Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

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;
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males !"

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 deed," shew any thing but her greater consistency in depravity. Her strong nerved ambition furnishes ris 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 masterdom," by the murder of Duncan, is gorgeously expressed in her invocation on hearing of" his fatal entrance under her battlements :"

"Come all you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here:
And fill me, from the crown to th' toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my
fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murthering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night!
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, hold, hold !”-

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 consummation of his promised greatness, she exclaims-

"Hie thee hither,

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal."

This swelling exultation and keen spirit of triumph, this uncontrolable eagerness of anticipation, which seems to dilate her form and take possession of all her faculties, this solid, substantial flesh and blood display of passion, exhibit a striking contrast to the cold, abstracted, gratuitous, servile malignity of the Witches, who are equally instrumental in urging Macbeth to his fate, for the mere love of mischief, and from a disinterested delight in deformity and cruelty. They are hags of mischief, obscene panders to iniquity, malicious from their impotence of enjoy ment, enamoured of destruction, because they are themselves unreal, abortive, half existences, who be come sublime from their exemption from all human sympathies and contempt for all human affairs, as Lady Macheth does by the force of passion! Her fault seems to have been an excess of that strong principle of self-interest and family aggrandisement, not amenable to the common feelings of compassion and justice, which is so marked a feature in barbarous nations and times. A passing reflection of this kind, on the resemblance of the sleeping king to her father, alone prevents her from slaying Duncan with her own hand.

In speaking of the character of Lady Macbeth, we ought not to pass over Mrs. Siddons's manner of

acting that part. We can conceive of nothing grander. It was something above nature. It seemed almost as if a being of a superiour order had dropped from a higher sphere to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine; she was tragedy personified. In coming on in the sleeping scene, her eyes were open, but their sense was shut. She was like a person bewildered and unconscious of what she did. Her lips moved involuntarily all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical. She glided on and off the stage like an apparition. To have seen her in that character was an event in every one's life, not to be forgotten.

The dramatick beauty of the character of Duncan, which excites the respect and pity even of his murderers, has been often pointed out. It forms a picture of itself. An instance of the author's power of giving a striking effect to a common reflection, by the manner of introducing it, occurs in a speech of Duncan, complaining of his having been deceived in his opinion of the Thane of Cawdor, at the very moment that he is expressing the most unhounded confidence in the loyalty and services of Macbeth.

"There is no art

To find the mind's construction in the face:

He was a gentleman, on whom I built

An absolute trust.

O worthiest cousin,

The sin of my ingratitude e'en now
Was great upon me," &c.

(addressing himself to Macbeth)

Another passage to shew that Shakspeare lost sight of nothing that could in any way give relief or

heightening to his subject, is the conversation which takes place between Banquo and Fleance immediately before the murder scene of Duncan.

"Banquo. How goes the night, boy?

Fleance. The moon is down: I have not heard the clock.

Banquo. And she goes down at twelve.

Fleance. I take't, 'tis later, Sir.

Banquo. Hold, take my sword. There's husbandry in heav'n, Their candles are all out.-

A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,

And yet I would not sleep: Merciful Powers,

Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose."

In like manner, a fine idea is given of the gloomy coming on of evening, just as Banquo is going to be assassinated.

"Light thickens, and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood."

* * * * * + * * * *

"Now spurs the lated traveller apace
To gain the timely inn.”

MACBETH (generally speaking) is done upon a stronger and more systematick principle of contrast than any other of Shakspeare's plays. It moves upon the verge of an abyss, and is a constant struggle between life and death. The action is desperate and the reaction is dreadful. It is a huddling together of fierce extremes, a war of opposite natures which of them shall destroy the other. There is nothing but what has a violent end or violent beginnings. The lights and shades are laid on with a determined hand;

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »