Imatges de pÓgina

What he represents is brought home to the bosom as a part of our experience, implanted in the memory as if we had known the places, persons, and things of which he treats. MACBETH is like a record of a preternatural and tragical event. It has the rugged se

verity of an old chronicle, with all that the imagination of the poet can engraft upon traditional belief. The castle of Macbeth, round which "the air smells wooingly," and where "the temple-haunting martlet builds," has a real subsistence in the mind; the Weird Sisters meet us in person on " the blasted heath;" the "air-drawn dagger" moves slowly before our eyes; the "gracious Duncan," the "blood-boultered Banquo" stand before us; all that passed through the mind of Macbeth passes, without the loss of a tittle, through ours. All that could actually take place, and all that is only possible to be conceived, what was said and what was done, the workings of passion, the spells of magick, are brought before us with the same absolute truth and vividness.-Shakspeare excelled in the openings of his plays that of Macbeth is the most striking of any. The wildness of the scenery, the sudden shifting of the situations and characters, the bustle, the expectations excited, are equally extraordinary. From the first entrance of the Witches and the description of them when they meet Macbeth,

"What are these

So wither'd and so wild in their attire,

That look not like the inhabitants of th' earth
And yet are on't ?"

the mind is prepared for all that follows.

This tragedy is alike distinguished for the lofty imagination it displays, and for the tumultuous vehemence of the action; and the one is made the moving principle of the other. The overwhelming pressure of preternatural agency urges on the tide of human passion with redoubled force. Macbeth himself appears driven along by the violence of his fate, like a vessel drifting before a storm; he reels to and fro like a drunken man; he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others; he stands at bay with his situation; and, from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the communications of the Weird Sisters throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions, and with impious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future. He is not equal to the struggle with fate and conscience. He now "bends up each corporal instrument to the terrible feat;" at other times his heart misgives him, and he is cowed and abashed by his success. "The deed, no less than the attempt, confounds him.” His mind is assailed by the stings of remorse, and full of "preternatural solicitings." His speeches and soliloquies are dark riddles on human life, baffling solution, and entangling him in their labyrinths. In thought he is absent and perplexed, sudden and desperate in act, from a distrust of his own resolution. His energy springs from the anxiety and agitation of his mind. His blindly rushing forward on the objects of his ambition and revenge, or his recoiling from them, equally betrays the harassed state of his feelings.-This part of his

character is admirably set off by being brought in connexion with that of Lady Macheth, whose obdurate strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendancy over her husband's faultering virtue. She at once seizes on the opportunity that offers for the accomplishment of all their wished for greatness, and never flinches from her object till all is over. The magnitude of her resolution almost covers the magnitude of her guilt. She is a great, bad woman, whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate. She does not excite our loathing and abhorrence like Regan and Gonerill. She is only wicked to gain a great end; and is perhaps more distinguished by her commanding presence of mind and inexorable selfwill, which do not suffer her to be diverted from a bad purpose, when once formed, by weak and womanly regrets, than by the hardness of her heart or want of natural affections. The impression, which

her lofty determination of character makes on the mind of Macbeth, is well described where he exclaims,

-"Bring forth men children only;

For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males !"

Nor do the pains she is at to "screw his courage to
the sticking place," the reproach to him, not to be
"lost so poorly in himself," the assurance that " a
little water clears them of this deed," shew any thing
but her greater consistency in depravity.
strong nerved ambition furnishes ribs of steel to "the
sides of his intent;" and she is herself wound up to


the execution of her baneful project with the same unshrinking fortitude in crime, that in other circumstances she would probably have shewn patience in suffering. The deliberate sacrifice of all other considerations to the gaining "for their future days and nights, sole sovereign sway and masterdom," by the murder of Duncan, is gorgeously expressed in her invocation on hearing of "his fatal entrance under her battlements :"

"Come all you spirits


That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here:
And fill me, from the crown to th' toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murthering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night!
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, hold, hold !”—

When she first hears that "Duncan comes there to sleep" she is so overcome by the news, which is beyond her utmost expectations, that she answers the messenger, "Thou'rt mad to say it :" and on receiving her husband's account of the predictions of the Witches, conscious of his instability of purpose, and that her presence is necessary to goad him on to the consumination of his promised greatness, she exclaims

"Hie thee hither,

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal."

This swelling exultation and keen spirit of triumph,
this uncontrolable eagerness of anticipation, which
seems to dilate her form and take possession of all
her faculties, this solid, substantial flesh and blood
display of passion, exhibit a striking contrast to the
cold, abstracted, gratuitous, servile malignity of the
Witches, who are equally instrumental in urging
Macbeth to his fate, for the mere love of mischief,
and from a disinterested delight in deformity and
cruelty. They are hags of mischief, obscene panders
to iniquity, malicious from their impotence of enjoy-
ment, enamoured of destruction, because they are
themselves unreal, abortive, half existences, who be-
come sublime from their exemption from all human
sympathies and contempt for all human affairs, as
Lady Macbeth does by the force of passion!
fault seems to have been an excess of that strong
principle of self-interest and family aggrandisement,
not amenable to the common feelings of compassion
and justice, which is so marked a feature in barbarous
nations and times. A passing reflection of this kind,
on the resemblance of the sleeping king to her
father, alone prevents her from slaying Duncan with
her own hand.


In speaking of the character of Lady Macbeth, we ought not to pass over Mrs. Siddons's manner of

« AnteriorContinua »