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INTRODUCTORY RE MARKS.
“THE Tragedie of Macbeth’ was first published in the folio collection of 1623. Its place in that edition is between ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Hamlet.' And yet, in modern reprints of the text of Shakspere, “Macbeth’ is placed the first amongst the Histories. This is to convey a wrong notion of the character of this great drama. Shakspere's Chronicle-histories are essentially conducted upon a different principle. The interest of “Macbeth’ is not an historical interest. It matters not whether the action is true, or has been related as true: it belongs to the realms of poetry altogether. We might as well call ‘Lear’ or ‘Hamlet’ historical plays, because the outlines of the story of each are to be found in old records of the past. Our text is, with very few exceptions, a restoration of the text of the original folio. In Coleridge's early sonnet ‘to the Author of the Robbers, his imagination is enchained to the most terrible scene of that play; dis. regarding, as it were, all the accessaries by which its horrors are mitigated and rendered endurable :“Schiller ' that hour I would have wish'd to die, If through the shuddering midnight I had sent From the dark dungeon of the tower time-rent That fearful voice, a famish'd father's cry— Lest in some after-moment aught more mean Might stamp me mortal A triumphant shout Black Horror scream’d, and all her goblin rout Diminish'd shrunk from the more withering scene . " It was in a somewhat similar manner that Shakspere's representation of the murder of Duncan affected the imagination of Mrs. Siddons:—“It was my custom to study my characters at night, when all the domestic cares and business of the day were over. On the night preceding that on which I was to appear in this part for the first time, I shut myself up, as usual, when all the family were retired, and commenced my study of Lady Macbeth. As the character is very short, I thought I should soon accomplish it. Being then only twenty years of age, I believed, as many others do believe, that
little more was necessary than to get the words into my head; for the necessity of discrimination, and the development of character, at that time of my life, had scarcely entered into my imagination. But, to proceed. I went on with tolerable composure, in the silence of the night (a night I can never forget), till I came to the assassination scene, when the horrors of the scene rose to a degree that made it impossible for me to get farther. I snatched up my candle, and hurried out of the room in a paroxysm of terror. My dress was of silk, and the rustling of it, as I ascended the stairs to go to bed, seemed to my panic-struck fancy like the movement of a spectre pursuing me. At last I reached my chamber, where I found my husband fast asleep. I clapped my candlestick down upon the table, without the power of putting it out; and I threw myself on my bed, without daring to stay even to take off my clothes.” If the drama of “Macbeth' were to produce the same effect upon the mind of an imaginative reader as that described by Mrs. Siddons, it would not be the great work of art which it really is. If our poet had resolved, using the words of his own “Othello, to “abandon all remorse, On horror's head horrors accumulate,”
the midnight terrors, such as Mrs. Siddons has described, would have indeed been a tribute to power, but not to the power which has produced “Macbeth.’ The paroxysm of fear, the panic-struck fancy, the prostrated senses, so beautifully described by this impassioned actress, were the result of the intensity with which she had fixed her mind upon that part of the play which she was herself to act. In the endeavour to get the words into her head her own fine genius was naturally kindled to behold a complete vision of the wonderful scene. Again, and
* Memoranda by Mrs. Siddons, inserted in her Life" by Mr. Campbell.
again, were the words repeated, on that night which she could never forget, in the silence of that night when all about her were sleeping. And then she heard the owl shriek, amidst the hurried steps in the fatal chamber, and she saw the bloody hands of the assassin, -and, personifying the murderess, she rushed to dip her own hands in the gore of Duncan. It is perfectly evident that this intensity of conception has carried the horrors far beyond the limits of pleasurable emotion, and has produced all the terrors of a real murder. No reader of the play, and no spectator, can regard this play as Mrs. Siddons regarded it. On that night she, probably for the first time, had a strong though imperfect vision of the character of Lady Macbeth, such as she afterwards delineated it; and, in that case, what to all of us must, under any circumstances, be a work of art, however glorious, was to her almost a reality. It was the isolation of the scene
demanded by her own attempt to conceive the character of Lady Macbeth, which made it so terrible to Mrs. Siddons. The reader has to regard it as a part of a great whole, which combines and harmonises with all around it; for which he is adequately pre
pared by what has gone before; and which,
even if we look at it as a picture which represents only that one portion of the action, has still its own repose, its own harmony of colouring, its own chiaroscuro, is to be seen under a natural light. There was a preternatural light upon it when Mrs. Siddons saw it as she has described.
The leading characteristic of this glorious tragedy is, without doubt, that which constitutes the essential difference between a work of the highest genius and a work of mediocrity. Without power—by which we here especially mean the ability to produce strong excitement by the display of scenes of horror—no poet of the highest order was ever made; but this alone does not make such a poet. If he is called upon to present such scenes, they must, even in their most striking forms, be associated with the beautiful. The pre-eminence of his art in this particular can alone prevent them affecting the imagination beyond the limits of pleasurable emotion. To keep within these limits, and yet to preserve all the energy which results from the power of dealing with the terrible apart from the beautiful, belongs to few that the world has seen: to Shakspere it belongs surpassingly.
SCENE I.—An open Place. Thunder and Lightning.
Enter three Witches.
1 WITCH. When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain"?
2 WITCH. When the hurlyburly's" done, When the battle 's lost and won:
3 WITCH. That will be ere the set of sun".
* Some of the modern editions read “and in rain,” to prevent that misconception of the question which they think may arise from the use of or. The Witches invariably meet under a disturbance of the elements; and this is clear enough without any change of the original text.
* Hurlyburly. In Peacham's ‘Garden of Eloquence, 1577, this word is given as an example of that ornament of language which consists in “a name intimating the sound of that it signifieth, as hurlyburly, for an uproar and tumultuous stir." Todd finds the word in a collection of Scottish proverbs, and therefore decides upon the propriety of its use by the Scottish witch. This is unnecessary; for, although it might belong to both languages, Spenser had used it in our own; and it had the peculiar recommendation of the quality described by Peacham for its introduction in a lyrical composition.
• The line before us reads, in the original,
“That will be ere the set of sun.”
Steevens strikes out the as harsh and unnecessary. Any one who has an ear for the fine lyrical
1 WITCH. Where the place? 2 WITCH. Upon the heath: 3 WITCH. There to meet with Macbeth. 1 WITCH. I come, Graymalkin”: ALL. Paddock calls:—Anon.— Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air. [Witches vanish.
SCENE II.-A Camp near Forres. Alarum within.
Enter King DUNCAN, MALcol M, DoNALBAIN, LENox, with Attendants, meeting a bleeding Soldier.
DUN. What bloody man is that? He can report,
MAL. This is the sergeant,
SoLD. Doubtful it stood;
movement of the whole scene will see what an exquisite variety of pause there is in the ten lines of which it consists. Take, for example, the line
“There to meet with Macbeth;” and contrast its solemn movement with what has preceded it. But the editors must have seven syllables; and so some read
“There I go to meet Macbeth:”
* Graymalkin is a cat; Paddock, a toad. * Of is here used in the sense of with. * Quarry. So the original. The common reading, on the emendation of Johnson, is quarrel. We conceive that the original word is that used by Shakspere. In “Coriolanus' we have, “— I'd make a quarry With thousands of these quarter'd slaves, as high As I could pick my lance.” It is in the same sense, we believe, that the soldier uses the word quarry: the “damned quarry” being the doomed army of kernes and gallowglasses, who, although fortune deceitfully smiled on them, fled before the sword of Macbeth, and became his quarry—his prey.