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“ The poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling
Macbeth and Lear, Othello and Hamlet, are usually reckoned Shakspeare's four principal tragedies. Lear stands first for the profound intensity of the passion ; Macbeth for the wilduess of the imagination and the rapidity of the action ; Othello for the progressive interest and powerful alternations of feeling; Hanlet for the refined development of thought and sentiment. If the force of genius shewn in each of these works is astonishing, their variety is not less They are like different creations of the same mind, not one of which has the slightest reference to the rest. This distinctness and originality is indeed the necessary consequence of truth and nature. Shakspeare's genius alone appeared to possess the resources of nature.
He is “your only tragedy-ınaker." His plays bave the force of things upon the mind.
What he represents is brought home to the bosom as a part of our experience, implanted in the memory as if we had known the places, persons, and things of which he treats. MACBETH is like a record of a preternatural and tragical event. It has the rugged severity of an old chronicle, with all that the imagination of the poet can engraft upon traditional belief. The castle of Macbeth, round which the air smells wooingly," and where the temple-haunting martlet builds,” has a real subsistence in the mind; the Weïrd Sisters meet us in person on “the blasted heath ;" the “ air-drawn dagger” moves slowly before our eyes ; the “gracious Duncan,” the “ blood-boultered Banquo” stand before us; all that passed through the mind of Macbeth passes, without the loss of a tie, through ours. All that could actually take place, and all that is only possible to be conceived, what was said and what was done, the workings of passion, the spells of magick, are brought before us with the same absolute truth and vividness.—Shakspeare excelled in the openings of his plays : that of Macbeth is the most striking of any.
The wildness of the scenery, the sudden shifting of the situations and characters, the bustle, the expectations excited, are equally extraordinary. From the first entrance of the Witches and the description of them when they meet Macbeth,
1. What are these
the mind is prepared for all that follows.
This tragedy is alike distinguished for the lofty imagination it displays, and for the tumultuous vehemence of the action ; and the one is made the moving principle of the other. The overwhelming pressure of preternatural agency urges on the tide of human passion with redoubled force. Macbeth himself
appears driven along by the violence of his fate, like a vessel drifting before a storm; he reels to and fro like a drunken man; he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others ; he stands at bay with his situation ; and, from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the communications of the Weïrd Sisters throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions, and with impious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future. He is not equal to the struggle with fate and conscience.
“ bends up each corporal instrument to the terrible feat;" at other times his heart misgives him, and he is cowed and abashed by his success. “ The deed, no less than the attempt, confounds him.” His mind is assailed by the stings of remorse, and full of preternatural solicitings." His speeches and soliloquies are dark riddles on human life, baffling solution, and entangling him in their labyrinths. In thought he is absent and perplexed, sudilen and desperate in act, from a distrust of his own resolution. His energy springs from the anxiety and agitation of his mind. His blindly rushing forward on the objects of his ambition and revenge, or bis recoiling from them, equally betrays the harassed state of his feelings. This part of his
character is admirably set off by being brought in connexion with that of Lady Macbeth, whose obdurate strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendancy over her husband's faultering virtue. She at once seizes on the opportunity that offers for the accomplishment of all their wished for greatness, and never flinches from her object till all is over. The magnitude of her resolution almost covers the magnitude of her guilt. She is a great, bad woman, whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate. She does not excite our loathing and abhorrence like Regan and Gonerill. She is only wicked to gain a great end ; and is perhaps more distinguished by her commanding presence of mind and inexorable selfwill, which do not suffer her to be diverted from a bad purpose, when once formed, by weak and womanly regrets, than by the hardness of her heart or want of natural affections. The impression, which her lofty determination of character makes on the mind of Macbeth, is well described where he exclaims,
Bring forth men children only ;
Nor do the pains she is at to “screw his courage to the sticking place," the reproach to him, not to be “ lost so poorly in himself,” the assurance that “a little water clears them of this deeil," shew any thing but her greater consistency in depravity. Her strong nerved amlition furnishes ri! s of steel to “ the sides of his intent;" and she is herself wound up to
the execution of her baneful project with the same unshrinking fortitude in crime, that in other circumstances she would probably have shewn patience in suffering.
The deliberate sacrifice of all other considerations to the gaining “ for their future days and nights, sole sovereign sway and mastertom,” by the murder of Duncan, is gorgeously expressed in her invocation on hearing of “ his fatal entrance under her battlements :"
_“ Come all you spirits
When she first hears that “ Duncan comes there to sleep” she is so overcome by the news, which is beyond her utmost expectations, that she answers the messenger, “ Thou’rt mad to say it :” and on receiving her husband's account of the predictions of the Witches, conscious of his instability of purpose, and that her presence is necessary to goad him on to the consumination of his promised greatness, she exclaims-