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danger. However much we may abhor his actions, we cannot altogether refuse to sympathize with the state of his mind; we lament the ruin of so many noble qualities; and, even in his last defence, we are compelled to admire in him the struggle of a brave will with a cowardly conscience.—The poét wisbes 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. Lady Macbeth, who of all the human beings is the most guilty participator in the murder of the king, falls, through the horrors 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 of dying the death of a hero on the field of battle. Banquo atones for the ambitious curiosity which prompted him to wish to know his glorious descendants by an early death, as he thereby rouses Macbeth's jealousy; but he preserved his mind pure from the bubbles 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 during 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 Macbeth says,
• The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it.' In every feature we see a vigorous heroic age in the bardy 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 can be compressed into so narrow a space; not merely external events—the very innermost recesses of the minds of the persons of the drama are laid open to us. if the drags were taken from the wheels of time, and they rolled along without interruption in their descent. Nothing can equal the power of this picture in the excitation of horror. We need only allude to the circumstance 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
It is as
can we possibly say on the subject that will not rather weaken the impression ? 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 *!
Shakspeare followed the chronicle of Holinshed, and Holinshed borrowed his narration from the chronicles of Scotland, translated by John Bellenden, from the Latin of Hector Boethius, and first published at Edinburgh in 1541.
• Malcolm the Second, king of Scotland, had two daughters, The eldest was married to Crynin, the father of Duncan, Thane of the isles, and western parts of Scotland; and on the death of Malcolm without male issue Duncan succeeded to the throne. Malcolm's second daughter was married to Sinel, Thane of Glamis, the father of Macbeth. Duncan, who married the sister of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, was murdered by his cousin german Macbeth in the castle of Inverness about the year 1040 or 1045. Macbeth was himself slain by Macduff, according to Boethius in 1061, according to Buchanan in 1057, at which time Edward the Confessor reigned in England.
In the reign of Duncan, Banquo having been plundered by the people of Lochaber of some of the king's revenues, which he had collected, and being dangerously wounded in the affray, the persons concerned in this outrage were summoned to appear at a certain day. But they slew the serjeant at arms who summoned them, and chose one Macdonwald as their captain. Macdonwald speedily collected a considerable body of forces from Ireland and the Western Isles, and in one action gained a victory over the king's army. In this battle Malcolm, a Scottish nobleman (who was lieutenant to Duncan in Lochaber) was slain. Afterwards Macbeth and Banquo were appointed to the command of the army; and Macdonwald, being obliged to take refuge in a castle in Lochaber, first slew his wife and children, and then himself. Macbeth, on entering the castle, finding his dead body, ordered his head to be cut off and carried to the king, at the castle of Bertha, and his body to be hung on a high tree.
At a subsequent period, in the last year of Duncan's reign, Sueno, king of Norway, landed a powerful army in Fife, for the purpose of invading Scotland. Duncan immediately assembled
* Lectures on Dramatic Literature, by A. W. Schlegel, translated by John Black, London, 1815, vol. ii. p. 200.
an army to oppose him, and gave the command of two divisions of it to Macbeth and Banquo, putting himself at the head of a third. Sueno was successful in one battle, but in a second was routed; and, after a great slaughter of his troops, he escaped with ten persons only, and fled back to Norway. Though there was an interval of time between the rebellion of Macdonwald and the invasion of Sueno, Shakspeare has woven these two actions together, and immediately after Sueno's defeat the present play commences.
It is remarkable that Buchanan has pointed out Macbeth's history as a subject for the stage. • Multa hic fabulose quidam nostrorum affingunt; sed quia theatris aut Milesiis fabulis sunt aptiora quam historiæ, ea omitto.'-Rerum Scot. Hist. Lib. vii.
Milton also enumerates the subject among those he considered well suited for tragedy, but it appears that he would have attempted to preserve the unity of time by placing the relation of the murder of Duncan in the mouth of his ghost.
Macbeth is one of the latest, and unquestionably one of the noblest efforts of Shakspeare's genius. Equally impressive in the closet and on the stage, where to witness its representation has been justly pronounced the first of all dramatic enjoyments. Malone places the date of its composition in 1606, and it has been supposed to convey a dexterous and delicate compliment to James the First, who derived his lineage from Banquo, and first united the threefold sceptre of England, Scotland, and Ireland. At the same time the monarch’s prejudices on the subject of demonology were flattered by the choice of
It was once thought that Shakspeare derived some hints for his scenes of incantation from The Witch, a tragicomedy, by John Middleton, which, after lying long in manuscript, was published about thirty years since by Isaac Reed; but Malone* has with considerable ingenuity shown that Middleton's drama was most probably written subsequently to Macbeth.
* See the chronological order of the plays in the late Variorum Edition, by Mr. Boswell, vol. ii. p. 420.
} Generals of the King's Army.
Duncan, King of Scotland.
- Noblemen of Scotland.
Attendants, and Messengers.
the rest of the play, in Scotland; and, chiefly, at Macbeth's Castle.
Lady Macbeth's name was Gruach filia Bodhe, according to Lord Hailes. Andrew of Wintown in his Cronykil informs us, that she was the widow of Duncan; a circumstance with which Shakspeare was of course unacquainted.
+ As the play now stands, in Act iv. Sc. 1, three other witches make their appearance.
Thunder and Lightning. Enter three Witches.
1 Witch. When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
2 Witch. When the hurlyburly's 1 done, When the battle's lost and won.
3 Witch. That will be ere set of sun. 1 Witch. Where the place?
1. When the hurlyburly's done.' In Adagia Scotica, or a Collection of Scotch Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases; collected by R. B. very useful and delightful. Lond. 12o. 1668:
Little kens the wife that sits by the fire
How the wind blows cold in hurle burle swyre.' ‘i. e, in the tempestuous mountain-top,' says Mr. Todd, in a note on Spenser; to which Mr. Boswell gives his assent, and says, ‘this sense seems agreeable to the witch's answer.' But Peacham, in his Garden of Eloquence, 1577, shows that this was not the ancient acceptation of the word among us: ‘Onomatopeia, when we invent, devise, fayne, and make a name imitating the sound of that it signifyeth, as hurlyburly, for an uprore and tumultuous stirre.' So in Baret's Alvearie, 1573 :—But harke yonder: what hurlyburly or noyse is yonde: what sturre ruffling or bruite is that?—The witches could not mean when the storm was done, but when the tumult of the battle was over; for they are to meet again in lightning, thunder, and rain: their element was a storm, Thus in Arthur Wilson's History of James I. p. 141 :
-Being in a citie not very defensible, among a wavering people, and a conquering enemy, in the field, took time by the foretop, and in this hurlieburlie the next morning left Prague.'