Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

sions had betrayed him into a strange inconsistency of belief. As he persisted in supposing he could be destroyed by none of woman born, by what means did he think to destroy himself? for he was produced in the common way of nature, and fell not within the description of the only object that could end the being of Macbeth. In short, his efforts are no longer those of courage, but of despair, excited by self-conviction, infuriated by the menaces of an injured father, and confirmed by a presentiment of inevitable defeat. Thus situated,—“Dum nec luce frui, nec mortem arcere licebit,”— be very naturally prefers a manly and violent, to a shameful and lingering termination of life.

One of Shakspeare's favourite morals is—that criminality reduces the brave and pusillanimous to a level. “Every puny whipster gets my sword, (exclaims Othello,) for why should honour outlive modesty ?” “ Where I could not be honest, (says Albany,) I was never valiant;" Iachimo imputes his “want of manhood to the “heaviness and guilt within his bosom ;” Hamlet asserts that “ conscience does make cowards of us all;" and Imogen tells Pisanio “he may be valiant in a better cause, but now he seems a coward." The late Dr. Johnson, than whom no man was better acquainted with general nature, in his Irene, has also observed of a once faithful Bassa

“ How guilt, when harbour'd in the conscious breast,
“ Intimidates the brave, degrades the great !
“ See Cali, dread of kings, and pride of armies,

By treason levell’d with the dregs of men !
“ Ere guilty fear depress'd the hoary chief,
“ An angry murmur, a rebellious frown,

“ Had stretch'd the fiery boaster in his grave." Who then can suppose that Shakspeare would have exhibited his Macbeth with encreasing guilt, but undiminished bravery ? or wonder that our hero

“ Whose pester'd senses do recoil and start,
“ When all that is within him does condemn

“ Itself for being there,". should have lost the magnanimity he displayed in a righteous cause, against Macdonwald and the thane of Cawdor? Of this circumstance, indeed, the murderer of Duncan was soon aware, as appears from his asking himself the dreadful question

“ How is't with me, when every noise appals me?" Between the courage of Richard and Macbeth, however, no comparison in favour of the latter can be supported. Richard was so thoroughly designed for a daring, impious, and obdurate character, that even his birth was attended by prodigies, and his person armed with ability to do the earliest mischief of which infancy is capable. Macbeth, on the contrary, till deceived by the illusions of witchcraft, and depraved by the suggestions of his wife, was a religious, temperate, and blameless character. The vices of

the one were originally woven into his heart; those of the other were only applied to the surface of his disposition. They can scarce be said to have penetrated quite into its substance, for while there was shame, there inight have been reformation.

The precautions of Richard concerning the armour he was to wear in the next day's battle, his preparations for the onset, and his orders after it is begun, are equally characteristick of a calm and intrepid soldier, who possesses the wisdom that appeared so formidable to Macbeth, and guided Banquo's valour to act in safety. But Macbeth appears in confusion from the moment his castle is invested, issues no distinct or material directions, prematurely calls for his armour, as irresolutely throws it off again, and is more intent on self-crimination, than the repulse of the besiegers, or the disposition of the troops who are to defend his fortress. But it is useless to dwell on particulars so much more exactly enumerated by Mr. Whateley.

