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But the following lines from Overbury's poem “A Wife," places this beyond doubt :
" Or rather let me love, then be in lore;
So let me chuse, as wife and friend to find,
The Italics, we may remark, are the author's.
(3) SCENE VIII.-Re-enter MACDUFF, with King MacBETH's head.] The catastrophe is thus told by the historian : “ Malcolme following hastilie after Makbeth, came the night before the battell unto Birnam wood ; and when' his armie had rested a while there to refresh them, he commanded everie man to get a bough of some trée or other of that wood in his hand, as big as he might bearo, and to march foorth therewith in such wise, that on the next morrow they might come closelie and without sight in this manner within view of his enimies. On the morrow when Makbeth beheld them comming in this sort, he first marvelled what the matter ment, but in the end remembred himselfe that the prophesie which he had heard long before that time, of the comming of Birnam wood to Dunsinane castell, was likelie to be now fulfilled. Neverthelesse, he brought his men in order of battell, and exhorted them to doo valiantlie, howbeit his enimies had scarselie cast from them their boughs, when Makbeth perceiving their numbers, betooke him streict to flight, whome Makduffe pursued with great hatred, even till he came unto Lunfannaine, where Makbeth perceiving that Makduffe was hard at his backe, leapt beside his horsse, saieng ; "Thou traitor, what meaneth it that thou shouldest thus in vaine follow me that am not appointed to be slaine by anie creature that is borne of a woman, come on therefore, and receive thy reward which thou hast deserved for thy paines,' and therwithall he lifted up his swoord thinking to have slaine him.
“But Makduffe quicklie avoiding from his horsse, yer he came at him, answered (with his naked swoord in his hand) saieng : 'It is true Makbeth, and now shall thine insatiable crueltie have an end, for I am even he that thy wizzards have told thée of, who was never born of my mother, but ripped out of her wombe :' therewithall he stept unto him, and slue him in the place. Then cutting his head from his shoulders, he set it upon a pole, and brought it unto Malcolme.”
(1) SCENE IV.
the confident tyrant
Our setting down before't.] “ In the meane time, Malcolme purchased such favor at king Edwards hands, that old Siward earle of Northumberland was appointed with ten thousand men to go with him into Scotland, to support him in this enterprise, for recoverie of his right. After these newes were spread abroad in Scotland, the nobles drew into two severall factions, the one taking part with Makbeth, and the other with Malcolme. Héereupon insued oftentimes sundrie bickerings, and diverse light skirmishes : for those that were of Malcolmes side, would not jeopard to joine with their enimies in a pight field, till his comming out of England to their support. But after that Makbeth perceived his enimies power to increase, by such aid as came to them foorth of England with his adversarie Malcolme, he recoiled backe into Fife, there purposing to abide in campe fortified, at the castell of Dunsinane, and to fight with his enimies, if they went to pursue him; howbeit some of his friends advised him, that it should be best for him, either to make some agréement with Malcolme, or else to flée with all speed into the Iles, and to take his treasure with him, to the end he might wage sundrie great princes of the realme to take his part, and reteine strangers, in whome he might better trust than in his owne subjects, which stale dailie from him : but he had such confidence in his prophesies, that he beléeved he should never be vanquished, till Birnam wood were brought to Dunsinane ; nor yet to be slaine with anie man, that should be or was borne of anie woman.”
(2) SCENE VIII.--My better part.] The note on that long controverted expression, "Atalanta's better part,” in “ As You Like It," having been omitted in the proper place from lack of room, it may be well to explain here that Atalanta's better part was not her modesty, nor her heels, por her writ, as critics have variously conjectured, but simply her spiritual part. The old epitaph quoted by Mr. Whalley in the variorum almost proves, although he was apparently unconscious of the meaning, that better part signified the immortal, the intelligent part :
“ She who is dead and sleepeth in this tomb,
Had Rachel's comely face, and Leah's fruitful womb :
CRITICAL OPINIONS ON MACBETH.
“Who could exhaust the praises of this sublime work ? Since “The Eumenides' of Æschylus, nothing so grand and terrible has ever been written. The witches are not, it is true, divine Eumenides, and are not intended to be : they are ignoble and vulgar instruments of hell. A German poet, therefore, very ill understood their meaning, when he transformed them into mongrel beings, a mixture of fates, furies, and enchantresses, and clothed them with tragic dignity. Let no man venture to lay hand on Shakspeare's works thinking to improve anything essential : he will be sure to punish himself. The bad is radically odious; and to endeavour in any manner to ennoble it, is to violate the laws of propriety. Hence, in my opinion, Dante, and even Tasso, have been much more successful in their portraiture of dæmons than Milton. Whether the age of Shakspeare still believed in ghosts and witches, is a matter of perfect indifference for the justification of the use which in ‘Hamlet' and ` Macbeth' he has made of pre-existing traditions. No superstition can be widely diffused without having a foundation in human nature : on this the poet builds; he calls up from their hidden abysses that dread of the unknown, that presage of a dark side of nature, and a world of spirits, which philosophy now imagines it has altogether exploded. In this manner he is in some degree both the portrayer and the philosopher of superstition ; that is, not the philosopher who denies and turns it into ridicuie, but, what is still more difficult, who distinctly exhibits its origin in apparently irrational and yet natural opinions. But when he ventures to make arbitrary changes in these popular traditions, he altogether forfeits his right to them, and merely holds up his own idle fancies to our ridicule. Shakspeare's, picture of the witches is truly magical : in the short scenes where they enter, he has created for them a peculiar language, which, although composed of the usual elements, still seems to be a collection of formulæ of incantation. The sound of the words, the accumulation of rhymes, and the rhythmus of the verse, form, as it were, the hollow music of a dreary witch-dance. He has been abused for using the names of disgusting objects; but he who fancies the kettle of the witches can be made effective with agreeable aromatics, is as wise as those who desire that hell should sincerely and honestly give good advice. These repulsive things, from which the imagination shrinks, are here emblems of the hostile powers which operate iu nature ; and the repugnance of our senses is outweighed by the mental horror. With one another the witches discourse like women of the very lowest class ; for this was the class to which witches were ordinarily supposed to belong: when, however, they address Macbeth they assume a loftier tone : their predictions, which they either themselves pronounce, or allow their apparitions to deliver, have all the obscure brevity, the majestic solemnity of oracles.
“We here see that the witches are merely instruments; they are governed by an invisible spirit, or the operation of such great and dreadful events would be above their sphere. With what intent did Shakspeare assign the same place to them in his play, which they occupy in the history of Macbeth as related in the old chronicles ? A monstrous crime is committed : Duncan, a venerable old man, and the best of kings, is, in defenceless sleep, under the hospitable roof, murdered by his subject, whom he has loaded with honours and rewards. Natural motives alone seem inadequate, or the perpetrator must have been portrayed as a hardened villain. Shakspeare wished to exhibit a more sublime picture : an ambitious but noble hero, yielding to a deep-laid hellish temptation ; and in whom all the crimes to which, in order to secure the fruits of his first crime, he is impelled by necessity, cannot altogether eradicate the stamp of native heroism. He has, therefore, given a threefold division to the guilt of that crime. The first idea comes from that being whose whole activity is guided by a lust of wickedness. The weird sisters surprise Macheth in the moment of intoxication of victory, when his love of glory has
been gratified ; they cheat his eyes by exhibiting to him as the work of fate what in reality can only be accomplished by his own deed, and gain credence for all their words by the immediate fulfilment of the first prediction. The opportunity of murdering the King immediately offers ; the wife of Macbeth conjures him not to let it slip ; she urges him on with a fiery eloquence, which has at command all those sophisms that serve to throw a false splendour over crime. Little more than the mere execution falls to the share of Macbeth ; he is driven into it, as it were, in a tumult of fascination. Repentance immediately follows, nay, even precedes the deed, and the stings of conscience leave him rest neither night nor day. But he is now fairly entangled in the snares of hell ; truly frightful is it to behold that same Macbeth, who once as a warrior could spurn at death, now that he dreads the prospect of the life to come,* clinging with growing anxiety to his earthly existence the more miserable it becomes, and pitilessly removing out of the way whatever to his dark and suspicious mind seems to threaten danger. However much we may abhor his actions, we cannot altogether refuse to compassionate the state of his mind; we lament the ruin of so many noble qualities, and even in his last defence we are coinpelled to admire the struggle of a brave will with a cowardly conscience. We might believe that we witness in this tragedy the overruling destiny of the ancients represented in perfect accordance with their ideas : the whole originates in a supernatural influence, to which the subsequent events seem inevitably linked. Moreover, we even find here the same ambiguous oracles which, by their literal fulfilment, deceive those who confide in them. Yet it may be easily shown that the poet has, in his work, displayed more enlightened views. He wishes to show that the conflict of good and evil in this world can only take place by the permission of Providence, which converts the curse that individual mortals draw down on their heads into a blessing to others. An accurate scale is followed in the retaliation. Lady Macbeth, who of all the human participators in the king's murder is the most guilty, is thrown by the terrors of her conscience into a state of incurable bodily and mental disease ; she dies, unlamented by her husband, with all the symptoms of reprobation. Macbeth is still found worthy to die the death of a hero on the field of battle. The noble Macduff is allowed the satisfaction of saving his country by punishing with his own hand the tyrant who had murdered his wife and chiidren. Banquo, by an early death, atones for the ambitious curiosity which prompted the wish to know his glorious descendants, as he thereby has roused Macbeth's jealousy; but he preserved his mind pure from the evil suggestions of the witches : his name is blessed in his race, destined to enjoy for a long succession of ages that royal dignity which Macbeth could only hold for his own life. In the progress of the action, this piece is altogether the reverse of Hamlet :'it strides forward with amazing rapidity, from the first catastrophe (for Duncan's murder may be called a catastrophe) to the last. “Thought, and done !' is the general motto ; for as
*The flighty purpose never is o'ertook,
In every feature we see an energetic heroic age, in the hardy North which steels every nerve. The precise duration of the action cannot be ascertained, -years perhaps, according to the story; but we
; know that to the imagination the most crowded time appears always the shortest. Here we can hardly conceive how so very much could ever have been compressed into so narrow a space ; not merely external events, the very inmost recesses in the minds of the dramatic personages are laid open to us. It is as if the drags were taken from the wheels of time, and they rolled along without interruption in their descent. Nothing can equal this picture in its power to excite terror. We need only allude to the circumstances attending the murder of Duncan, the dagger that hovers before the eyes of Macbeth, the vision of Banquo at the feast, the madness of Lady Macbeth ; what can possibly be said on the subject that will not rather weaken the impression they naturally leave ? Such scenes stand alone, and are to be found only in this poet; otherwise the tragic muse might exchange her mask for the head of Medusa."-SCHLEGEL. * “We'd jump the life to come."
