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THIS play (says Johnson) is deservedly celebrated for the propriety of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of its action, but it has no nice discriminations of character ; the events are too great to admit the influence of particular disp(Sitions, and the course of the action necessarily determines the the conduct of the agents.
The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may not be said in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that, in Shakespear's time, it was necessary to warn credulity against vain and illusive predictions.
The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Mactail is merely detested ; and though the courage of Macbosh preserves fome estccm, yet every Reader rejoices at his fall.
HIS piece is perhaps one of the greatest exer
tions of the tragic and poetic powers, that any age, or any country has produced. Here are opened new sources of terror, new creations of fancy. The agency
of witches and spirits excites a species of terror, that cannot be effected by the operation of human agency, or by any form or disposition of human things. For the known limits of their powers and capacities fet certain bounds to our apprehensions ; mysterious horrors, undefined terrors, are raised by the intervention of beings, whose nature we do not understand, whose actions we cannot control, and whose influence we know not how to escape. Here we feel through all the faculties of the soul, and to the utmost extent of her capacity. The dread of the interposition of such agents is the most falutary of all fears. It keeps up in our minds a sense of our connection with awful and invisible fpirits, to whom our most secret actions are apparent, and from whose chastisement, innocence alone can defend us. From many dangers power will protect; many crimes may be concealed by art and hypocrisy; but when supernatural beings arile, to reveal, and to avenge, guilt blushes through her mask, and trembles behind her bulwarks.
Shakespear has been fufficiently justified, by the best critics, for availing himself of the popular faith in witchcraft; and he is certainly as defenfible in this point, as Euripides, and other Greek tragedians, for introducing Jupiter, Diana, Minerva, &c. whose personal intervention, in the events exhibited on their stage, had not obtained more credit, with the thinking and the philosophical part of the spectators, than tales of witchcraft among the wife and learned here. Much later than the age in which Macbeth lived, even in Shakeffcar's own time, there were severe 1tatutes extant against witchcraft.
Some objections have been made to the Hecate of the Greeks being joined to the witches of cur country.
Milton, a more correct writer, has often mixed the pagan deities, even with the most facred characters of our religion. Our witches' power was supposed to be exerted only in little and low mischief: this therefore being the only example where their interposition is recorded, in the revolutions of a kingdom, the poet thought, perhaps, that the story would pass off better, with the learned at least, if he added the celebrated Hocate to the weird fifters; and she is introduced, chiding their presumption, for trading in prophecies and affairs of death. The dexterity is adinirable, with which the predictions of the witches (as Macbeth observes) prove true to the ear, but false to the hope, according to the general condition of all vain oracles. And it is with great judgment the poet has given to Macbeth the very temper to be wrought upon by such suggestions. The bad man is his own tempter. Richard Ill. had a heart that prompted him to do all, that the worst demon could have suggested, so that the witches would have been only an idle wonder in his story; nor did he want such a counsellor as Lady Macbeth: a ready instrument like Buckingham, to adopt his pro ects, and execute his orders, was sufficient. But Macbeth of a generous disposition, and good propenfities, but with vehement passions and aspiring wishes, was a subject
liable to be reduced by splendid prospects and ambitious countels. This appears froin the following character given of him by his wife:
Yet do I fear thy nature;
And yet wouldst wrongly win. So inuch inherent ambition in a character, without any other vice, and full of the milk of human kindness, though obnoxious to temptation, yet would have great struggles before it yielded, and as violent fits of fubfequent remorie.
If the inind is to be medicated by the operations of pity and terror, surely no means are so well adapted to that end, as a strong and lively representation of the agonizing struggles that precede, and the terrible horyors that follow wicked actions. Other poets thought they had suihciently attended to the moral purpole of the drama, by making the furies pursue the perpetrated crime. Our author waves their bloody durgers in the road to guilt, and demonstrates, that so soon as a man begins to hearken to ill inggestions, terrors inviron, and fears distract him. Tenderness and conjugal love combat in the breasts of a Media and a Hirod, in their purposed vengeance. Personal affection ofien weeps on the threatre, while jealousy or revenge whet the bloody knife : but Macbeth's emotions are the struggles of conscience; his agonies are the agonies of remorse. They are lessons of justice, and warnings to innocence. I do not know that any drainaiic writer, except Shakespear, has set forth the pangs of guilt feparate from the fear of
punishment. Clytemnestra is repre ented by Eurifides, · as under great terrors on account of the murder of Agamemnon; but they rite fruin fear of
shinent, not repontance. It is not the memory of the llitsinated husband, which haunts and terrifies her, but n appre
henfion of vengeance from his surviving fon : when the is told Orestes is dead, her mind is again at ease. It must be alloived, that on the Grecian stage, it is the office of the chorus to moralize, and to point out, on every occasion, the advantages of virtue over vice. But how much less affecting are their animadversions than the testimony of the person concerned! Whatever belongs to the part of the chorus has hardly the force of dramatic imitation. The chorus is in a manner without personal character, or interest, and no way an agent in the drama. We cannot sympathize with the cool reflections of these idle spectators, as we do with the sentiments of the persons in whose circumstances and -fituation we are interested.
The heart of man, like iron and other metal, is hard, and of firm resistance, when cold; but, warmed, it becomes malleable and ductile. It is by touching the pallions, and exciting sympathetic emotions, not by fentences, that the tragedian must make his impreffions on the spectator. I will appeal to any person of taste, whether the following speeches of Wolley, in another play of Shakespear, the first a soliloquy, the second ad. dressed to his fervant Cromwell, in which he gives the testimony of his experience, and the result of his own feelings, would make the same impression, if uttered by a fet of speculative fages in the episode of a chorus. Moley. So farcwel to the little good you bear me !
Farewel, a long farewel to all my greatness !