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RE-EMINENT, even among the tragic creations of
Shakspere, stands the magnificent “Macbeth;”its foundations deep in the darkest recesses of the human heart—its every buttress and pinnacle,
"jutty, frieze, and coigne of vantage,” radiant with the golden light that streams in prodigal abund
ance from the most poetic of imaginations. All the constituents of a perfect tragedy are here combined, with a degree of success never probably before attained, and certainly not since. In this great drama, we find incident ever changing, congruous, progressive, and interesting ; character richly diversified and exquisitely portrayed; dialogue teeming with every species of excellence; and, to crown all, moral teaching of the highest and purest tendency-not obviously obtruded, like the doctor's drench, but rapturously inhaled without an effort of the will, as the infant derives sustenance from the maternal bosom, unknowing of the great results to which its instincts are subservient. Philosophy delights to dwell on the profound thought, the practical wisdom, evolved from the speakers by the various exigences to which the progress of the plot in turn exposes them; Poetry
revels in contemplation of the priceless jewels here collected to enrich her treasury; while Religion, pointing to the guilt-struck murderer, “ listening the fear" of the sleeping grooms (conscious the while that he himself has slept his last), proclaims the poet her beloved ally; and reading her sternest lessons by the hallowed taper of fiction, needs no stronger evidence to warn the waverer from the lures of unholy and inordinate desire.
The “great argument” of “Macbeth” is derived from Holinshed's “History of Scotland." The story in itself is highly interesting, and has been expressly pointed out by Buchanan, as forming an eligible subject for the drama. The principal incidents on which the play is founded are briefly stated by the commentators, to this effect :-Malcolm II., King of Scotland, had two daughters, the eldest married to Crinan, father of Duncan (thane of the Isles and western parts of Scotland); and on the death of Malcolm without male issue, Duncan succeeded him. The second daughter of Malcolm married Sinel (thane of Glamis), the father of Macbeth. Duncan married either the daughter or sister of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, and was murdered by his cousin-german Macbeth, in the Castle of Inverness. According to Boethius, this event took place in 1045, in the seventh year of Duncan's reign. Macbeth then usurped the crown, and was himself slain by Macduff, in conformity with the play, in 1061 ; having thus reigned during the long period of sixteen years. Dramatic justice, however, required that punishment should overtake his crime with swifter wing. In the chronicle, also, Shakspere found hints for the terrific character of Lady Macbeth, who is represented as strongly instigating her husband to the destruction of his sovereign, and as a woman very ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a Queen.” With what surpassing power this rough material has been wrought upon, all can feel, but who can hope adequately to describe ?
“Macbeth” was first printed in the original folio (1623). It is generally supposed to have been written in or about 1606. Three years previously, James I. ascended the English throne ; and this circumstance possibly turned the poet's attention to Scottish history.
They smack of honour both.—Go, get him sur
geons. [Exit Soldier, attended.
SCENE II.-A Camp near Fores. Alarum within. Enter King Duncan, Malcolm, DonalBAIN,
Lenox, with Attendants, meeting a bleeding Soldier.
Dun. What bloody man is that? He can report,
Mal. This is the sergeant,
Sold. Doubtful it stood;
Dun. 0, valiant cousin! worthy gentleman!
Sold. As whence the sun 'gins his reflection Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break; So from that spring, whence comfort seemed to
come, Discomfort swells. Mark, King of Scotland,
mark: No sooner justice had, with valour arined, Compelled these skipping kernes to trust their
Dun. Dismayed not this
Who comes here?
Mal. The worthy thane of Rosse.
should he look
Rosse. God save the King !
Rosse. From Fife, great king,
Dun. Great happiness!
Rosse. That now Sweno, the Norways' king craves composition; Nor would we deign him burial of his men, Till he disburséd, at Saint Colmés' inch, Ten thousand dollars to our general use. Dun. No more that thane of Cawdor shall
deceive Our bosom interest.-Go, pronounce his present
Rosse. I 'll see it done.
Scene III.-A Heath.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches. 1st Witch. Where hast thou been, sister? 2nd Witch. Killing swine. 3rd Witch. Sister, where thou? 1st Witch. A sailor's wife had chesnuts in her
lap, And mounched, and mounched, and mounched:
“Give me," quoth I: “ Aroint thee, witch!" the rump-fed ronyon cries. Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o’the
2nd Witch. I'll give thee a wind.
Ist Witch. I myself have all the other;
2nd Witch. Shew me, shew me.
1st Witch. Here I have a pilot's thumb, Wrecked as homeward he did come.
[Drum within. 3rd Witch. A drum, a drum; Macbeth doth come.
AU. The weird sisters, hand in hand,
Speak then to me, who neither beg, nor fear,
1st Witch. Hail !
be none : So, all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!
1st Witch. Banquo and Macbeth, all hail ! Macb. Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me
more! By Sinel's death, I know I am thane of Glamis; But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives, A prosperous gentleman; and to be king Stands not within the prospect of belief, No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence You owe this strange intelligence; or why Upon this blasted heath you stop our way With such prophetic greeting.-Speak, I charge you.
[Witches vanish. Ban. The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, And these are of them. Whither are they vanished? Macb. Into the air; and what seemed corporal,
melted As breath into the wind. 'Would they had stayed. Ban. Were such things here as we do speak
Macb. Your children shall be kings.
Enter Macbeth and BanQUO. Macb. So foul and fair a day I have not seen. Ban. How far is 't called to Fores?—What are
these, So withered, and so wild in their attire; That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth, And yet are on 't?—Live you? or are you aught That man may question? You seem to understand
me, By each at once her choppy finger laying Upon her skinny lips. You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so.
Macb. Speak if you can : What are you? 1st Witch. All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee,
thane of Glamis ! 2nd Witch. All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee,
thane of Cawdor! 3rd Witch. All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be
king hereafter. Ban. Good sir, why do you start, and seem to
fear Things that do sound so fair ?-I' the name of
ye fantastical, or that indeed Which outwardly ye shew? My noble partner Ye greet with present grace, and great prediction Of noble having and of royal hope, That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not: If you can look into the seeds of time, And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Enter Rosse and Angus. Rosse. The King hath happily received, Mac
Ang. We are sent
Rosse. And, for an earnest of a greater honour, He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor: