« PreviousContinue »
CHRONOLOGY AND STATE OF THE TEXT.
Scotland, and Ireland, in the two-fold balls and treble sceptres” carried by the descendants of Banquo. This places the date at some period after the accession of James I. to the English throne, in 1603. The other date is fixed by Dr. Forman’s manuscript diary, (not long ago discovered by Mr. Collier in the Ashmolean Museum,) which contains a minute and very matter-of-fact account of this play, as Dr. Forman saw it represented at the Globe Theatre, April 20, 1610.
Malone infers that it was written in 1606, from the allusion in the Porter's soliloquy to the “expectation of plenty,” that having been a year of abundant harvest, succeeding a period of scarcity; and from another allusion to the doctrine of equivocation, which had been held by one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot, who was executed in that year. This is but doubtful proof; nor is the precise time of much interest. The only point of real interest is that satisfactorily ascertained, that Macbeth was one of Shakespeare's later works, written at some time during the last twelve years of his life, in the full maturity
of his genius, when his mind was stored with accumulated thought and knowledge, and his imagination fertile and daring as ever, yet subjected to his judgment. It is (to use Hallamos happy phrase) “a grand epic drama,” distinguished even among his own writings, and unsurpassed by any other author, for its overpowering unity of effect, amid the most magnificent abundance of thought and incident.
While, in some of his plays, as in HAMLET, the framework of plot and character may have been first prepared, to be subsequently enriched by poetry or humour; and while in others he seems not “master of his genius” but mastered by it, and to follow the inspirations of his fancy as they were suggested by the story, or evolved themselves froin each other, as unexpectedly to himself as to his reader,—MACBETH appears to me to have been completely meditated out before any part was written; so that it was presented to the poet's mind in all its parts, as a single conception, and the actual composition then
“- flew an cagle's flight, bold and forth on." This is evidenced in the crowded rapidity of the action, and the hurried intensity of varied passion, all bearing to one end; so that the reader, at the close of an act, looks back with surprise at the small number of pages which have described so vividly such a multitude of stirring incidents and emotions. It is also shown in its compressed and suggestive diction, leaving no doubt as to the general idea intended, yet rather hinting the sense than fully developing it; and therefore more intelligible to the hearer, when spoken, than it is distinct to the reader. This is, indeed, a common occurrence in Shakespeare's verse, but it is a more special characteristic of this drama. This solemn yet fervid rapidity of imperfectly uttered thought, is the main cause here, as it is sometimes in his other plays, of the doubts and variations as to the text, and consequent conjectural emendation.
The only editions of MACBETH of original authority are that of the folio of 1623, and (perhaps) the very slightly varying one in the second folio. There are, therefore, no contending authorities for the various readings. In the original, there are some obvious errors, either of the press or of the early transcribers of the manuscript copy, and some other obscurities which may, perhaps, arise from such errors. But, in general, I have not hesitated to reject conjectural emendations, and to restore the original text wherever it can be explained from the ancient