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Μ Α C Β Ε Τ Η.
This piece is perhaps one of the greatest exertions of the tragic and poetic powers, that any age, or any country has produced. Here are opened new sources of terror, new creations of fancy. The agency of Witches and Spirits excites a species of terror, that cannot be effected by the operation of human agency, or by any form or disposition of human things. For the known limits of their
capacities set certain bounds to our apprehensions ; mysterious horrors, undefined terrors, are raised by the intervention of beings, whose nature we do not understand, whose actions we cannot control, and whose influence we know not how to escape. Here we feel through all the faculties of the soul, and to the utmost extent of her capacity. The dread of the interposition of such agents is the most salutary of all fears. It keeps up in our minds a sense of our connection with awful and invisible spirits, to whom our most secret actions are apparent, and from whose chastisement, innocence alone can defend us. From many dangers power will protect; many crimes may be concealed by art and hypocrisy; but when supernatural beings arise, to reveal, and to avenge, guilt blushes through her mask, and trembles behind her bulwarks.
Shakspeare has been sufficiently justified by the best critics, for availing himself of the popular faith in witchcraft; and he is certainly as defensible in this point, as Euripides, and other Greek tragedians, for introducing Jupiter, Diana, Minerva, &c. whose personal intervention, in the events exhibited on their stage; had not obtained more credit, with the thinking and the philosophical part of the spectators, than tales of witchcraft among the wise and learned here. Much later than the age in which Macbeth lived, even in Shakspeare's own time, there were severe statutes extant against witchcraft.
Some objections have been made to the Hecate of the Greeks being joined to the witches of our country.
Milton, a more correct writer, has often mixed the pagan deities, even with the most sacred characters of our religion. Our witches' power was supposed to be exerted only in little and low mischief: this therefore being the only example where their interposition is recorded, in the revolutions of a kingdom, the poet thought, perhaps, that the story would pass off better, with the learned at least, if he added the celebrated Hecate to the weird sisters ; and she is introduced, chiding their presumption, for trading in prophecies and affairs of death. The dexterity is admirable, with which the predictions of the witches (as Macbeth observes) prove true to the ear, but false to the
hope, according to the general condition of all vain oracles. And it is with great judgment the poet has given to Macbeth the very temper to be wrought upon by such
suggestions. The bad man is his owu tempter. Richard III. had a heart that prompted him to do all, that the worst demon could have suggested, so that the witches would have been only an idle wonder in his story; nor did he want such a counsellor as Lady Macbeth: a ready instrument like Buckingham, to adopt his projects, and execute his orders, was sufficient. But Macbeth, of a generous disposition, and good propensities, but with vehement passions and aspiring wishes, was a subject liable to be seduced by splendid prospects, and ambitious counsels. This appears from the following character given of bim by bis wife:
Yet do I fear thy nature;
That wouldst thou holily; would'st not play false,
So much inherent ainbition in a character, without any other vice, and full of the milk of human kindness, though obnoxious to temptation, yet would have great struggles before it yielded, and as violent fits of subsequent remorse.
If the mind is to be medicated by the operations of pity and terror, surely no means are so well adapted to that end, as a strong and lively representation of the agonizing struggles that precede, and the terrible horrors that follow wicked actions. Other poets thought they had sufficiently attended to the moral purpose of the Drama, by making the furies
perpetrated crime. Our author waves their bloody daggers in the road to guilt, and demonstrates, that so soon as a man begins to hearken to ill suggestions, terrors environ, and fears distract him. Tenderness and conjugal love combat in the breasts of a Medea and a Herod, in their purposed vengeance. Per