Imágenes de páginas


Ist Murd. But who did bid thee join with us?
3d Murd.

2d Murd. He needs not our mistrust, since he delivers
Our offices, and what we have to do,
To the direction thus.”

It is precisely this feature of indecision—the indecision of a soul unhardened in guilt—which accompanies Macbeth throughout in his pursuit of the objects of his ambition, (so accurately in tune with the character given of him by his wife, which individualises that ambition, and renders it a quite different passion from that which actuates Richard. Richard's ambition renders him inflexible, reckless, insolent; Macbeth's allows him to be full of hesitation and compunction. Macbeth's ambition is scarce sufficiently potent to hold him to his purpose. He himself feels it to be thus inadequate; he owns, by one little sentence in soliloquy, that it requires urging and stimulating. He says:

“ I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition.”

Only vaulting ambition !” In that moment he confesses it to be insufficient to furnish him with arguments against those he had just admitted to be of force in withholding him from the act which should secure him the object of his ambition. It is this very betrayal of something imperfect in Macbeth's ambition, something which permits it to be touched and swayed by the workings of his feelings, that causes the character of Macbeth to take that strong hold upon our sympathies. It is because we behold in him a mirror of human frailty that it possesses so powerful an interest with us, and that we cannot find it in our hearts utterly to cast him out and condemn him. We cannot, unmoved, hear of the agitated betrayals of countenance which reveal Macbeth's inward struggles. What an awful picture is twice conveyed to us by the comments of his wife upon his appearance! One, the well-known passage

“Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men

May read strange matters.”

[ocr errors]

And the other is her remonstrance :

Come on!
Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial ʼmong your guests to-night !”

How horribly and palpably is thus presented to us the convulsed features and gloom of expression which paint the desperate tumult of the soul within !

As an instance of Macbeth's proneness to throw himself upon others for encouragement in his ambitious struggles, and of his want of complete self-reliance, may be noted his resorting to the witches in the 4th Act; seeking from their predictions fresh instigations to fresh deeds of cruelty and bloodshed. With all this minute detail in mental portraiture, Dr Johnson pronounces Macbeth to exhibit “no nice discriminations of character !"

Entirely different is the quality of Lady Macbeth's ambition and mind altogether. It requires neither encouragement nor "spur," as Macbeth's does. It is, with her, an ever-present, a paramount consideration. It suffices to absorb and obliterate all other feelings. It enables her to control her imagination, and to keep it ever fixed upon the one aim she has in view. It inspires her with courage to face and despise all contingent obstacles, and with firmness to supply that which she instinctively knows is deficient in her husband's nature. It has no hesitation, no vacillation, like his; “Con

it yields to no compunctious visitings of conscience. science" is to her an unknown tongue,- it is a sixth sense: she admits no nice casuistry of right and wrong. The object of her ambition must be obtained-come it how it may. Means are nothing to her ;-the end is everything. The means are merged in the end. It becomes to her a necessity, to which all other circumstances must give way. She neither sees nor will hear of any let or hindrance to the accomplishment of her purpose. She neither listens to the promptings of her own mind, nor to those of her husband. She has neither scruples, doubts of success, nor fears of consequence. She is in one blaze and sunlight of hope and exultation, when once the golden promise of her ambition shines fully before her. She unflinchingly fixes her gaze upon it-eagle-like; and never after suffers her imagination to be for one instant diverted or withdrawn. She no sooner beholds it as a possibility, than that very moment it becomes to her a certainty. Her first exclamation is :

[ocr errors]

“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; And shalt be what thou art promised."

The only thing wanting, she feels, is steadfastness in her husband; and this she knows she can supply. What energy, what grandeur in her invocation to him :

“ Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear!”

She sets herself the task of controlling and effectually stilling all weak misgivings that might have lingered within her, and is at once prepared to meet her lord with that resolute bearing which shall infuse its spirit into his :

"Great Glamis ! worthy Cawdor! Greater than both,-by the all hail hereafter !"

The words she uses in speaking of her guest and victim, King Duncan, are wonderfully characteristic, and carry with them a slight womanly redemption, which Shakespeare so well knew to convey.

She says to her husband :

“He that's coming
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night's great business into my despatch."

In the next scene, we note how closely she keeps her purpose in sight, and adheres to her plan of carrying it forward. Her eye has been fixed upon her husband-has noted the vacillations in him which she dreaded, and the conflict of mind which causes him to leave the supperchamber. She follows him, expostulates with him ; rises into remonstrance and reproach,—even into the bitterness of taunt:

“What beast was 't then, That made you break this enterprise to me?"

And when he falters out

“If we should fail ?”

she rejoins

“ We fail !
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we 'll not fail.”

Lady Macbeth neglects nothing which shall assure the accomplishment of her purpose. When the deed of murder is to be enacted, we find that she has not omitted to partake of the sleeping-cup- the posset - upon retiring to rest. Having then drugged the possets of the grooms, she enters upon the scene with these tremendous words :

“That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold; What hath quench'd them hath given me fire.”

This was a grand dramatic circumstance to introduce, illustrating the manners of the time; and singularly illustrative of the character of the woman, who disdains no means that may help to nerve and confirm her. Wonderfully in keeping, too, is her obtuse reply to her husband's agony of remorse, and affecting apostrophe to sleep :

[ocr errors][merged small]

Impressive indeed is the lesson the poet reads upon the fruits of a bad ambition reaped by unhallowed means in the after-career of Lady Macbeth. Not only has he presented us that terrible vision of her haunted and restless sleep; but even in the very first glimpse we have of her alone,-after she is crowned queen,-is there any triumph ? any satisfaction ?-Oh no!—sadness, discontent, despondency. This is her tone of musing :

“Naught's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content :
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy,
Than, by destruction, dwell in doubtful joy."

Inexpressibly affecting, and profound in its admonition, is the half envy of the murderous survivors for their victim. Macbeth, too, says

“ Better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our place, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless agony."

With all her energy, however, to screen and sustain her husband, where is her own spirit ? — Cast down—prostrate. She is capable of immense exertion while the pressure of necessity lasts ; during that excessive demand upon her,

« AnteriorContinuar »