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters." She sees in his face selfalarm at his own murderous intentions. And so she counsels him about his face-like a self-collected, trust-worthy woman. "To beguile the time, look like the time;" with further good stern advice. But-"We shall speak farther," is all she can get from him in answer to conjugal assurances that should have given him a palpitation at the heart, and set his eyes on fire
"He that's coming Must be provided for; and you shall put This night's great business into my dispatch; Which shall, to all our nights and days to come, Give solely sovereign sway and Masterdom."
There spoke one worthy to be a Queen!
NORTH. Ay-in that age-in that country. 'Twas not then the custom" to speak daggers but use none." Did Shakspeare mean to dignify, to magnify Macbeth by
SEWARD. Speak up-speak out? Is he try. Is he afraid of the spiders? You know him, siryou see through him.