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CRITICAL OPINIONS ON JULIUS CÆSAR.
"The piece of ‘Julius Cæsar,' to complete the action, requires to be continued to the fall of Brutus and Cassius. Cæsar is not the hero of the piece, but Brutus. The amiable beauty of his character, his feeling and patriotic heroism, are portrayed with peculiar care. Yet the poet has pointed out with great nicety the superiority of Cassius over Brutus in independent volition and discernment in judging of human affairs ; that the latter, from the purity of his mind, and his conscientious love of justice, is unfit to be the head of a party in a state entirely corrupted ; and that these very faults give an unfortunate turn to the cause of the conspirators. In the part of Cæsar, several ostentatious speeches have been censured as unsuitable. But as he never appears in action, we have no other measure of his greatness than the impression which he makes upon the rest of the characters, and his peculiar confidence in himself. In this, Cæsar was by no means deficient, as we learn from history and his own writings ; but he displayed it more in the easy ridicule of his enemies than in pompous discourses. The theatrical effect of this play is injured by a partial falling off of the last two acts, compared with the preceding, in external splendour and rapidity. The first appearance of Cæsar in festal robes, when the music stops, and all are silent whenever he opens his mouth, and when the few words which he utters are received as oracles, is truly magnificent; the conspiracy is a true conspiracy, which, in stolen interviews and in the dead of night, prepares the blow which is to be struck in open day, and which is to change the constitution of the world ;-the confused thronging before the murder of Cæsar, the general agitation even of the perpetrators after the deed, are all portrayed with most masterly skill ; with the funeral procession and the speech of Antony, the effect reaches its utmost height. Cæsar's shade is more powerful to avenge his fall than he himself was to guard against it. After the overthrow of the external splendour and greatness of the conqueror and ruler of the world, the intrinsic grandeur of character of Brutus and Cassius is all that remains to fill the stage and occupy the minds of the spectators: suitably to their name, as the last of the Romans, they stand there, in some degree alone ; and the forming a great and hazardous determination is more powerfully calculated to excite our expectation, than the supporting the consequences of the deed with heroic firmness."-SCALEG EL. VOL. II.
“TE Tragedie of Macbeth " appears to have been first printed in the folio of 1623. The date of its composition is not determinable. Malone, from internal probabilities, satisfied himself that it must have been written not later than 1606: his chief grounds for this conviction being two passages in the Porter's soliloquy, Act II. Sc. 3:-"Here's a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty:" and, “Here's an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.” In the former passage he detects an allusion to the extreme cheapness of corn in 1606, as shown by the audit book of Eton College; the latter he maintains, with great ingenuity, to be a pointed reference to the doctrine of equivocation avowed by Henry Garnet, superior of the order of Jesuits, on his trial for the Gunpowder Treason, in the same year. But there is, perhaps, still stronger evidence for conjecturing this tragedy was produced very early in the reign of James I., in the apparent allusion to the union of the three kingdoms under that monarch in 1604, in the words,
" Some I see
The reference here can hardly be gainsaid, and it is certainly one not likely to have been introduced at a period at all remote from the event which it adumbrates. Still this is only surmise. The earliest tangible information regarding the chronology of “ Macbeth” is that it was acted at the Globe Theatre, on the 20th of April, 1610: a fact derived from the interesting MS. Diary of Dr. Forman (Mus. Ashmol. O.con.), which contains the following minute analysis of the plot :
" In Macbeth, at the Globe, 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women, Fairies, or Nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, Hail, Macbeth, King of Codor, for thou shalt be a King, but shalt beget no Kings, &c. Then, said Banquo, What! all to Macbeth and nothing to me? Yes, said the Nymphs, Hail to thee, Banquo; thou shalt beget Kings, yet be no King. And so they departed, and came to the court of Scotland, to Duncan King of Scots, and it was in the days of Edward the Confessor. And Duncan bade them both kindly welcome, and made Macbeth forthwith Prince of Northumberland; and sent him home to his own Castle, and appointed Macbeth to provide for him, for he would sup with him the next day at night, and did so.
" And Macbeth contrived * to kill Duncan, and through the persuasion of his wife did that night murder the King in his own Castle, being his guest. And there were many prodigies seen that night and the day before. And when Macbeth had murdered the King, the blood on his hands could not be washed off by any means, nor from his wife's hands, which handled the bloody daggers in hiding them, by which means they became both much amazed and affronted.