Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

Shakespear has been fufficiently justified, by the best critics, for availing himself of the popular faith in witchcraft; and he is certainly as defenfible 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 wife and learned here. Much later than the age in which Macbeth lived, even in Shakeffcar's own time, there were severe 1tatutes extant against witchcraft.

Some objections have been made to the Hecate of the Greeks being joined to the witches of cur country.

Milton, a more correct writer, has often mixed the pagan deities, even with the most facred 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 Hocate to the weird fifters; and she is introduced, chiding their presumption, for trading in prophecies and affairs of death. The dexterity is adinirable, 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 own tempter. Richard Ill. 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 pro ects, and execute his orders, was sufficient. But Macbeth of a generous disposition, and good propenfities, but with vehement passions and aspiring wishes, was a subject

liable to be reduced by splendid prospects and ambitious countels. This appears froin the following character given of him by his wife:

Yet do I fear thy nature;
1: is too full o'th' milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldnt be great ;
Art not without ambition; but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouluft highly
That wouldst thou holily; wouldīt not play false,

And yet wouldst wrongly win. So inuch inherent ambition 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 fubfequent remorie.

If the inind 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 horyors that follow wicked actions. Other poets thought they had suihciently attended to the moral purpole of the drama, by making the furies pursue the perpetrated crime. Our author waves their bloody durgers in the road to guilt, and demonstrates, that so soon as a man begins to hearken to ill inggestions, terrors inviron, and fears distract him. Tenderness and conjugal love combat in the breasts of a Media and a Hirod, in their purposed vengeance. Personal affection ofien weeps on the threatre, while jealousy or revenge whet the bloody knife : but Macbeth's emotions are the struggles of conscience; his agonies are the agonies of remorse. They are lessons of justice, and warnings to innocence. I do not know that any drainaiic writer, except Shakespear, has set forth the pangs of guilt feparate from the fear of

punishment. Clytemnestra is repre ented by Eurifides, · as under great terrors on account of the murder of Agamemnon; but they rite fruin fear of

pun

shinent, not repontance. It is not the memory of the llitsinated husband, which haunts and terrifies her, but n appre

hension

henfion of vengeance from his surviving fon : when the is told Orestes is dead, her mind is again at ease. It must be alloived, that on the Grecian stage, it is the office of the chorus to moralize, and to point out, on every occasion, the advantages of virtue over vice. But how much less affecting are their animadversions than the testimony of the person concerned! Whatever belongs to the part of the chorus has hardly the force of dramatic imitation. The chorus is in a manner without personal character, or interest, and no way an agent in the drama. We cannot sympathize with the cool reflections of these idle spectators, as we do with the sentiments of the persons in whose circumstances and -fituation we are interested.

The heart of man, like iron and other metal, is hard, and of firm resistance, when cold; but, warmed, it becomes malleable and ductile. It is by touching the pallions, and exciting sympathetic emotions, not by fentences, that the tragedian must make his impreffions on the spectator. I will appeal to any person of taste, whether the following speeches of Wolley, in another play of Shakespear, the first a soliloquy, the second ad. dressed to his fervant Cromwell, in which he gives the testimony of his experience, and the result of his own feelings, would make the same impression, if uttered by a fet of speculative fages in the episode of a chorus. Moley. So farcwel to the little good you bear me !

Farewel, a long farewel to all my greatness !
This is the state of man ; to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope, to-niorrow blotroms,
And bears luis blushing honours thick upon him,
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a ripening, nips his root;
And then he falls, as I do. I have ventur’d,
Like little wanton boys, that swim on bladders,
Theie many summers in a fea of glory,
But far beyond my depth; my high blown pride
At length broke under me, and now has left me,
Weary and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude Itream, that must for ever hide me.

Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye
I feel my heart new open'd. Oh, how wretched
Is that poor man, that hangs on princes' favours !
There is, hetwixt that smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of princes, and our ruin,
More pangs and fears than war or women have :
And when he falls, he falls like Laccifer,

Never to hope again.
And in another place,

Let's dry our eyes, and thus far hear me, Cromwell;
And when I am forgotten, as I shall be,
And neep in dull cold marble, where no mention
Of me must more be heard, say then, I taugli chce,
Say, Wolicy, that once trod the ways of glory,
And founded all the depths and shoals of honour,
Found thee a way, out of his wreck, to rise in;
A sure and safe one, though thy master mils'd it.
Mark but my fall, and that which ruin'd me;
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition,
By that fin fell the angels; how can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to wir by't?
Love thyself last; cherith those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honestv.
Still in thy right-hand carry gentle peace,
To silence envious tongues, bejint, ard fear not.
Let all the ends, thou aim'st at, be thy country's,
Thy God's, and truth's; tiien if thou fall'it, o Cromuz,
Thou fall'It a blessed martyr. Serve the king;
And prythee, lead me in;
There take an inventory of all I have,
To the last penny, 'tis the king's. My robe,
And my integrity to heav'n, is all
I dare now call mine own. O Cromwill, Cromwel,
Had I but serv'd my God with half the zeal
I serv'd my king, he would not in mine age

Have left me naked to mine enemies. I felelt these two passages as containing reflections of such a general kind, as might be with leaft impropriety transferred to the chorus; but if even these would lose much of their force and pathos, if not spoken by the fallen ittesman, how much more would those do, which are the expressions of fome instantaneous emotion, occafioned by the peculiar fituation of the perfon Vol. III.

K

by whom they are uttered! The self-condemnation of a murderer makes a very deep impression upon us; when we are told by Macbeth himself, that hearing, while he was killing Duncan, one of the grooms cry God bless us, and Amen the other, he durft not say Amen. Had a formal chorus obferved, that a man in such a guilty moment, durst not implore that mercy of which he stood so much in need, it would have had but a flight effect. All know the detestation with which virtuous men behold a bad action. A much more falutary admonition is given, when we are shewn the terrors-that. are combined with guilt in the breast of the offender.

Our author has lo tempered the constitutional character of Macbeth, by infusing into it the milk of human kindness, and a strong tincture of honour, as to make the most violent perturbation, and pungent remorse, naturally attend on those steps to which he is led by the force of temptation. Here we must commend the poet's judgment, and his invariable attention to consistency of character ; but more amazing still is the art with which he exhibits the movement of the human mind, and renders audible the filent march of thought: traces its modes of operation in the course of deliberating, the pauses of hesitation, and the final act of decision; shews how reason checks, and how the paffions impel: and displays to us the trepidation that precede, and the horrors that pursue acts of blood. No species of dialogue, but that which a man holds with himself, could effe& this. The foliloquy has been permitted to all dramatic writers; but its true use seems to be understood only by our author, who alone has attained to a just imitation of nature, in this kind of self-conference.

It is certain, that men do no not tell themselves who they are, and whence they caine,' they neither narrate nor declaim in the solitude of the closet, as Greek and French writers represent. Here then is added to the drama an imitation of the most difficult and delicate kind, that of representing the internal process of the mind in reasoning and reflecting ; and it is not only a difficult,

but

« PreviousContinue »