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will have me king, why, chance may crown me without
stir." He snatches, however, that which was promised him as a gift; and, seated on the throne, his confidence is augmented in the authority and power of the witches to unfold to him the secrets of futurity. When fears shake, and doubts distract him, he flies for the resolving of both, to their assistance.
66 I will to-morrow,
The result of this interview is the elevation of his confidence into presumption, and he exultingly proclaims his assurance of security : “ Then live, Macduff; What need I fear of thee ?” “Sweet bodements! good !"
“ The spirits that know
" I will not fear of death and bane,
Till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane.”
The time, however, does arrive when Birnam forest moves, and yet Macbeth mistrusts not the
authority of the witches. He “doubts,” indeed, “ the equivocation of the fiend, that lies like truth;” but “ swords he smiles at, weapons laughs to scorn, brandish'd by man that's of a woman born,” and, the moment previous to his death, he meets Macduff with the proud defiance :
« Thou losest labour :
The actions of Macbeth are not in constant accordance with his faith. They who placed the “ golden round” upon his brow, promised similar honours to the issue of another. He was bound to believe both, or neither, of these predictions. He rightly concluded, that “ if chance would have him king, why, chance would crown him without his stir;" and he ought to have added, that if the succession of Banquo's children was registered among the decrees of fate, no human arm could arrest the march of that event. In neither case does he abide the event. He first yields to an alarm, on the elevation of Malcolm to the principality of Cumberland, of which his professed principles,
“ thrusted home," ought to have demonstrated to him the fallacy; he next snatches by crime, as “the nearest way," what was promised him as a gift; and, lastly, madly opposes himself to what he ought to have acknowledged a decree of fate.
These are incongruities, but they are not chargeable on Shakspeare, who only embodied the theory of witchcraft, which adopted, from the same sources, the two contradictory doctrines of absolute fate, and the influence of man's actions by evil spirits. The classic world assigned to every individual a demon, or genius, which always presided over his actions, gave him private counsels, and watched over his secret intentions ; and some writers maintained that two demons, the one good, the other bad, were the invariable attendants of every man. . Of the Valkeries some were good and others evil, and they dispensed good and evil; and were the cause of good or bad actions in others, according to their origin. The operation of these principles on Macbeth is very obvious and frequent. As yet unseduced, he would have patiently awaited the coming on of “ the all-hail hereafter!" but the moment of prediction was seized by, what Lady Macbeth designates, “ the spirits that tend on
mortal thoughts,” to tempt him to the commission of a damning crime :
“ This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill ; cannot be good :- If ill,
Similar bloody purposes were suggested to his mind on Malcolm's elevation,
“ Stars, hide your fires !
The prophecy relative to Banquo and his issue must also be viewed as a stratagem to inspire Macbeth with murderous thoughts, whence he might be readily betrayed to the absolute commission of the contemplated crime. Banquo was clearly pointed out to him as an enemy; by him his
genius was rebuk’d,” and he held him “ in such bloody distance that every minute of his being thrust against his nearest life.”
The influence of human actions by evil spirits was one of the corner stones of a belief in witch
craft, and Shakspeare has given great prominence to the doctrine:
“ 'Tis strange :
It is in allusion to the supposed prevalence of the attempts of malignant spirits to effect their purposes by the suggestion of evil in dreams, that Banquo prays to be restrained in the “ cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose, and it appears that he had reason for his prayer; he « dreamt last night of the three weird sisters."
Macbeth's description of the dead of night defines it as the hour when « wicked dreams abuse the curtain’d sleep.” This is a gothic version of classic superstition. The ancients always attributed dreams to supernatural interference, and hence proper subjects for the art of divination. Sophocles makes Clytemnestra pray, in the Electra, against terrific or bad dreams. Apollo, the guardian of houses and families, was properly solicited to avert such disturbances of domestic peace.
The subserviency of witches to a Dame was a recognised feature in witchcraft; and Shak