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like passions ? So that he fully answers “' that o end, which both at the first and now, was “ and is, to hold as 'twere the mirrour up to “ nature; to fhew virtue her own feature, - scorn her own image, and the very age and
body of the time his form and pressure.”
Let us suppose Shakespeare has a mind to paint the fatal effects of ambition. For this purpose he makes choice of a hero, well known from the British chronicles, and as the story had a particular relation to the king then reigning, 'twas an interesting story; and though full of machinery, yet ’ probable, because the wonderful tales there related were not only mention'd in history, but vulgarly believed. This hero had conduct and courage, and was universally
i Hamlet, A& III. he seems to have had in his mind what Donatus in his life of Terence cites from Cicero, Comoedia eft imitatio vitae, Speculum consuetudinis, imago veritatis,
2 For 'tis probable sometimes that things should happen contrary to probability."Ωσπερ γαρ 'Αγάθων λέξει, είκός γίνεσθαι wodna' sej auga sò sixós. So the place should be corrected. Ariftọt. GUE gì go T. xe. .
See his rhetoric, l. 2. C. 24. Poetry, whether epic or dramatic, is founded on probability, and admits rather a probable lye, than an improbable truth. It proposes to Thew, not what a person did say or act, but what 'tis probable ought to have been said or acted upon that or the like occasion. So that poetry is of a philosophical nature, much more than history. See Aristot. xeQ. I'. 3
courted and caress’d ; but his master-passion was ambition. What pity, that such a one should fall off from the ways of virtue! It happened that he and his friend, (from whom descended the Stewart family) one day, travelling thro' a foreft, met 3 three witches, who foretold his future royalty. This struck his ambitious fancy; crowns, sceptres and titles danced before his dazled eyes, and all his visionary dreams of happiness are to be compleated in the possession of a kingdom. The prediction of the witches
3 Maccabaco Banquhonique Forres (ubi tum rex agebat) proficiscentibus, ac in itinere lusus gratiâ per campos fylvasque errantibus, medio repente campo tres apparuere muliebri specie, insolita vestitus facie ad ipsos accedentes : quas cum appropinquantes diligentius intuerentur admirarenturque, Salve, inquit prima, Maccabaee Thane Glammis (nam eum magiftratum defuncto paulo ante patre Synele acceperat) Altera verò, falve, inquit, Caldariae Thane. At tertia, falve, inquit, Maccabaee olim Scotorum rex future. Hect. Boeth. Scot, hist. Lib. 12. And afterwards he adds, Parcas aut nymphas aliquas fatidicas diabolico aftu praeditas. Which Holingshed, in his hist. of Scotland, p. 171. renders, These women were either the weird sisters, that is, as ye would say, the goddefjes of deftinie, or else fome nymphs or feiries. And the old Scotish chron. fol. c. LXXIII.
Be aventure Makbeth and Banquho wer pasand to Fores, qubair king Duncane hapnit to be for the tyme, and met be ye gait thre women clothit in elrage and uncouth weid. They
he makes known by letter to his + wife, who, ten times prouder than himself, knew there was one speedy and certain way to the crown, by treason and murder. This pitch of s cruelty a
human wer jugit be the pepill to be weird fifteris. From the AngloSax. Wpid, fatum, comes, weïrd-listers, parcae. So Douglass in his translation of Virgil, Aen. III.
Prohibent nam caetera parcae
The weird fifteris defendis that fuld be wit. And hence 'comes wizard. Buchanan ter. Scot. L. 77 gives the Itory a more historical turn. Macbethus qui comSobrini ignavia femper Spretâ regni fpem occultam in animą alebat, creditur fomne quodam ad eam confirmatus. Quadam enim noite, cum longiufcule abeffet à rege, vifus eft libi tres feminas forma auguftiore quàm humana vidisse ; quarum una Angufiae tharum, 'dltera Moravide, tertia regem cum falu tallet.
4 Instigabat quoque uxor ejus cupida nominis regii, impotentissimaque morae ut est mulierum genus.proclive ad rem aliquam concipiendam, & ubi conceperint nimio affectu profequendam. Hector Boeth. Scot. hist. L: 12. p. 249. Animus etiam per fe ferox, prope quotidianis convitiis uxoris (quae omnium confiliorúm ei erat conscia) (timulabatur. Buch. rer. Scot. 1.
7. 5 Sophocles is blamed by Aristotle for drawing Hemon cruel without necessity. Perhaps Aristotle's remark will appear over refined, if it be considered what a small circumstance this intended cruelty of Hemon's is in the play ;
human creature may be work'd up to, who is prompted by self-love, (that narrow circle of love, beginning and ending in itself, and by ambitious views. Beside cruelty is most notorious in weak and womanish natures. As 'twas
customary for the king to visit his nobles, he came one day to our hero's castle at Inverness where time and place conspiring, he is murdered ; and thus the so much desired crown is obtained.
Who does not see that had Shakespeare broken off the story here, it would have been incomplete? For his design being to shew the effects of ambition, and having made choice of one passion, of one hero, he is to carry it throughout in all its consequences. I mentioned above that the story was interesting, as a British story; and 'tis equally so, as Macbeth, the hero of the tragedy, is drawn a man, not a monster ; a man of virtue, 'till he hearkened to the lures and that Creon, Hemon's father, had put to death his son's espoused wife, Antigone. No wonder therefore the son should draw his sword, surprized as he was, against his father, and afterwards plunge it in his own breast. The cruelty of Hemon, as well as this of Macbeth's wife, feem to have both necessity and passion..
6 Inerat ei [Duncano] laudabilis consuetudo, regni pertranfire regiones femel in anno, &c. Johan. de Fordun Scotichron. 1. 4. c. 44. Singulis annis ad inopum querelas audiendas perluftrabat provincias. Buchan, rer. Scot. 1.7
of ambition: then how is his mind agitated and convulfed, now virtue, now vice prevailing ; 'till reason, as is usual, gives way to inclination. And how beautifully, from such a wavering character, does the poet let you into the knowledge of the secret springs and motives of human actions ? In the soliloquy before the murder, all the aggravating circumstances attending such a horrid deed, appear in their full view before him.
He's bere in double trust : Firft as I am his kinsman and his subjeti, Strong both against the deed : then, as his ? host,
Who should against his murth’rer shut the door, * Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath born-bis. faculties so meek, &c.
7 A stronger reason against the murder than any other. Hospitality was always sacred. This is according to antiquity. Homer, Od. F'. 55.
Ξεϊν' ύ μoι θέμις έτ' ' ει κακίων σέθεν έλθοι,
Ξεϊνοί τε σιωχοί τε.
Jupiter hofpitibus nam te dare jura loquuntur. 'Tis very fine in Shakespeare to give this cast of antiquity to his poem ; whatever the inhospitable character of our iland-nation happens to be.