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The critic of language will observe that here is a redundancy and crowd of metaphors; but the critic of nature will acknowledge that it is the very
truth of character, and join me in the remark which points it out.
In a tragedy so replete with murder, and in the display of a character so tortured by the scorpions of the mind, as this of Macbeth, it is naturally to be expected that a genius like Shakspeare's will call in the dead for their share in the horror of the scene. This he has done in two several ways: first, by the apparition of Banquo, which is invisible to all but Macbeth ; secondly, by the spells and incantations of the witches, who raise spirits, which in certain enigmatical predictions shadow out his fate; and these are followed by a train of unborn revelations, drawn by the power of magic from the womb of futurity before their time.
It appears that Lady Macbeth was not a party in the assassination of Banquo, and the ghost, though twice visible to the murderer, is not seen by her. This is another incident highly worthy a particular remark; for by keeping her free from any participation in the horror of the sight, the poet is enabled to make a scene aside between Macbeth and her, which contains some of the finest speakings in the play. The ghost in Hamlet, and the ghost of Darius in Æschylus, are introduced by preparation and prelude. This of Bạnquo is an object of surprise as well as terror; and there is scarce an incident to be named of more striking and dramatic effect: it is one amongst various proofs, that must convince every man, who looks critically into Shakspeare, that he was as great a master in art as in nature. How it strikes me in this point of view, I shall take the liberty of explaining more at length.
The murder of Duncan is the main incident of this tragedy; that of Banquo is subordinate. Duncan's blood was not only the first so shed by Macbeth, but the dignity of the person murdered, and the aggravating circumstances attending it, constitute a crime of the very first magnitude. For these reasons, it might be expected that the spectre most likely to haunt his imagination would be that of Duncan; and the rather, because his terror and compunction were so much more strongly excited by this first murder, perpetrated with his own hands, than by the subsequent one of Banquo, palliated by evasion, and committed to others. But when we recollect that Lady Macbeth was not only his accomplice, but in fact the first mover in the murder of the king, we see good reason why Duncan's ghost could not be called up, unless she, who so deeply partook of the guilt, had also shared in the horror of the appearance; and as visitations of a peculiar sort were reserved for her in a later period of the drama, it was a point of consummate art and judgment to exclude her from the affair of Banquo's murder, and make the more susceptible conscience of Macbeth figure this apparition in his mind's
other witness to the vision.
I persuade myself these will appear very natural reasons why the poet did not raise the ghost of the king in preference, though it is reasonable to think it would have been a much more noble incident in his hands than this of Banquo. It now remains to examine whether this is more fully justified by the peculiar situation reserved for Lady Macbeth, to whom I have before adverted.
The intrepidity of her character is so marked, that we may well suppose no waking terrors could shake it; and in this light it must be acknowledged a very natural expedient to make her vent the agonies of her conscience in sleep. Dreams have been a dramatic expedient ever since there has been a drama. Æschylus recites the dream of Clytemnestra immediately before her son Orestes kills her; she fancies she has given birth to a dragon :
This new-born dragon, like an infant child
This, which is done by Æschylus, has been done by hundreds after him; but to introduce upon the scene the very person, walking in sleep, and giving vent to the horrid fancies that haunt her dream, in broken speeches expressive of her guilt, uttered before witnesses, and accompanied with that natural and expressive action of washing the blood from her defiled hands, was reserved for the
original and bold genius of Shakspeare only. It is an incident so full of tragic horror, so daring, and at the same time so truly characteristic, that it stands out as a prominent feature in the most sublime drama in the world, and fully compensates for any sacrifices the poet might have made in the previous arrangement of his incidents.
• Shakspeare has not thought it necessary to hint to us the repressed yet agonizing struggles which Lady Macbeth must have endured, ere her mind, originally so daringly masculine and fearless, could have been subdued to these terrors of imagination. But it is evident, and it is a management worthy of Shakspeare, that the repression of her feelings in her waking state served but to render her, when volition was weakened by sleep, more assuredly the victim of horror, even unto death; for, atrocious as her character is, and apparently scarcely, if at all, susceptible of remorse, yet that some portion of humanity lingered in her heart, is placed beyond all doubt from the very striking trait which the poet has thrown in, in order to link her as it were to human nature, that of declining to execute the murder of Duncan herself, when she placed the daggers in his chamber, because he resembled her “ father as he slept.' This touch of tenderness is alone sufficient to render probable the almost unparalleled horror of the scene which precedes her dissolution.
The Observer, No. 57.
ON THE CHARACTERS OF MACBETH AND RICHARD
Macbeth now approaches towards his catastrophe. The heir of the crown is in arms, and he must defend valiantly what he has usurped villainously. His natural valour does not suffice for this trial : he resorts to the witches; he conjures them to give answer to what he shall ask, and he again runs into all those pleonasms of speech which I before remarked. The predictions he extorts from the apparitions are so couched as to seem favourable to him; at the same time that they correspond with events which afterwards
The management of this incident has so close a resemblance to what the poet Claudian has done in the instance of Ruffinus's vision the night before his massacre, that I am tempted to insert the passage :
Ecce videt diras alludere protinus umbras,