« ElőzőTovább »
ON THE CHARACTERS OF MACBETH AND RICHARD
We are now to attend Macbeth to the perpetration of the murder which puts him in possession of the crown of Scotland; and this introduces a new personage on the scene, his accomplice and wife : she thus developes her own character
Come, all you spirits,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell ! Terrible invocation! Tragedy can speak no stronger language, nor could any genius less than Shakspeare's support a character of so lofty a pitch, so sublimely terrible at the very opening.
The part which Lady Macbeth fills in the drama, has a relative as well as positive importance, and serves to place the repugnance of Macbeth in the strongest point of view ; she is in fact the auxiliary of the witches, and the natural influence which so high and predominant a spirit asserts over the tamer qualities of her husband, makes those witches but secondary agents for bringing about the main action of the drama. This is well worth a remark; for if they, which are only artificial and fantastic instruments, had been made the sole or even principal movers of the great incident of the murder, nature would have been excluded from her share in the drama, and Macbeth would have become the mere machine of an uncontrollable necessity; and his character, being robbed of its free agency, would have left no moral behind. I must take leave therefore to anticipate a remark, which I shall hereafter repeat, that when Lady Macbeth is urging her lord to the murder, not a word is dropped by either, of the witches or their predictions. It is in these instances of his conduct that Shakspeare is so wonderful a study for the dramatic poet. But I proceed
Lady Macbeth, in her first scene, from which I have already extracted a passage, prepares for an attempt upon the conscience of her husband, whose nature she thus describes
Yet do I fear thy nature;
To catch the nearest way. He arrives before she quits the scene, and she receives him with consummate address
-Great Glamis ! worthy Cawdor!
These are the very gratulations of the witches : she welcomes him with confirmed predictions, with the tempting salutations of ambition, not with the softening caresses of a wife
MacB. Duncan comes here to-night.
Shall sun that morrow see!
The rapidity of her passion hurries her into immediate explanation, and he, consistently with the character she had described, evades her precipitate solicitations with a short indecisive answer
We will speak further
His reflections upon this interview, and the dreadful subject of it are soon after given in soliloquy, in which the poet has mixed the most touching strokes of compunction with his meditations. He reasons against the villainy of the act, and honour jointly with nature assails him with an argument of double force :
He's here in double trust;
This appeal to nature, hospitality, and allegiance,
was not without its impression : he again meets his lady, and immediately declares
We will proceed no further in this business.
This draws a retort upon him, in which his tergiversation and cowardice are satirized with so keen an edge, and interrogatory reproaches are pressed so fast upon him, that catching hold in his retreat of one small but precious fragment in the wreck of innocence and honour, he demands a truce from her attack, and with the spirit of a combatant who has not yet yielded up his weapons, cries out
The words are no expletives; they do not fill up a sentence, but they form one. They stand in a most important pass; they defend the breach her ambition has made in his heart, a breach in the very citadel of humanity; they mark the last dignified struggle of virtue, and they have a double reflecting power, which in the first place shows that nothing but the voice of authority could stem the torrent of her invective, and in the next place announces that something, worthy of the solemn audience he had demanded, was on the point to follow-and worthy it is to be a standard sentiment of moral truth expressed with proverbial simplicity, sinking into every heart that hears it
I dare do all that may become a man,
How must every feeling spectator lament that a man should fall from virtue with such an appeal upon his lips ! Ούκ έστιν ουδεις, ο δεδoικως νομον.
PHILONIDFS. A man is not a coward because he fears to be unjust, is the sentiment of an old dramatic poet.
Macbeth's principle is honour; cruelty is natural to his wife; ambition is common to both : one passion favourable to her purpose has taken place in his heart; another still hangs about it, which being adverse to her plot, is first to be expelled, before she can instil her cruelty into his nature. The sentiment above quoted had been firmly delivered, and was ushered in with an apostrophe suitable to its importance : she feels its weight; she perceives it is not to be turned aside with contempt, or laughed down by ridicule, as she had already done where weaker scruples had stood in the way; but, taking sophistry in aid, by a ready turn of argument she gives him credit for his sentiment, erects a more glittering though fallacious logic upon it, and, by admitting his objection, cunningly confutes it
What beast was't then,
Having thus parried his objection by a sophistry