« PreviousContinue »
THE PLAYS OF
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
and a Plate representing Miss ELLEN TERRY as
J. S. SARGENT, R.A.
SHAKESPEARE took the material for this tragedy from the same source on which he drew for all his English histories—Holinshed's Chronicle to wit. In this case Holinshed, at no time a trustworthy historian, simply reproduced a passage of Hector Boece's Scotorum Historia. Macdonwald's rebellion and Sweno's Viking invasion are fables ; Banquo and Fleance, as founders of the race of Stuart, are inventions of the chroniclers. There was a blood feud between the house of Duncan and the house of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, whose real
ch, was the granddaughter of a king who had been killed by Malcolm 11., Duncan's grandfather. Her first husband had been burnt in his castle with fifty friends. Her only brother was killed by Malcolm's order. Macbeth's father also, Finlegh or Finley, had been killed in a contest with Malcolm. Therefore they both had the right to a blood-revenge on Duncan. Nor did Macbeth sin against the laws of hospitality in taking Duncan's life. He attacked and killed him in the open field. It is further to be observed that by the Scottish laws of succession he had a better right to the throne than Duncan. After having seized the throne he ruled firmly and justly. There is a quite adequate psychological basis for the real facts of the year 1040, though it is much simpler than that underlying the imaginary events of Holinshed's Chronicle, which form the subject of the tragedy.
Shakespeare on the whole follows Holinshed with
great exactitude, but diverges from him in one or two particulars. According to the Chronicle, Banquo was accessory to the murder of Duncan; Shakespeare alters this in order to give King James a progenitor of unblemished reputation. Instead of using the account of the murder which is given in the Chronicle, Shakespeare takes and applies to Duncan's case all the particulars of the murder of King Duffe, Lady Macbeth’s grandfather, as committed by the captain of the castle of Forres, who 'being the more kindled in wrath by the words of his wife, determined to follow her advice in the execution of so heinous an act.' It is hardly necessary to remark that the finest parts of the drama, such as the appearance of Banquo's ghost and Lady Macbeth's sleep-walking scene, are due to Shakespeare alone.
Some sensation was made in the year 1778 by the discovery of the manuscript of The Witch, a play by Shakespeare's contemporary Middleton, containing in their entirety two songs which are only indicated in Macbeth by the quotation of their first lines. These are Come away, come away' (iii. 5), and 'Black spirits,' etc. (iv. 1). A very idle dispute arose as to whether Shakespeare had here made use of Middleton, or Middleton of Shakespeare. The latter is certainly the more probable assumption, if we must assume either to have borrowed from the other. It is likely enough, however, that single lines of the lesser poet have here and there been interpolated in the witch scenes of Shakespeare's text as contained in the Folio edition.
Shakespeare has employed in the treatment of this subject a style that suits it-vehement to violence, compressed to congestion-figures treading upon each other's heels, while general philosophic reflections