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On the Tragedy are forced to pay external homage, is finely expreffed in the following words: Macb. I have liv'd long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the fear, the yellow leaf :
Which the poor heart would fain deny; and dare not. Toward the conclusion of the piece, his mind feeins te fink under its load of guilt! Despair and melancholy hang on his words! By his address to the physician, we perceive he has griefs that press harder on him than his eneinies: Macó. Canft thou not minister to a mind diseas'd;
Pluck from the memory a rooted forrow ;
Which weighs upon the heart ? The alacrity with which he attacks young Sirvard, and his reluctance to engage with Macduff
, of whose blood he says he has already had too much, compleat a chaFacter uniformly preserved from the opening of the fable, to its conclufion.-We find him ever answering to the first idea, we were made to conceive of him.
The man of honour pierces through the traitor and affaffin. His mind lofes its tranquillity by guilt, but never its fortitude in danger. His crinies presented to him, even in the unreal mockery of a vilion, or the harmless form of sleeping innocence, terrify him more than all his foes in arms. -It has been very justly observed by a late commentator, that this piece does not abound with those nice discriminations of character, usual in the plays of our author, the events being too great to admit the influence of particular dispolitions. It appears to me, that the character of Macbeth is also represented less particular and special, that his example may be of more universal utility. He has therefore placed him on that line, on which the major part of
mankind may be ranked, just between the extremes of good and bad; a station assailable by various temptations, and standing in need of the guard of cautionary admonition. The supernatural agents, in fome measure, take off our attention from the other characters, especially as they are, throughout the piece, what they have a right to be, predominant in the events. They should not interfere, but to weave the fatal web, or to unravel it; they ought ever to be the regents of the fable and artificers of the catastrophe, as the Witches are in this piece. To preserve in Macbeth a just consistency of character ; to make that character naturally susceptible of those desires, that were to be communicated to it; to render it interesting to the spectator, by some amiable qualities; to make it exemplify the dangers of ambition, and the terrors of remorfe ; was all that could be required of the tragedian and the moralist. With all the the powers of poetry he elevates a legendary tale, without carrying it beyond the limits of vulgar faith and tradition. The folemn character of the infernal rites would be very striking, if the scene was not made ludicreus by a mob of old women, which the players have added to the three weird sisters. The incantation is fo confonant with the doctrine of inchantments, and receives such power by the help of those potent ministers of direful superstition, the terrible and the mysterious, that it has not the air of poetical fiction so much as of a discovery of magical secrets ; and thus it feizes the heart of the ignorant, and communicates an irrefistible horror to the imagination even of the more informed spectator.
Shakespear was too well read in human nature, not to know, that, though reason may expel the superstitions of the nursery, the imagination does not so entirely free itself from their dominion, as not to re-admit them, if occasion presents them, in the very shape in which they were once revered. The first scene in which the Witches appear, is not so happily executed as the others. He has too exactly followed the vulgar reports
of the Lapland witches, of whom our failors used to imagine they could purchase a fair wind.
The choice of a story that at once gave countenance to King James's doctrine of dæmonology, and shewed the ancient destination of his family to the throne of Great Britain, was no less flattering to that monarch than Virgil's to Auguftus and the Roman people, in making Anchises fhew to Æneas the representations of unborn heroes, that were to adorn his line, and auge ment the glory of their commonwealth. It is reported, that a great French wit often laughs at the tragedy of Macbeth, for having a legion of Ghosts in it: One would imagine he either had not learnt English, or had forgotten his Latin; for the spirits of Banquo's line are no more Ghofs, than the representations of the Julian race in the Æneid; and there is no Ghoft but Banquo's in the whole play; Euripides, in the most philofophic and polite age of the Athenians, brings the shade of Polydorus, Priam's fon, upon the stage, to tell a very long and lamentable tale. Here is therefore produced, by each tragedian, the departed fpirit walking this upper world for causes admitted by popular faith. Among the ancients, the unburied, and with us the murdered, were supposed to do so. The apparitions are therefore equally justifiable or blameable ; fo the laurel must be adjudged to that poet who throws most of the sublime and the marvellous into the supernatural agent; best preferves the credibility of its intervention, and renders it most useful in the drama. There surely can be no difpute of the fuperiority of our countryman in these articles. There are many bombast speeches in the tragedy of Macbeth; and these are the lawful prize of the critic: but envy, not content to nibble at' faults, strikes at its true object, the prime excellencies and perfections of the thing it would depreciate. One should not wonder if a school-boy critic, who neither knows what were the superstitions of former times, or the poet's privileges in all times, should flourifh away, with all the raj dexterity of wit, upon the appearance of a ghoft; but:
it is strange a man of universal learning, a real and just connoisseur, and a true genius, should cite, as improper and absurd, what has been practised by the most celebrated artists in the dramatic way, when such machinery was authorized by the belief of the people. . Is there not reason to suspect from such uncandid treatment of our poet by this critic, that he
Views him with jealous, yet with scornful eyes,
The difference between a mind naturally prone to evil, and a frail one warped by the violence of temptations, is delicately distinguished in Macbeth and his wife. There are also some touches of the pencil, that mark the male and female character. When they deliberate on the murder of the king, the duties of host and subject strongly plead with him against the deed. She passes over these considerations; goes to Duncan's chamber resolved to kill him, but could not do it, because, she fays, he resembled her father while he slept. There is something feminine in this, and perfectly agreeable to the nature of the sex: who, even when void of principle,are seldom entirely divested of sentiment; and thus the poet, who, to use his own phrase, had overstepped the modesty of nature in the exaggerated fierceness of her character, returns back to the line and limits of humanity, and that very judiciously, by a sudden impression, which has only an instantaneous effect. Thus she may relapse into her former wickedness, and, from the same susceptibility, by the force of other impressions, be afterwards driven to distraction. As her character was not composed of those gentle elements out of which regular repentance could be formed, it was well judged to throw her mind into the chaos of madness; and, as the had exhibited wickedness in its highest degree of ferocity and atrociousness, fhe should be an example of the wildest agonies of remorse. As Shakespear could most exactly delincate the human mind, in its regular
State of reason, fo no one ever so happily caught its varying forms, in the wanderings of delirium.
The scene in which Macduff is informed of the murder of his wife and children, is so celebrated, that it is not necessary to enlarge upon its merit. We feel there, how much a just imitation of natural sentiments, on such a tender occasion, is more pathetic, than chosen terms and studied phrafes. As, in a former effay, I have made some observations on
our author's management of the Preternatural Beings, I forbear to enlarge further on the subject of the Witches : that he has kept closely to the traditions concerning them, is very fully set forth, in the notes of a learned commentator on his works.
This piece may certainly be deemed one of the best of Shakespear's compofitions: and though it contains fome faulty speeches, and one whole scene entirely absurd and improper, which art might have corrected or lopped away; yet genius, powerful genius only, (wild nature's vigour working at the root !) could have produced fuch strong and original beauties, and adapted both to the general temper and taste of the age in which it appeared.