Immagini della pagina

That kitchen'd me for you to-day at dinner :
She now shall be my sister, not my wife.

Dro. E. Methinks, you are my glass, and not iny brother;

I see by you, I am a sweet-fac'd youth.

Will you

walk in to see their gossiping?

Dro. S. Not I, sir; you are my elder.

Dro. E. That's a question: how shall we try it? Dro. S. We will draw cuts for the senior: till then, lead thou first.

Dro. E. Nay; then thus:

We came into the world, like brother and brother: And now let's go hand in hand, not one before






In the folio of 1623 THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, as it is there called, makes the seventh in the list of Tragedies. In modern editions generally, the Chiswick among others, it stands as first in the division of Histories; an order so clearly and entirely wrong as almost to make us regret having announced that it would be retained in this edition. Macbeth has indeed something of an historical basis, and so have Hamlet and Lear; but in all three the historical matter is so merged in the form and transfigured with the spirit of tragedy, as to put it well nigh out of thought to class them as histories; since this is subjecting them to wrong tests, implies the right to censure them for not being what they were never meant to be. In them historical truth was nowise the Poet's aim; they are to be viewed simply as works of art: so that the proper question concerning them is, whether and how far they have that truth to nature, that organic proportion and self-consistency which the laws of Art require. Wherefore, while adhering to our announcement, we feel bound to protest against Macbeth's being treated as in any sense an historical drama. The tragedy was never printed that we know of till in the folio, and was registered in the Stationers' books by Blount and Jaggard, November 8, 1623, as one of the plays "not formerly entered to other men." The original text is remarkably clear and complete, the acts and scenes being regularly marked throughout.

Malone and Chalmers agreed upon the year 1606 as the time when Macbeth was probably written; their chief ground for this opinion being what the Porter says in Act ii. sc. 3: Here's a farmer that hang'd himself on the expectation of plenty ;" and again, -"Here's an equivocator, that could swear in both scales against either scale; who committed treason erough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to Heaven." As 1606 was indeed a year of plenty, Malone thought the former passage referred to that fact; and that the latter had a direct reference to the

doctrine of equivocation avowed and maintained by Henry Garnet, superior of the order of Jesuits in England, at his trial for the Gunpowder Treason, March 28, 1606." These arguments, we confess, neither seem strong enough to uphold the conclusion, nor so weak, on the other hand, as to warrant the scorn which Mr. Knight has vented upon them. And, however inadequate be basis, the conclusion appears to be about right; at least no better one has been offered.

That Macbeth was probably written after the union of the three kingdoms, has been justly inferred from what the hero says in his Ist interview with the Weird Sisters, Act iv. sc. 1: "And some I see, that twofold balls and treble sceptres carry." James I came to the throne of England in March, 1603; but the English and Scottish crowns were not formally united, at least the union was not proclaimed, till October, 1604. That they were to be united, was doubtless well understood some time before it actually took place so that the passage in question does not afford a certain guide to the date of the composition. The most we can affirm is, that the writing was probably after 1604, and certainly before 1610; the ground of which certainty is from Dr. Simon Forman's "Book of Plays, and Notes thereof, for common Policy;" a manuscript lately discovered by Mr. Collier in the Ashmolean Museum. Forman gives a minute and particular account of the plot and leading incidents of Macbeth, as he saw it played at the Globe Theatre, April 20, 1610. The notice is too long for our space : some parts of it may be found in the notes, both curious in themselves, and valuable in reference to certain questions that have lately been raised.

In our notes to The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew we have referred to certain grounds for supposing the Poet to have been in Italy. The play in hand yields similar cause, in the accuracy of local description and allusion, for thinking he had been in Scotland. And in the latter case these internal likelihoods are not a little strengthened by external arguments. It hath been fully ascertained that companies of English players did visit Scotland several times during Shakespeare's connection with the stage. The earliest visit of this kind that we hear of was in 1589, when Ashby, the English minister at the Scottish court, wrote to Burleigh how my Lord Bothwell sheweth great kindness to our nation, using Her Majesty's Players and Canoniers with all courtesy." And a like visit was again made in 1599, as we learn from Archbishop Spottiswood, who writing the history of that year has the following: "In the end of the year happened some new jars betwixt the King and the ministers of Edinburgh; because of a company of English comedians whom the King had licensed to play within the burgh. The ministers, being offended with the liberty given them, did exclaim in their sermons against stageplayers, their unruliness and immodest behaviour; and in their sessions made an act, prohibiting people to resort unto their plays,

[ocr errors]

under pain of church censures. The King, taking this to be a discharge of his license, called the sessions before the council, and ordained them to annul their act, and not to restrain the people from going to these comedies: which they promised, and accordingly performed; whereof publication was made the day after, and all that pleased permitted to repair unto the same, to the great offence of the ministers."

This account is confirmed by the public records of Scotland, which show that the English players were liberally rewarded by the King, no less a sum than 8281. 5s. 4d. being distributed to them between October, 1599, and December, 1601. And it appears from the registers of the Town Council of Aberdeen, that the same players were received by the public authorities of that place, under the sanction of a special letter from the King, styling them "our servants." There, also, they had a gratuity of 32 marks, and the freedom of the city was conferred upon "Laurence Fletcher, Comedian to His Majesty," who, no doubt, was the leader of the company. That this was the same company to which Shakespeare belonged, or a part of it, is highly probable from the patent which was made out by the King's order, May 7, 1603, authorizing Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, and others, to perform plays in any part of the king


[ocr errors]

In this instrument the players are termed "our servants,' the same title whereby the King had recommended them to the authorities of Aberdeen. All which, to be sure, is no positive proof that Shakespeare was of the number who went to Scotland; yet we do not well see how it can fail to impress any one as making strongly that way, there being no positive proof to the contrary. And the probability thence arising, together with the interual likelihoods of Macbeth, may very well warrant a belief of the thing in question.

At the date of Shakespeare's Tragedy the story of Macbeth, as handed down by tradition, had been told by Holinshed, whose Chronicles first appeared in 1577, and by George Buchanan, the learned preceptor of James I., who has been termed the Scotch Livy, and whose History of Scotland came forth in 1582. In the main features of the story, so far as it is adopted by the Poet, hoth these writers agree, save that Buchanan represents Macbeth to have merely dreamed of meeting with the Weird Sisters, and of being hailed by them successively as Thane of Angus, of Murray, and as King. We shall see hereafter that Holished was Shakespeare's usual authority in matters of British history. And in the present case the Poet shows no traces of obligation to Buchanan, unless, which is barely possible, he may have taken a hint from the historian, where, speaking of Macbeth's reign, he says,- -"Multa hic fabulose quidam nostrorum affingunt; sed quia theatris aut Milesiis fabulis sunt aptiora quam historiæ, ea omitto." A passage which, as showing the author's care for the truth of what he wrote, perhaps should render us wary of trusting

too much in later writers, who would have us believe that, a waf of factions breaking out, Duncan was killed in battle, and Macbeth took the crown by just and lawful title. It is considerable that both Hume and Lingard acquiesce in the old account which represents Macbeth to have murdered Duncan and usurped the throne. The following outline of the story as told by Holinshed may suffice to show both whence and how much the Poet borrowed. Malcolm, king of Scotland, had two daughters, Beatrice and Doada, severally married to Abbanath Crinen and to Sinel, thanes of the Isles and of Glamis, by whom they had each a son, named Duncan and Macbeth. The former succeeded his grandfather in the kingdom; and, being of a soft and gentle nature, his reign was at first very quiet and peaceable, but afterwards, by reason of his slackness, greatly harassed with troubles and seditions, wherein his cousin, who was of a valiant and warlike spirit, did great service to the state. His first exploit was in company with Banquo, thane of Lochquaber, against Macdowald, who had headed a rebellion, and drawn together a great power of natives and foreigners. The rebels-being soon broken and routed, Macdowald sought refuge in a castle with his family, and when he saw he could no longer hold the place, he first slew his wife and children, then himself; whereupon Macbeth entered, and, finding his body among the rest, had his head cut off, set upon a pole, and sent to the king. Macbeth was very severe, not to say cruel, towards the conquered; and when some of them murmured thercat he would have let loose his revenge upon thein, but that he was partly appeased by their gifts, and partly dissuaded by his friends. By the time this troubie was well over, Sweno, king of Norway, arrived with an army in Fife, and began to slaughter the people without distinction of age or sex. Which caused Duncan to bestir himself in good earnest : he went forth with all the forces he could rally, himself, Macbeth, and Banquo leading them, and met the invaders at Culros, where after a fierce fight the Scots were beaten. Then Sweno, thanking he could now have the people for his own without killing thein, gave order that none should be hurt but such as were found in an attitude of resistance. Macbeth went forthwith to gathering a new power, and Duncan, having fled into the castle of Bertha, and being there hotly besieged by Sweno, opened a communication with him to gain time, and meanwhile sent a secret message to Macbeth to wait at a certain place till he should hear further. When all things were ready, Duncan, having by this time settled the terms of surrender, offered to send forth a good supply of food and refreshment to the besiegers; which offer they gladly accepted, being much straitened for the means of living: whereapon the Scots mixed the juice of mekilwort herries in the bread and ale, and thereby got their enemies into so sleepy a state that they could make no defence; in which condition Macbeth fell upon them, and cut them to pieces, only Sweno himself and ten others escaping to the ships. While the people were giving thanks

« IndietroContinua »