« ZurückWeiter »
knowledge of his character, to bring his wavering, irresolute temperament to the point. While, before Duncan's murder, she did everything she could to persuade him, he now goes on his grim progress alone; he has concealed his further plans of murder from his “dearest chuck.” One might consider this caressing expression inappropriate to the fearful being to whom it is addressed, and in contradiction to Macbeth's former words, "Bring forth men children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males." But we have already observed how warm and tender is the love between this pair, who so often show themselves so hateful. It is just this which makes them endurable. Macbeth does not mean by this pet name that his wife is a gentle or tender being. He wishes only to keep his dear spouse from the knowledge of his crimes, that she may be as innocent as a dove. Soon the punishment of her deeds begins to overtake the guilty woman. Hardly is the aim attained, hardly does she wear the crown, than she ceases to care for it, and arrives at the bitter conviction that the dearly bought circlet brings no content:
Nought's had, all's spent,
Macbeth, act iii. scene 2. But though the inward strife begins, she maintains her defiant demeanour. No spirits "shake their gory locks" at her, as they do at Macbeth when his excited fancy calls up the phantom of Banquo, that nearly drives him mad. She tells him, in proud ardent words, that “these flaws and starts (impostors to true fear), would well become a woman's story by a winter fire," and must be resisted. She apprehends the suspicions that may be roused by the king's strange talk. She still has the energy to keep a calm demeanour before the guests, who are astounded at what happened, and to explain her husband's behaviour as a
sudden attack of illness. Her spirit remains defiant, her strong will is unbroken. But even this criminal cannot escape the everlasting fundamental laws that rule mankind. While Macbeth, bewitched by incantations, proceeds from crime to crime, and thus provokes the tempest which breaks, in the form of the English army led across the border by Malcolm, the son of Duncan, aided by the rebellion arisen among his own subjects, her conscience is aroused to bitter suffering. This great moral retribution is revealed in a scene which gives a glimpse into the depths of hell, and is
certainly one of the greatest ever created by any poet, of Vany period. Macbeth's cry of terror that “Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more," is terribly fulfilled. She sleeps, but sleep brings her no refreshment, it only induces agony. Long has she compelled her powerful spirit, strung to a high pitch, to guard her terrible secret from the world's eyes. But at last this strength gives way, her unbending will is broken by a higher power. This woman who, even under fearful bodily torture, would never have allowed confession to pass her lips, is forced in the helplessness of slumber to lay bare her sins, her broken heart, her tormented brain. Her fearful mental sufferings drive her nightly from her couch; she wanders aimlessly about the castle. The phantoms she called weakness in Macbeth assume exclusive possession. She sees blood stains she cannot efface on her hands, let her wash and rub as she may. “What! will these hands ne'er be clean ? Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." She deems it is the night of the murder, she hears the clock strike which calls her to commit the terrible deed, she taunts her husband with · cowardice. She tells him “none can call their power to account.” She shudders on beholding the blood streaming from the old man's body. Lady Macduff's bleeding apparition stands before her, although she was not an accomplice in this crime. Thus, in anspeakable torments, she roams through her castle, watched by one of her gentlewomen, and once also by the doctor. Such her retribution, such the bitter irony of avenging fate! The woman who had bent her powerful mind to hiding her frightful secret must betray it to strange ears. The crown was the glittering bait which lured her husband and herself into an abyss of blood and guilt, and now the humble waiting-woman looks down upon the crowned queen and thanks fate that she is not such a one. “I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity of the whole body." Here again must be observed the cortrast between Lady Macbeth's fearful end, and her husband's c fate. In the first half of the tragedy, before, during, and after the murder, she appears the stronger, he thc wcaker personality, rendered capable of the deed only through her influence and mental energy. Now her strength and spirit are entirely broken. Macbeth, whose guilt is far greater, stands firm; he meets the