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“The Tragedie of Macbeth "
appears to have been first printed in the folio of 1623. The date of its composition is not determinable. Malone, from internal probabilities, satisfied himself that it must have been written not later than 1606: his chief grounds for this conviction being two passages in the Porter's soliloquy, Act II. Sc. 3:—“Here's a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty:" and, “Here's an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.” In the former passage he detects an allusion to the extreme cheapness of corn in 1606, as shown by the audit book of Eton College; the latter he maintains, with great ingenuity, to be a pointed reference to the doctrine of equivocation avowed by Henry Garnet, superior of the order of Jesuits, on his trial for the Gunpowder Treason, in the same year. But there is, perhaps, still stronger evidence for conjecturing this tragedy was produced very early in the reign of James I., in the apparent allusion to the union of the three kingdoms under that monarch in 1604, in the words,
Some I see
The reference here can hardly be gainsaid, and it is certainly one not likely to have been introduced at a period at all remote from the event which it adumbrates. Still this is only surmise. The earliest tangible information regarding the chronology of “ Macbeth” is that it was acted at the Globe Theatre, on the 20th of April, 1610: a fact derived from the interesting MS. Diary of Dr. Forman (Mus. Ashmol. Ocon.), which contains the following minute analysis of the plot :
“In Macbeth, at the Globe, 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women, Fairies, or Nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, Hail, Macbeth, King of Codor, for thou shalt be a King, but shalt beget no Kings, &c. Then, said Banquo, What ! all to Macbeth and nothing to me? Yes, said the Nymphs, Hail to thee, Banquo; thou shalt beget Kings, yet be no King. And so they departed, and came to the court of Scotland, to Duncan King of Scots, and it was in the days of Edward the Confessor. And Duncan bade them both kindly welcome, and made Macbeth forth with Prince of Northumberland ; and sent him home to his own Castle, and appointed Macbeth to provide for him, for he would sup with him the next day at night, and did so.
“And Macbeth contrived * to kill Duncan, and through the persuasion of his wife did that night murder the King in his own Castle, being his guest. And there were many prodigies seen that night and the day before. And when Macbeth had murdered the King, the blood on his hands could not be washed off by any means, nor from his wife's hands, which handled the bloody daggers in hiding them, by which means they became both much amazed and affronted.
“The murder being known, Duncan's two sons fled, the one to England, [the other to] Wales, to save themselves : they, being fled, were supposed guilty of the murder of their father, which was nothing so.
“Then was Macbeth crowned King, and then he, for fear of Banquo, his old companion, that he should beget kings but be no king himself, he contrived * the death of Banquo, and caused him to be murdered on the way that he rode. The night, being at supper with his noblemen, whom he had bid to a feast (to the wbich also Banquo should have come), he began to speak of noble Banquo, and to wish that he were there. And as he thus did, standing up to drink a carouse to him, the ghost of Banquo came and sat down in his chair behind him. And he, turning about to sit down again, saw the ghost of Banquo, which fronted him, so that he fell in a great passion of fear and fury, uttering many words about his murder, by which, when they heard that Banquo Fas murdered, they suspected Macbeth.
“Then Macduff fled to England, to the King's son, and so they raised an army and came to Scotland, and at Dunston Anyse overthrew Macbeth. In the mean time, while Macduff was in England, Macbeth slex Macduff's wife and children, and after, in the battle, Macduff slew Macbeth.
* Observe, also, how Macbeth's queen did rise in the night in her sleep and walk, and talked and confesseni all, and the doctor noted her words."
The historical incidents of this great tragedy are contained in the Scotorum Historiæ of Boethius, first printed at Paris, in 1526, and afterwards translated by Bellenden into the Scottish dialect, and published in 1541. From the latter it was copied by Holinshed, and on that Chronicler's relation of the story Shakespeare based his play. The opinion once prevalent, that some portion of the poet's preternatural machinery was borrowed from Middleton's “ Witch," has no longer supporters. “ The Witch " is now generally thought to have been written about 1613. (See the Illustrative Comments at the end of the Play.)
Duncan, King of Scotland.
Young SIWARD, Son to the Earl of Northumberland, MALCOLM,
Son to Macduff.
Seyton, an Officer attending on the King. Macbeth, General of the King's Army, after. An English Doctor. wards King
A Scotch Doctor, BANQ30, General of the King's Army.
A Soldier. FLEANCE, Son to Banquo.
An old Man.
Lady Macbeth, afterwards Queen.
Gentlewoman, attending on the Queen.
and other Apparitions.