« ZurückWeiter »
are forced to pay external homage, is finely expreffed in the following words:
Mach. I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Toward the conclufion of the piece, his mind feems to fink under its load of guilt! Defpair and melancholy hang on his words! By his addrefs to the phyfician, we perceive he has griefs that prefs harder on him than his enemies:
Mach. Canft thou not minister to a mind difeas'd;
The alacrity with which he attacks young Siward, and his reluctance to engage with Macduff, of whofe blood he fays he has already had too much, compleat a character uniformly preferved from the opening of the fable, to its conclufion.-We find him ever anfwering to the first idea, we were made to conceive of him.
The man of honour pierces through the traitor and affaffin. His mind lofes its tranquillity by guilt, but never its fortitude in danger. His crimes prefented to him, even in the unreal mockery of a vifion, or the harmless form of fleeping innocence, terrify him more than all his foes in arms. -It has been very justly obferved by a late commentator, that this piece does not abound with thofe nice difcriminations of character, ufual in the plays of our author, the events being too great to admit the influence of particular difpofitions. It appears to me, that the character of Macbeth is also reprefented lefs particular and fpecial, that his example may be of more univerfal utility. He has therefore placed him on that line, on which the major part of
mankind may be ranked, just between the extremes of good and bad; a station affailable by various temptations, and standing in need of the guard of cautionary admonition. The fupernatural agents, in fome measure, take off our attention from the other characters, especially as they are, throughout the piece, what they have a right to be, predominant in the events. They shouldnot interfere, but to weave the fatal web, or to unravel it; they ought ever to be the regents of the fable and artificers of the catastrophe, as the Witches are in this piece. To preserve in Macbeth a just confiftency of character; to make that character naturally fufceptible of thofe defires, that were to be communicated to it; to render it interesting to the spectator, by fome amiable qualities; to make it exemplify the dangers of ambition, and the terrors of remorfe; was all that could be required of the tragedian and the moralist. With all the the powers of poetry he elevates a legendary tale, without carrying it beyond the limits of vulgar faith and tradition. The folemn character of the infernal rites would be very striking, if the scene was not made ludicreus by a mob of old women, which the players have added to the three weird fifters.The incantation is fo confonant with the doctrine of inchantments, and receives fuch power by the help of those potent ministers of direful fuperftition, the terrible and the mysterious, that it has not the air of poetical fiction fo much as of a discovery of magical fecrets; and thus it feizes the heart of the ignorant, and communicates an irresistible horror to the imagination even of the more informed fpectator.
Shakespear was too well read in human nature, not to know, that, though reafon may expel the fuperftitions of the nursery, the imagination does not fo entirely free itself from their dominion, as not to re-admit them, if occafion presents them, in the very shape in which they were once revered. The firft fcene in which the Witches appear, is not fo happily executed as the others. He has too exactly followed the vulgar reports KS of
of the Lapland witches, of whom our failors ufed to imagine they could purchase a fair wind.
The choice of a story that at once gave countenance to King James's doctrine of dæmonology, and fhewed the ancient deftination of his family to the throne of Great Britain, was no lefs flattering to that monarch than Virgil's to Auguftus and the Roman people, in making Anchifes fhew to Eneas the representations of unborn heroes, that were to adorn his line, and augment the glory of their commonwealth. It is reported, that a great French wit often laughs at the tragedy of Macbeth, for having a legion of Ghofts in it: One would imagine he either had not learnt English, or had forgotten his Latin; for the fpirits of Banquo's line are no more Ghofts, than the reprefentations of the Julian race in the Æneid; and there is no Ghoft but Banquo's in the whole play. Euripides, in the most philofophic and polite age of the Athenians, brings the fhade of Polydorus, Priam's fon, upon the ftage, to tell a very long and lamentable tale. Here is therefore produced, by each tragedian, the departed fpirit walking this upper world for caufes admitted by popular faith. Among the ancients, the unburied, and with us the murdered, were fuppofed to do fo. The apparitions are therefore equally justifiable or blameable; fo the laurel must be adjudged to that poet who throws most of the fublime and the marvellous into the fupernatural agent; best preferves the credibility of its intervention, and renders it most useful in the drama. There furely can be no difpute of the fuperiority of our countryman in these articles. There are many bombaft fpeeches in the tragedy of Macbeth; and thefe are the lawful prize of the critic: but envy, not content to nibble at faults, strikes at its true object, the prime excellencies and perfections of the thing it would depreciate. One should not wonder if a fchool-boy critic, who neither knows what were the fuperftitions of former times, or the poet's privileges in all times, fhould flourish away, with all the rab dexterity of wit, upon the appearance of a ghost; but
it is ftrange a man of universal learning, a real and just connoiffeur, and a true genius, fhould cite, as improper and abfurd, what has been practifed by the most celebrated artists in the dramatic way, when fuch machinery was authorized by the belief of the people. Is there not reafon to fufpect from fuch uncandid treatment of our poet by this critic, that he
Views him with jealous, yet with fcornful eyes,
The difference between a mind naturally prone to evil, and a frail one warped by the violence of temptations, is delicately distinguished in Macbeth and his wife. There are alfo fome touches of the pencil, that mark the male and female character. When they deliberate on the murder of the king, the duties of hoft and fubject strongly plead with him against the deed. She paffes over thefe confiderations; goes to Duncan's chamber refolved to kill him, but could not do it, because, she fays, he refembled her father while he flept. There is fomething feminine in this, and perfectly agreeable to the nature of the fex: who, even when void of principle,are feldom entirely divested of fentiment; and thus the poet, who, to ufe his own phrafe, had overstepped the modesty of nature in the exaggerated fierceness of her character, returns back to the line and limits of humanity, and that very judiciously, by a fudden impreffion, which has only an inftantaneous effect. Thus the may relapse into her former wickednefs, and, from the fame fufceptibility, by the force of other impreffions, be afterwards driven to diftraction. As her character was not compofed of thofe gentle elements out of which regular repentance could be formed, it was well judged to throw her mind into the chaos of madness; and, as the had exhibited wickednefs in its highest degree of ferocity and atrocioufnefs, fhe fhould be an example of the wildeft agonies of remorfe. As Shakespear could moft exactly delineate the human mind, in its regular ftate
ftate of reafon, fo no one ever fo happily caught its varying forms, in the wanderings of delirium.
The fcene in which Macduff is informed of the murder of his wife and children, is fo celebrated, that it is not neceffary to enlarge upon its merit. We feel there, how much a just imitation of natural fentiments, on fuch a tender occafion, is more pathetic, than chofen terms and studied phrafes. As, in a former effay, I have made fome obfervations on our author's management of the Preternatural Beings, I forbear to enlarge further on the subject of the Witches: that he has kept clofely to the traditions concerning them, is very fully fet forth, in the notes of a learned commentator on his works.
This piece may certainly be deemed one of the best of Shakespear's compofitions: and though it contains fome faulty fpeeches, and one whole fcene entirely abfurd and improper, which art might have corrected or lopped away; yet genius, powerful genius only, (wild nature's vigour working at the root!) could have produced fuch strong and original beauties, and adapted both to the general temper and tafte of the age in which it appeared.