blows of adverse fortune, which approach him from every side, with an iron front and unbending resolution. His conscience causes him no pangs; he no longer sees bloody spectres; his courage, his spirit, his strength of will remain unbroken until the moment of his fall. In this contrast lies a deep truth. Lady Macbeth has renounced her womanly nature; she has at the bidding of boundless ambition, trampled every milder and gentler feeling under foot. Such a sin against nature does not go unpunished. The weakness of woman, which is a great part of her charm, gives way under a burden which a man, though he may seem weaker, can easily bear. <After infinite suffering of mind and soul, her body breaks down, and death frees her from pain, just as Macbeth is nearing his fall, for the ambiguous prophecy which promised him safety is shown to be a trick, and his overthrow looms inevitable before his eyes. A brief but moving phrase passes his lips when the news is brought of the death of the wife he loved so well: “ She shcu'd have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word." In this tragedy occurs another example of such terrible brevity of speech, spoken in a moment of deepest grief and great excitement. When Macduff learns the news of his wife and children's murder, he only says, "He has no children." The poct who listened to all the secrets of man's heart know that decp grief is speechless. Macbeth's fate is fulfilled ; he falls under the avenging sword of Macduff, whose life he so cruelly devastated. The rightful heir to the throne is crowned. In Romeo and Juliet the holy and eternal thought of peace rises victoriously out of the grave of the innocent lovers. In Macbeth, steadfast and immortal justice, the immutable laws of mankind, stand over the grave of the guilty pair. They would realise their ambitious ends, in opposition to all rights of moral law, to humanity. The edifice of power raised on such foundations could but crumble to dust, and bury them beneath its ruins.
The sources whence Shakespeare drew the materials for Hamlet are a rude tale by Saxo - Grammaticus, a somewhat more carefully written version in the tales of Belleforest, and an English version called the “History of · Hamblett." In these stories King Harvendill is slain by his brother Fengo, who ascends his throne and marries his widow. 'The feigned madness of Hamlet, son of the murdered king, and a riddle he propounds, apparently without reason, but in reality fraught with decp meaning, form the chief interest of the fable. The whole legend is very rough, entirely wanting in any eloquent passages, and this to a higher degree than is the case with any of the sources whence Shakespeare drew materials for his plays. He
could use only few portions of the tale, such as the scenc where Hamlet strives to awaken his mother's conscience, and the artifice by which he turns the order given to the ambassadors to their own destruction. It is therefore the more to be admired, that out of this rough material the poet should have crcated one of his profoundest and most intellectual works, a work that has given commentators so many enigmas to solve. Of thcsc wc cannot take account, as we are concerned only with Opliclia's character. In the original source Ophelia is a young girl who was brought, while a merc child, from quict surroundings to a corrupt court, and is the quccn's favourite lady in waiting. From thir source Shakcspcarc drew onc of thosc passages of kccn psychological insight in which he is so rich.) Gertrude, the quccn, has degenerated in character, her propensities have made her an unfaithful wife and a murderess, but her licart is not yet altogether corrupt. With the whole strength of her remaining better nature she clings to the lovely being who possesses the purity and virtue she herself has lost. She rejoices in the thought of marrying her to her son; and when pitiless fortune draws the poor weak child into a whirlpool of inimical forces that destroy her, Gertrude weeps bitter tears over her grave and strews it with flowers. These tears are shed also for her own moral death, and the flowers adorn the grave in which her better self lies buried.
Mrs. Jameson, whom I have several times quoted, intro. duces her essay on Ophelia with some striking remarks. This clever authoress thinks that the strongest inclinations of women remain simply affections, so long as they are permitted to develop calmly, and without impediment; only when they meet with opposition do they become passions. The idea of love in Juliet and Helena (All's Well that Ends Well) is portrayed in its entirety, and with the most varied, glowing, and brilliant colours. In these two, love is real passion, an irresistible inward tide which sets the hcart's blood in motion. As soon as