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Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
To cry, hold, hold !"When she first hears that “ Duncan comes there to sleep” she is so overcome by the news, which is beyond her utmost expectations, that she answers the messenger, “ Thou’rt mad to say it :" and on receiving her husband's account of the predictions of the Witches, conscious of his instability of purpose, and that her presence is necessary to goad him on to the consummation of his promised greatness, she exclaims
“ Hie thee hither,
To have thee crowned withal.” This swelling exultation and keen spirit of triumph, this uncontrollable eagerness of anticipation, which seems to dilate her form and take possession of all her faculties, this solid, substantial flesh and blood display of passion, exhibit a striking contrast to the cold, abstracted, gratuitous, servile malignity of the Witches, who are equally instrumental in urging Macbeth to his fate for the mere love of mischief, and from a disinterested delight in deformity and cruelty. They are hags of mischief, obscene panders to iniquity, malicious from their impotence of enjoy. ment, enamored of destruction, because they are themselves unreal, abortive, half-existences, and become sublime from their exemption from all human sympathies and contempt for all human affairs, as Lady Macbeth does by the force of passion! Her fault seems to have been an excess of that strong principle of self-interest and family aggrandizement, not amenable to the common feelings of compassion and justice, which is so marked a feature in barbarous nations and times. A passing reflection of this kind, on the resemblance of the sleeping king to her father, alone prevents her from slaying Duncan with her own hand.
In speaking of the character of Lady Macbeth, we ought not to pass over Mrs. Siddons's manner of acting that part. We can conceive of nothing grander. It was something above nature. It seemed almost as if a being of a superior order had dropped from a higher sphere to awe the world with the majesty of her appearance. Power was seated on her brow, passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine ; she was tragedy personified. In coming on in the sleeping scene, her eyes were open, but their sense was shut. She was like a person bewildered and uncon. scious of what she did. Her lips moved involuntarily—all her gestures were involuntary and mechanical. She glided on and off the stage like an apparition. To have seen her in that character was an event in every one's life, not to be forgotten.
The dramatic beauty of the character of Duncan, which ex. cites the respect and pity even of his murderer, has been often pointed out. It forms a pioture of itself. An instance of the author's power of giving a striking effret to a common reflection, by the manner of introducing it, occurs in a speech of Duncan, complaining of his having been deceived in his opinion of the Thane of Cawdor, at the very moment that he is expressing the most unbounded confidence in the loyalty and service of Macbeth.
* There is no art
Was great a; a te," &c. Another passage to show that Shakspeare lemt sight of nothing that could in any way give relief or heightening to his subject, is the conversation which takes place between Banquo and Fleance immediately before the murder of Duncan.
“Banquo. How goes the night, boy?
Bax quo. Hold, take my sword. There's husbandry in heav'n,
“Light thickens and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood.”
“ Now spurs the 'lated traveller apace
MACBETH (generally speaking) is done upon a stronger and more systematic principle of contrast than any other of Shakspeare's plays. It moves upon the verge of an abyss, and is a constant struggle between life and death. The action is despe. rate, and the reaction is dreadful. It is a huddling together of fierce extremes, a war of opposite natures which of them shall destroy the other. There is nothing but what has a violent end or a violent beginning. The lights and shades are laid on with a determined hand; the transitions from iriumph to despair, from the height of terror to the repose of death, are sudden and startling ; every passion brings in its fellow-contrary, and the thoughts pitch and jostle against each other as in the dark. The bole play is an unruly chaos of strange and forbidden things, where the ground rocks under our feet. Shakspeare's genius bere took its full swing, and trod upon the farthest bounds of sature and passion. This circumstance will account for the abruptness and violent antitheses of the style, the throes and labor which run through the expression, and from defects will
to them into beauties. “So fair and foul a day I have not ran," &c. “ Such welcome and unwelcome news together." * Men's lives are like the flowers in their caps, dying or ere
“ Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” The scene before the castle-gate follows the appearance of the Witches on the heath, and is followed by a midnight murder. Duncan is cut off betimes by treason leagued with witchcraft, and Macduff is ripped untimely from his mother's womb to avenge his death. Macbeth, after the death of Banquo, wishes for his presence in extravagant terms. " To him and all we thirst," and when his ghost appears, cries out, ** Avaunt and quit my sight," and being gone, he is "himself again." Macbeth resolves to get rid of Macduff, that he may sleep in spite of thunder;" and cheers his wife on the doubtful intelligence of Banquo's taking of with the encouragement" Then be thou jocund: ere the bat has flown his cloistered flight; ere to black Hecate's summons the shard-born beetle has rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done a deed of dread. ful note." In Lady Macbeth's speech, "Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done 't," there is murder and filial piety together; and in urging him to fulfil his vengeance against the defenceless king, her thoughts spare the blood neither of infants nor old age. The description of the Witches is full of the same contradictory principle; they “rejoice when good kings bleed," " they are neither of the earth nor the air, but both; they should be women, but their beards forbid it;" they take all the pains possible to lead Macbeth on to the height of his ambition, only to betray him in deeper consequence, and after showing him all the pomp of their art, discover their ma. lignant delight in his disappointed hopes, by that bitter taunt, "Why stands Macbeth thus amazedly ?" We might multiply such instances everywhere.
The leading features in the character of Macbeth are striking enough, and they form what may be thought at first only a bold, rude, Gothic outline. By comparing it with other character of the same author we shall perceive the absolute truth and identity which is observed in the midst of the giddy whirl and rapid career of events. Macbeth in Shakspeare no more loses his identity of character in the fluctuations of fortune or the storm of passion, than Macbeth in himself would have lost the identity of his person. The genius of Shakspeare was as much
shown in the subtlety and nice discrimination, as in the force and variety of his characters. This distinction is not preserved more completely in those which are the most opposite, than in those which in their general features and obvious appearance most nearly resemble each other. It has been observed, with very little exaggeration, that not one of his speeches could be put into the mouth of any other character than the one to which it is given, and that the transposition, if attempted, might be always detected from some other circumstance in the passage itself. If to invent according to nature be the true definition of genius, Shakspeare had more of this quality than any other writer. He might be said to have been a joint worker with na. ture, and to have created an imaginary world of his own, which has all the appearance and the truth of reality. His mind, while it exerted an absolute control over the stronger workings of the passions, was exquisitely alive to the slightest impulses and most evanescent shades of character and feeling. The broad distinctions and governing principles of human nature are presented, not in the abstract, but in their immediate and endless applications to different persons and things. The local details, the particular accidents, have the fidelity of history without losing anything of their general effect.
It is the business of poetry, and indeed of all works of imagination, to exhibit the species through the individual. Otherwise, there can be no opportunity for the exercise of the imagination, without which the descriptions of the painter or the poet are lifeless, unsubstantial, and vapid. If some modern critics are right with their sweeping generalities and vague abstractions, Shakspeare was quite wrong. In the French dramatists only the class is represented, never the individual: their kings, their heroes, and their lovers are all the same, and they are all French, that is, they are nothing but the mouth-pieces of certain rhetorical, commonplace sentiments on the favorite topics of morality and the passions. The characters in Shakspeare do not declaim like pedantic school-boys, but speak and act like men, placed in real circumstances, with real hearts of flesh and blood beating in their bosoms. No two of his charac. ters are the same, more than they would be so in nature. Those