Imatges de pÓgina
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"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.

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Macbeth (generally speaking) is done upon a stronger and more systematic 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 a violent beginning. The lights and shades are laid on with a determined hand; the transitions from triumph to despair, from the height of terror to the repose of death, are sudden and startling; every passion brings in its fellow-contrary, and the thoughts pitch and jostle against each other as in the dark. The whole play is an unruly chaos of strange and forbidden things, where the ground rocks under our feet. Shakspeare's genius here took its full swing, and trod upon the farthest bounds of nature and passion. This circumstance will account for the abruptness and violent antitheses of the style, the throes and labor which run through the expression, and from defects will turn them into beauties. "So fair and foul a day I have not seen," &c. "Such welcome and unwelcome news together." "Men's lives are like the flowers in their caps, dying or ere

they sicken." "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it." The scene before the castle-gate follows the appearance of the Witches on the heath, and is followed by a midnight murder. Duncan is cut off betimes by treason leagued with witchcraft, and Macduff is ripped untimely from his mother's womb to avenge his death. Macbeth, after the death of Banquo, wishes for his presence in extravagant terms. "To him and all we thirst," and when his ghost appears, cries out, "Avaunt and quit my sight," and being gone, he is "himself again." Macbeth resolves to get rid of Macduff, that "he may sleep in spite of thunder;" and cheers his wife on the doubtful intelligence of Banquo's taking off with the encouragement— "Then be thou jocund: ere the bat has flown his cloistered flight; ere to black Hecate's summons the shard-born beetle has rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done—a deed of dreadful note." In Lady Macbeth's speech, "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done 't," there is murder and filial piety together; and in urging him to fulfil his vengeance against the defenceless king, her thoughts spare the blood neither of infants nor old age. The description of the Witches is full of the same contradictory principle; they "rejoice when good kings bleed," "they are neither of the earth nor the air, but both; they should be women, but their beards forbid it ;" they take all the pains possible to lead Macbeth on to the height of his ambition, only to betray him in deeper consequence, and after showing him all the pomp of their art, discover their ma. lignant delight in his disappointed hopes, by that bitter taunt, Why stands Macbeth thus amazedly?" We might multiply such instances everywhere.

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The leading features in the character of Macbeth are striking enough, and they form what may be thought at first only a bold, rude, Gothic outline. By comparing it with other characters of the same author we shall perceive the absolute truth and identity which is observed in the midst of the giddy whirl and rapid career of events. Macbeth in Shakspeare no more loses his identity of character in the fluctuations of fortune or the storm of passion, than Macbeth in himself would have lost the identity of his person. The genius of Shakspeare was as much

shown in the subtlety and nice discrimination, as in the force and variety of his characters. This distinction is not preserved more completely in those which are the most opposite, than in those which in their general features and obvious appearance most nearly resemble each other. It has been observed, with very little exaggeration, that not one of his speeches could be put into the mouth of any other character than the one to which it is given, and that the transposition, if attempted, might be always detected from some other circumstance in the passage itself. If to invent according to nature be the true definition of genius, Shakspeare had more of this quality than any other writer. He might be said to have been a joint worker with nature, and to have created an imaginary world of his own, which has all the appearance and the truth of reality. His mind, while it exerted an absolute control over the stronger workings of the passions, was exquisitely alive to the slightest impulses and most evanescent shades of character and feeling. The broad distinctions and governing principles of human nature are presented, not in the abstract, but in their immediate and endless applications to different persons and things. The local details, the particular accidents, have the fidelity of history without losing anything of their general effect.

It is the business of poetry, and indeed of all works of imagination, to exhibit the species through the individual. Otherwise, there can be no opportunity for the exercise of the imagination, without which the descriptions of the painter or the poet are lifeless, unsubstantial, and vapid. If some modern critics are right with their sweeping generalities and vague abstractions, Shakspeare was quite wrong. In the French dramatists only the class is represented, never the individual: their kings, their heroes, and their lovers are all the same, and they are all French, that is, they are nothing but the mouth-pieces of certain rhetorical, commonplace sentiments on the favorite topics of morality and the passions. The characters in Shakspeare do not declaim like pedantic school-boys, but speak and act like men, placed in real circumstances, with real hearts of flesh and blood beating in their bosoms. No two of his characters are the same, more than they would be so in nature. Those

that are the most alike are distinguished by positive differences, which accompany and modify the leading principle of the character through its most obscure ramifications, embodying the habits, gestures, and almost the looks of the individual. These touches of nature are often so many, and so minute, that the poet cannot be supposed to have been distinctly aware of the operation of the springs by which his imagination was set at work: yet every one of the results is brought out with a truth and clearness, as if his whole study had been directed to that peculiar trait of character or subordinate train of feeling.

Thus Macbeth and Richard III., King Henry VI. and Richard II.—characters that, in their general description, and in common hands, and indeed in the hands of any other poet, would be merely repetitions of the same general idea, more or less exaggerated—are distinguished by traits as precise, though of course less violent, than those which separate Macbeth from Henry VI., or Richard III. from Richard II. Shakspeare has with wonderful accuracy, and without the smallest appearance of effort, varied the portraits of imbecility and effeminacy in the two deposed monarchs. With still more powerful and masterly strokes he has marked the different effects of ambition and cruelty, operating on different dispositions and in different circumstances, in his Macbeth and Richard III. Both are tyrants, usurpers, murderers, both violent and ambitious, both courageous, cruel, treacherous. But Richard is cruel from nature and constitution. Macbeth becomes so from accidental circumstances. Richard is from his birth deformed in body and mind, and naturally incapable of good. Macbeth is full of "the milk of human kindness," is frank, sociable, generous. is urged to the commission of guilt by golden opportunity, by the instigations of his wife, and by prophetic warnings. "Fate and metaphysical aid" conspire against his virtue and his loyalty. Richard on the contrary needs no prompter, but wades through a series of crimes to the height of his ambition, from the ungovernable violence of his passions and a restless love of mischief. He is never gay but in the prospect, or in the success of his villanies; Macbeth is full of horror at the thoughts of the murder of Duncan, which he is with difficulty prevailed.

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on to commit, and of remorse after its perpetration. Richard has no mixture of common humanity in his composition, no regard to kindred or posterity, he owns no fellowship with others, but is "himself alone." Macbeth is not without feelings of sympathy, is accessible to pity, is even in some measure the dupe of his uxoriousness, ranks the loss of friends, of the love of his followers, and of his good name, among the causes which have made him weary of life, and regrets that he has ever seized the crown by unjust means, since he cannot transmit it to his pos terity—

"For Banquo's issue have I 'fil'd my mind— For them the gracious Duncan have I murther'd, To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings."

not so Cogers,

In the agitation of his thoughts, he envies those whom he has
sent to peace.
"Duncan is in his grave; after life's fitful
fever he sleeps well." It is true, he becomes more callous as
he plunges deeper in guilt, "direness is thus made familiar to
his slaughterous thoughts," and he in the end anticipates his wife
in the boldness and bloodiness of his enterprises, while she, for
want of the same stimulus of action, is "troubled with thick-
coming fancies," walks in her sleep, goes mad and dies. Mac-
beth endeavors to escape from reflection on his crimes by repel-
ling their consequences, and banishes remorse for the past by the
meditation of future mischief. This is not the principle of
Richard's cruelty, which resembles the cold malignity, the wan-
ton malice, of a fiend rather than the frailty of human nature.
Macbeth is goaded on to acts of violence and retaliation by ne-
cessity; to Richard, blood is a pastime. There are other es-
sential differences. Richard is a man of the world, a vulgar,
plotting, hardened villain, wholly regardless of everything but
his own ends, and the means to accomplish them. Not so Mac-
beth. The superstitions of the age, the rude state of society,
the local scenery and customs, all give a wildness and imaginary
grandeur to his character. From the strangeness of the events
that surround him, he is full of amazement and fear; and
stands in doubt between the world of reality and the world of

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