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Here then, up to this point, we have the supernatural influence determining the progress of the action with a precipitation which in itself appears almost supernatural; and yet it is in itself strictly consonant to nature. It works in and through human passions and feelings. It works through unbelief as well as through belief. It pervades the entire action, whether in its repose or in its tumult. When "the heavens' breath smells wooingly" in Macbeth's castle, we feel that it is as treacherous to the "gentle senses of Duncan as the blandishments of his hostess; and that this calm is but the prelude to that "unruly" night which is to follow, with its "lamentings" and its "strange screams of death." But this is a part of the poetry of the action, which keeps the horror within the bounds prescribed by a high art. The beautiful adaptation of the characters to the action constitutes a higher essential of the poetry. The last scene of the first act, where Macbeth marshals before him the secondary consequences of the meditated crime, and the secondary arguments against its commission,-all the while forgetting that the real question is that of the one step from innocence into guilt,-and where all these prudential considerations are at once overwhelmed by a guilty energy which despises as well as renounces them,-that scene is indeed more terrible to us than the assassination scene; for it shows us how men fall through their own weakness and the bad strength of others. But in all this we see the deep philosophy of the poet,- his profound knowledge of the springs of human action, derived perhaps from his experience of everyday crime and folly, but lifted into the highest poetry by his marvellous imagination. We know that after this the scene of the murder must come. All the preparatory incidents are poetical. The moon is down; Banquo and Fleance walk by torch-light; the servants are moving to rest; Macbeth is alone. He sees the air-drawn dagger" which leads him to Duncan; he is still under the influence of some power stronger than his will; he is beset with false creations; his imagination is excited; he moves to bloodshed amidst a crowd of poetical images, with which his mind dallies, as it were, in its agony. Half frantic he has done the deed. His passion must now have vent. It rushes like a torrent over the calmness which his wife opposes to it. His terrors embody themselves in gushing descriptions of those fearful voices that rang in the murderer's ears. Reproaches and taunts have now no power over hin :—

"I'll go no more:

I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on 't again, I dare not."

It is impossible, we think, for the poet to have more clearly indicated the mode in which he meant to contrast the characters of Macbeth and his wife than in the scene before us. It is a mistake to characterise the intellect of Lady Macbeth as of a higher order than that of her husband. Her force of character was stronger, because her intellect was less. She wanted that higher power which he possessed-the power of imagination. She hears no noises in that terrible hour but the scream of the owl and the cry of the crickets. To her,

In her view

The sleeping, and the dead,

Are but as pictures."

"A little water clears us of this deed."

We believe that, if it had not been for the necessities of a theatrical representation, Shakspere would never have allowed it to have been supposed that a visible ghost was presented in the banquetscene. It is to him who saw the dagger, and heard the voices cry 'sleep no more," and who exclaimed

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?"-

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it is to him alone that the spectral appearances of that "solemn supper" are visible. Are they not then the forms only of his imagination? The partner of his guilt, who looked upon the great crime only as a business of necessity,-who would have committed it herself but for one touch of feeling confessed only to herself,

"Had he not resembled

My father as he slept, I had done 't,”—

who had before disclaimed even the tenderest feelings of a mother if they had stood between her and her purpose, she sees no spectre, because her obdurate will cannot co-exist with the imagination which produces the terror and remorse of her husband. It is scarcely the "towering bravery of her mind,"* in the right sense of the word: it is something lower than courage; it is the absence of impressibility: the tenacious adherence to one dominant passion constitutes her force of character.

As Macbeth recedes from his original nature under the influence of his fears and his superstitions, he becomes, of necessity, a lower creature. It is the natural course of guilt. The "brave Macbeth' changes to a counterfeiter of passions, a hypocrite,

"O, yet I do repent me of my fury,
That I did kill them."

He descends not only to the hire of murderers, but to the slander of his friend to stimulate their revenge. But his temperament is still that of which poets are made. In his murderous purposes he is still imaginative :

"Ere the bat hath flown

His cloister'd flight; ere to black Hecate's summons,
The shard-borne beetle, with his drowsy hums,
Hath rung night's yawning peal,

There shall be done a deed of dreadful note."

It is this condition of Macbeth's mind which, we must again repeat, limits and mitigates the horror of the tragedy. After the tumult of the banquet-scene the imagination of Macbeth again overbears (as it did after the murder) the force of the will in Lady Macbeth. It appears to us that her taunts and reproaches are only ventured upon by her when his excitement is beginning. After it has run its terrific course, and the frighted guests have departed, and the guilty man mutters "it will have blood," then is her intellectual energy utterly helpless before his higher passion. Mrs. Jameson says of this remarkable scene, "A few words of submissive reply to his questions, and an entreaty to seek repose, are all she permits herself to utter. There is a touch of pathos and tenderness in this silence which has always affected me beyond expression." Is it submission? Is it tenderness? Is it not rather the lower energy in subjection to the higher? Her intellect has lost its anchorage; but his imagination is about to receive a new stimulant ::-

"I will to-morrow

(And betimes I will) unto the weird sisters:

More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,

By the worst means, the worst."

"He has by guilt torn himself live-asunder from nature, and is therefore himself in a preternatural state: no wonder, then, that he is inclined to superstition, and faith in the unknown of signs and tokens, and superhuman agencies." Coleridge thus notices the point of action of which we are speaking. But it must not be forgotten that Macbeth was inclined to superstition before the guilt, and that his faith in superhuman agencies went far to produce the guilt. From this moment, however, his guilt is bolder, and his will more obdurate; his supernatural knowledge stands in the place of reflection and caution. He believes in it, and yet he will do something beyond the belief. He is told to "beware Macduff;" but he is also told that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth." How does he reconcile this contrary belief?—

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We cannot dwell upon her

The retribution which falls upon Lady Macbeth is precisely that which is fitted to her guilt. powerful will is subjected to the domination of her own imperfect senses. terrible punishment. There can be nothing beyond the agony of

"Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

The vengeance falls more gently on Macbeth; for he is in activity; he is still confident in prophetic securities. The contemplative melancholy which, however, occasionally comes over him in the last struggle is still true to the poetry of his character :-

"Seyton!-I am sick at heart,

When I behold-Seyton, I say!-This push
Will cheer me ever, or dis-seat me now.
I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,

Curses not loud, but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not."

This passage, and the subsequent one of

"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death,"-

He was

tell us of something higher and better in his character than the assassin and the usurper the victim of "the equivocation of the fiend;" and he has paid a fearful penalty for his belief. The final avenging is a compassionate one, for he dies a warrior's death :

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"I will not yield,

To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou oppos'd, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last: Before my body
I throw my warlike shield."

The principle which we have thus so imperfectly attempted to exhibit, as 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.


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