The truth is, that the mind of Richard, unimpregnated by original morality, and uninfluenced by the laws of Heaven, is harassed by no subsequent remorse. Repente fuit turpissimus. Even the depression he feels from preternatural objects, is speedily taken off. In spite of ominous visions he sallies forth, and seeks his competitor in the throat of death. Macbeth, though he had long abandoned the practice of goodness, had not so far forgot its accustomed influence, but that a virtuous adversary whom he had injured, is as painful to his sight as the spectre in a former scene, and equally blasts the resolution he was willing to think he had still possessed. His conscience (as Hamlet says of the poison) overcrows his spirit, and all his enterprizes are sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. The curse that attends on him is, virtutem videre, et intabescere relicta. Had Richard once been a feeling and conscientious character, when his end drew nigh, he might also have betrayed evidences of timidity—“there sadly summing what he late had lost ;" and if Macbeth originally had been a hardened villain, no terrors might have obtruded themselves in his close of life. Qualis ab incepto processerat. In short, Macbeth is timid in spite of all his boasting, as long as he thinks timidity can afford resources ; nor does he exhibit a specimen of determined intrepidity, till the completion of the prophecy, and the challenge of Macduff, have taught him that life is no longer tenable. Five counterfeit Richmonds are slain by Richard, who, before his fall, has enacted wonders beyond the common ability of man. The prowess of Macbeth is confined to the single conquest of Siward, a novice in the art of war. Neither are the truly brave ever disgraced by unnecessary deeds of cruelty. The victims of Richard, therefore, are merely such as obstructed his progress to the crown, or betrayed the confidence he had reposed in their assurances of fidelity. Macbeth, with a savage wantonness that would have dishonoured a Scythian female, cuts off a whole defenceless family, though the father of it was the only reasonable object of his fear.—Can it be a question then, which of these two personages would manifest the most determined valour in the field ? Shall we hesitate to bestow the palm of courage on the steady unrepenting Yorkist, in whose bosom ideas of hereditary greatness, and confidence resulting from success, had fed the flame of glory, and who dies in combat for a crown which had been the early object of his ambition ? and shall we allot the same wreath to the wavering self-convicted Thane, who, educated without hope of royalty, had been suggested into greatness, and yet, at last, would forego it all to secure himself by fight, but that flight is become an impossibility ?

To conclude; a picture of conscience encroaching on fortitude, of magnanimity once animated by virtue, and afterwards extinguished by guilt, was what Shakspeare meant to display in the character and conduct of Macbeth. Steevens.

Macbeth was certainly one of Shakspeare's latest productions, and it might possibly have been suggested to him by a little performance on the same subject at Oxford, before King James, 1605. I will transcribe my notice of it from Wake's Rex Platonicus : “ Fabulæ ansam dedit antiqua de regiâ prosapiâ historiola apud Scoto-Britannos celebrata, quæ narrat tres olim Sibyllas occurrisse duobus Scotiæ proceribus, Macbetho et Banchoni, et illum prædixisse regem futurum, sed regem nullum geniturum ; hunc regem non futurum, sed reges geniturum multos. Vaticinii veritatem rerum eventus comprobavit. Banchonis enim è stirpe potentissimus Jacobus oriundus." P. 29.

Since I made the observation here quoted, I have been repeatedly told, that I unwittingly make Shakspeare learned, at least in Latin, as this must have been the language of the performance before King James. One might, perhaps, have plausibly said, that he probably picked up the story at second-hand ; but mere accident has thrown a pamphlet in my way, intitled The Oxford Triumph, by one Anthony Nixon, 1605, which explains the whole matter: This performance,” says Antony,

first in Latine to the king, then in English to the queene and young prince :" and, as he goes on to tell us, “ the conceipt thereof the kinge did very much applaude.” It is likely that the friendly letter, which we are informed King James once wrote to Shakspeare, was on this occasion. FARMER.

Dr. Johnson used often to mention an acquaintance of his, who was for ever boasting what great things he would do, could he but meet with Ascham's Toxophilus *, at a time when Ascham's

was

Ascham's Toxophilus,] Mr. Malone is somewhat mistaken in his account of Dr. Johnson's pleasantry, which originated from an observation made by Mr. Theobald in 1733, and repeated

pieces had not been collected, and were very rarely to be found. At length Toxophilus was procured, but-nothing was done. The interlude performed at Oxford in 1605, by the students of Saint John's college, was, for a while, so far my Toxophilus, as to excite my curiosity very strongly on the subject. Whether Shakspeare, in the composition of this noble tragedy, was at all indebted to any preceding performance, through the medium of translation, or in any other way, appeared to me well worth ascertaining. The British Museum was examined in vain. Mr. Warton very obligingly made a strict search at St. John's college, but no traces of this literary performance could there be found. At length chance threw into my hands the very verses that were spoken in 1605, by three young gentlemen of that college; and, being thus at last obtained, " that no man" (to use the words of Dr. Johnson) “ may ever want them more," I will here transcribe them.

There is some difficulty in reconciling the different accounts of this entertainment. The author of Rex Platonicus says, adolescentes concinno Sibyllarum habitu induti, è collegio [Divi Johannis) prodeuntes, et carmina lepida alternatim canentes, regi se tres esse Sibyllas profitentur, quæ Banchoni olim sobolis imperia prædixerant, &c. Deinde tribus principibus suaves felicitatum triplicitates triplicatis carminum vicibus succinentes,-principes ingeniosa fictiuncula delectatos dimittunt.”