“Macbeth'stands in contrast throughout with ‘Hamlet ;' in the manner of opening more especially. In the latter, there is a gradual ascent from the simplest forms of conversation to the language of impassioned intellect,-yet the intellect still remaining the seat of passion ; in the former, the invocation is at once made to the imagination and the emotions connected therewith. Hence the movement throughout is the most rapid of all Shakspeare's plays, and hence, also, with the exception of the disgusting passage of the Porter (Act II. Sc. 3), which I dare pledge myself to demonstrate to be an interpolation of the actors, there is not, to the best of my remembrance, a single pun or play on words in the whole drama. I have previously given an answer to the thousand times repeated charge against Shakspeare upon the subject of his punning; and I here merely mention the fact of the absence of any puns in 'Macbeth'as justifying a candid doubt, at least, whether even in these figures of speech and fanciful modifications of language, Shakspeare may not have followed rules and principles that merit and would stand the test of philosophic examination. And hence, also, there is an entire absence of comedy, nay, even of irony and philosophic contemplation in ‘Macbeth,'—the play being wholly and purely tragic. For the same cause, there are no reasonings of equivocal morality, which would have required a more leisurely state and a consequently greater activity of mind ;-no sophistry of selfdelusion,-except only that previously to the dreadful act, Macbeth mistranslates the recoilings and ominous whispers of conscience into prudential and selfish reasonings, and, after the deed is done, the terrors of remorse into fear from external dangers, like delirious men who run away from the phantoms of their own brains, or, raised by terror to rage, stab the real object that is within their reach :-whilst Lady Macbeth merely endeavours to reconcile his and her own sinkings of heart by anticipations of the worst, and an affected bravado in confronting them. In all the rest, Macbeth's language is the grave utterance of the very heart, conscience-sick, even to the last faintings of moral death. It is the same in all the other characters. The variety arises from rage, caused ever and anon by disruption of anxious thought, and the quick transition of fear into it.
“In ‘Hamlet' and 'Macbeth' the scene opens with superstition ; but in each it is not merely different, but opposite. In the first it is connected with the best and holiest feelings ; in the second, with the shadowy, turbulent, and unsanctified cravings of the individual will. Nor is the purpose the same ; in the one the object is to excite, whilst in the other it is to mark a mind already excited.
“The Weird Sisters are as true a creation of Shakspeare's as his Ariel and Caliban,—fates, furies, and materializing witches being the elements. They are wholly different from any representation of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a suficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice to act immediately on the audience. Their character consists in the imaginative disconnected from the good ; they are the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, the lawless of human nature,-elemental avengers without sex or kin. The true reason for the first appearance of the Witches is to strike the key-note of the character of the whole drama.
“Macbeth is described by Lady Macbeth so as at the same time to reveal her own character. Could he have everything he wanted, he would rather have it innocently ;-ignorant, as alas, how many of us are, that he who wishes a temporal end for itself does in truth will the means; and hence the danger of indulging fancies. Lady Macbeth, like all in Shakspeare, is a class individualized :-of high rank, left much alone, and feeding herself with day-dreams of ambition, she mistakes the courage of fantasy for the power of bearing the consequences of the realities of guilt. Hers is the mock fortitude of a mind deluded by ambition ; she shames her husband with a superhuman audacity of fancy which she cannot support, but sinks in the season of remorse, and dies in suicidal agony.”—COLERIDGE.