But in a manuscript account of the king's visit to Oxford in 1605, in the Museum, (MSS. Baker, 7044,) this interlude is thus described : “ This being done, he [the king) rode on untill he came unto St. John's college, where coming against the gate, three young youths, in habit and attire like Nymphes, confronted him, representing England, Scotland, and Ireland ; and talking dialogue-wise each to other of their state, at last concluded, yielding up themselves to his gracious government.” With this A. Nixon's account, in The Oxford Triumph, quarto, 1605, in some measure agrees, though it differs in a very material point ;

“ Tres

by him in 1740. See his note on Much Ado About Nothing, in his 8vo. edition of Shakspeare, vol. i. p. 410; and his duodecimo, vol. ii

. p. 12: “ „ and had I the convenience of consulting Ascham's Toxophilus, I might probably grow better acquainted with his history : " i. e. that of Adam Bell, the celebrated archer.

Mr. Theobald was certainly no diligent inquirer after ancient books, or was much out of luck, if, in the course of ten years, he could not procure the treatise he wanted, which was always sufficiently common. I have abundant reason to remember the foregoing circumstance, having often stood the push of my late coadjutor's merriment, on the same score ; for he never heard me lament the scarcity of any old pamphlet, from which I expected to derive information, but he instantly roared out—“Sir, remember Tib and his Toxophilus." STEEVENS.

for, if his relation is to be credited, these young men did not alternately recite verses, but pronounced three distinct orations : “ This finished, his Majestie passed along till hee came before Saint John's college, when three little boyes, coming foorth of a castle made all of ivie, drest like three nymphes, (the conceipt whereof the king did very much applaude,) delivered three orations, first in Latine to the king, then in English to the queene and young prince; which being ended, his majestie proceeded towards the east gate of the citie, where the townesmen againe delivered to him another speech in English.”

From these discordant accounts one might be led to suppose, that there were six actors on this occasion, three of whom personated the Sybills, or rather the Weird Sisters, and addressed the royal visitors in Latin, and that the other three represented England, Scotland, and Ireland, and spoke only in English. I believe, however, that there were but three young men employed; and after reciting the following Latin lines, (which prove that the weird sisters and the representatives of England, Scotland, and Ireland, were the same persons,) they might, perhaps, have pronounced some English verses of a similar import, for the entertainment of the queen and the princes.

To the Latin play of Vertumnus, written by Dr. Matthew Gwynne, which was acted before the king by some of the students of St. John's college on a subsequent day, we are indebted for the long-sought-for interlude, performed at St. John's gate; for Dr. Gwynne, who was the author of this interlude also, has annexed it to his Vertumnus, printed in 4to. in 1607:

“Ad regis introitum, e Joannersi Collegio extra portam urbis borealem sito, tres quasi Sibyllæ, sic (ut e sylva) salutarunt.

“ 1. Fatidicas olim fama est cecinisse sorores
“ Imperium sine fine tuæ, rex inclyte, stirpis.
“ Banquonem agnovit generosa Loquabria Thanum;
“ Nec tibi, Banquo, tuis sed sceptra nepotibus illæ
“ Immortalibus immortalia vaticinatæ :
“ In saltum, ut lateas, dum Banquo recedis ab aula.
“ Tres eadem pariter canimus tibi fata tuisque,
“ Dum spectande tuis, e saltu accedis ad urbem ;
“ Teque salutamus : Salve, cui Scotia servit ;
“ 2. Anglia cui, salve. 3. Cui servit Hibernia, salve.
“1. Gallia cui titulos, terras dant cætera, salve.
“2. Quem divisa prius colit una Britannia, salve.
“3. Summe Monarcha Britannice, Hibernice, Gallice,

salve.
“ 1. Anna, patens regum, soror, uxor, filia, salve.
2. Salve, Henrice hæres, princeps pulcherrime, salve.
“ 3. Dux Carole, et perbelle Polonice regule, salve.
“1. Nec metas fatis, nec tempora ponimus istis ;
“ Quin orbis regno, famæ sint terminus astra :
“ Canutum referas regno quadruplice clarum ;

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »