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And why do we ask any one of our readers to compare what cannot be compared?—why do we put one of the most divine conceptions of poetry side by side with the meanest interpretation of the most unimaginative feelings—equally remote from the verisimilitude of common life, as from the truth of ideal beauty? It is, as we have said before, because we feel unable to impart to others our own conceptions of the marvellous power of the ‘Lear” of Shakspere, without employing some agency that may give distinctness to ideas which must be otherwise vague. There is only one mode in which such a production as the ‘Lear’ of Shakspere can be understood—by study, and by reverential reflection. The age which produced the miserable parody of ‘Lear” that till within a few years has banished the ‘Lear’
of Shakspere from the stage, was, as far as regards the knowledge of the highest efforts of intellect, a presumptuous, artificial, and therefore empty age. Tate was tolerated because Shakspere was not read. We have arrived, in some degree, to a better judgment, because we have learnt to judge more humbly. We have learnt to compare the highest works of the highest masters of poetry, not by the pedantic principle of considering a modern great only to the extent in which he is an imitator of an ancient, but by endeavouring to comprehend the idea in which the modern and the ancient each worked. The Cordelia of Shakspere and the Antigone of Sophocles have many points of similarity; but they each belong to a different system of art. It is for the highest minds only to carry their several systems to an approach to the perfection to which Shakspere and Sophocles have carried them. It was for the feeblest of imitators, in a feeble age, to produce such parodies as we have exhibited, under the pretence of substituting order for irregularity, but in utter ignorance of the principle of order which was too skilfully framed to be visible to the grossness of their taste.
“THE Tragedie of Macbeth’ was first published in the folio collection of 1623. Its place in that edition is between ‘Julius Caesar’ and ‘Hamlet.” In the entry on the Stationers' register, immediately previous to the publication of the edition of 1623, it is also classed amongst the Tragedies. And yet, in modern reprints of the text of Shakspere, “Macbeth’ is placed the first amongst the Histories. This is to convey a wrong notion of the character of this great drama. Shakspere's Chronicle-histories are essentially conducted upon a different principle. The interest of “Macbeth’ is not an historical interest. It matters not whether the action
is true, or has been related as true: it belongs to the realms of poetry altogether. We might as well call ‘Lear” or ‘Hamlet ’ historical plays, because the outlines of the story of each are to be found in old records of the past. Malone and Chalmers agree in assigning this tragedy to the year 1606. Their proofs, as we apprehend, are entirely frivolous and unsatisfactory. The Porter says, “Here’s a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty:” the year 1606 was a year of plenty, and therefore “Macbeth’ was written in 1606. Again, the same character says, “Here's an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales, against either scale.” This passage Malone most solemnly tells us, “without doubt, had a direct reference to the doctrine of equivocation avowed and maintained by Henry Garnet, superior of the order of the Jesuits in England, on his trial for the Gunpowder Treason, on the 28th of March, 1606, and to his detestable perjury.” There is more of this sort of reasoning, in the examination of which it appears to us quite unnecessary to occupy the time of our readers. We have two facts as to the chronology of this play which are indisputable:—the first is, that it must have been written after the crowns of England and Scotland were united in one monarch, who was a descendant of Banquo: “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 stage-players, their unruliness and immodest behaviour; and in their sessions made an act, prohibiting people to resort unto their plays, under pain of the church censures. The King, taking this to be a discharge of his licence, 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 by Spottiswood is abundantly confirmed by some very curious entries in the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer and the Acts of the Privy Council, which are preserved in the Register House at Edinburgh. The Lord High Treasurer's accounts show that in October, November, and December, 1599, the large sum of 426/, was distributed among certain English comedians. The fortieth volume of the registers of the Town Council of Aberdeen contains some remarkable entries which show that in October, 1607, a company of players, specially recommended by the King, were paid a gratuity from the Corporation of Aberdeen for their performances in that town, one of them subsequently receiving the freedom of the borough; that they are called “the King's servants, who played comedies and stage-plays.” The circumstance that they are recommended by the King's special letter is not so important as the description of them as the King's servants. Thirteen days after the entry of the 9th of October, at which first period these servants of the King had played some of their comedies, Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty, is admitted a burgess of Guild of the borough of Aberdeen —the greatest honour which the Corporation
“Some I see That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry.”
The second is, that Dr. Forman has most minutely described the representation of this tragedy in the year 1610. The following extract from his ‘Book of Plays, and Notes thereof, for common Policy,” is copied by Mr. Collier from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library:“In “Macbeth, at the Globe, 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women, fairies, or nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, Hail, Macbeth, King of Coudor, for thou shalt be a king, but shalt beget no kings, &c. Then said Banquo, What, all to Macbeth and none to me? Yes, said the nymphs, Hail to thee, Banquo? thou shalt beget kings, yet be no king. And so they departed, and came to the court of Scotland, to Duncan, King of Scots, and it was in the days of Edward the Confessor. And Duncan bade them both kindly welcome, and made Macbeth forthwith Prince of Northumberland; and sent him home to his own castle, and appointed Macbeth to provide for him, for he would sup with him the next day at night, and did so. “And Macbeth contrived to kill Duncan, and through the persuasion of his wife did that night murder the king in his own castle, being his guest. And there were many prodigies seen that night and the day before. And when Macbeth had murdered the king, the blood
on his hands could not be washed off by any means, nor from his wife's hands, which handled the bloody daggers in hiding them, by which means they became both much amazed and affronted. “The murder being known, Duncan's two sons fled, the one to England, the other to Wales, to save themselves: they being fled, were supposed guilty of the murder of their father, which was nothing so. “Then was Macbeth crowned king, and then he, for fear of Banquo, his old companion, that he should beget kings but be no king himself, he contrived the death of Banquo, and caused him to be murdered on the way that he rode. The night, being at supper with his noblemen, whom he had bid to a feast (to the which also Banquo should have come), he began to speak of noble Banquo, and to wish that he were there. And as he thus did, standing up to drink a carouse to him, the ghost of Banquo came and sat down in his chair behind him. And he, turning about to sit down again, saw the ghost of Banquo, which fronted him, so that he fell in a great passion of fear and fury, uttered many words about his murder, by which, when they heard that Banquo was murdered, they suspected Macbeth. “Then Macduff fled to England to the king's son, and so they raised an army and came into Scotland, and at Dunston Anyse overthrew Macbeth. In the mean time, while Macduff was in England, Macbeth slew Macduff's wife and children, and after, in the battle, Macduff slew Macbeth. “Observe, also, how Macbeth's queen did rise in the night in her sleep and walk, and talked and confessed all, and the doctor noted her words.” Here, then, the date of this tragedy must be fixed after the accession of James I. in 1603, and before the representation at which Forman was present in 1610. Mr. Collier is inclined to believe that the play was a new one when Forman saw it acted. Be that as it may, we can have no doubt that it belonged to the last ten years of the poet's life. That Shakspere found sufficient materials for this great drama in Holinshed’s ‘History of Scotland’ is a fact that renders it quite unnecessary for us to enter into any discussion as to the truth of this portion of
the history, or to point out the authorities upon which the narrative of Holinshed was founded. Better authorities than Holinshed had access to have shown that the contest for the crown of Scotland between Duncan and Macbeth was a contest of factions, and that Macbeth was raised to the throne by his Norwegian allies after a battle in which Duncan fell: in the same way, after a long rule, was he vanquished and killed by the son of Duncan, supported by his English allies *. But with the differences between the real and apocryphal history it is manifest that we can here have no concern. There is another story told also in the same narrative, which Shakspere with consummate skill has blended with the story of Macbeth. It is that of the Murder of King Duff by Donwald and his wife in Donwald's castle of Forres —
“The king got him into his privy chamber, only with two of his chamberlains, who, having brought him to bed, came forth again, and then fell to banqueting with Donwald and his wife, who had prepared divers delicate dishes and Sundry sorts of drinks for their rear-supper or collation, whereat they sat up so long, till they had charged their stomachs with such full gorges, that their heads were no sooner got to the pillow but asleep they were so fast that a man might have removed the chamber over them sooner than to have awaked them out of their drunken sleep.
“Then Donwald, though he abhorred the act greatly in heart, yet through instigation of his wife he called four of his servants unto him (whom he had made privy to his wicked intent before, and framed to his purpose with large gifts), and now declaring unto them after what sort they should work the feat, they gladly obeyed his instructions, and, speedily going about the murder, they enter the chamber (in which the king lay) a little before cock's crow, where they secretly cut his throat as he lay sleeping, without any bustling at all; and immediately by a postern gate they carried forth the dead body into the fields. * * * * * Donwald, about the time that the murder was in doing, got him amongst them that kept the watch, and so continued in company with them all the residue of the night. But in the morning, when the noise was raised in the
* See Skene's ‘Highlanders of Scotland, vol. i. p. 116.
king's chamber how the king was slain, his body conveyed away, and the bed all beraid
with blood, he with the watch ran thither, as
though he had known nothing of the matter, and breaking into the chamber, and finding cakes of blood in the bed and on the floor about the sides of it, he forthwith slew the chamberlains as guilty of that heinous murder. * * * * * * For the space of six months together, after this heinous murder thus committed, there appeared no sun by day, nor moon by night, in any part of the realm, but still was the sky covered with continual clouds, and sometimes such outrageous winds arose, with lightnings and tempests, that the people were in great fear of present destruction.”
It was originally the opinion of Steevens and Malone that a play by Thomas Middleton, entitled ‘The Witch,' had preceded “Macbeth, and that Shakspere was consequently indebted to Middleton for the general idea of the witch incantations. Malone subsequently changed his opinion; for in a posthumous edition of his ‘Essay on the Chronological Order,’ he has maintained that ‘The Witch' was a later production than “Macbeth.’
There is an interesting point connected with the origin of “Macbeth,” namely, whether an actual visit to Scotland suggested some of the descriptions, and probably the very story of this tragedy. The question “Did Shakspere visit Scotland?” was first raised, in 1767, by William Guthrie, in his ‘General History of Scotland:” “A.D. 1599. The King, to prove how thoroughly he was now emancipated from the tutelage of his clergy, desired Elizabeth to send him this year a company of English comedians. She complied, and James gave them a licence to act in his capital and in his court. I have great reason to think that the immortal Shakspere was of the number.” Guthrie, a very loose and inaccurate compiler, gives no authority for his statement; but it is evidently founded upon the following passage in Archbishop Spottiswood's ‘History of the Church of Scotland, which the writer says was “penned at the command of King James the Sixth, who bid the author write the truth and spare not:”—
could bestow. He is admitted to this honour in company with a nobleman of France visiting Aberdeen for the gratification of his curiosity, and recommended by the King to be favourably entertained; as well as with three men of rank, and others, who were directed by his Majesty to accompany “the said Frenchman.” All the party are described in the document as knights and gentlemen. We have to inquire, then, who was Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty Assuredly the King had not in his service a company of Scotch players. In 1599 he had licensed a company of English comedians to play at Edinburgh. Fond as James was of theatrical exhibitions, he had not the means of gratifying his taste, except through the visits of English comedians. Scotland had no drama. “Lawrence Fletcher, comedian to his Majesty,” was undoubtedly an Englishman; and “The King's servants presently in this borough who play comedies and stage-plays” were as certainly English players. There are not many facts known by which we can trace the history of Lawrence Fletcher. He is not mentioned amongst “the names of the principal actors in all these plays,” which list is given in the first folio edition of Shakspere; but he undoubtedly belonged to Shakspere's company. The patent of James I., dated at Westminster on the nineteenth of May, 1603, in favour of the players acting at the Globe, is headed “Pro Laurentio Fletcher et Willielmo Shakespeare & aliis;” and it licenses and authorises the performances of “Laurence Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustine Phillippes, John Hemings, Henrie Condel, William Sly, Robert Armin, Richard Cowly, and the rest of their associates.” The connection in 1603 of Fletcher and Shakspere cannot be more distinctly established than by this document. The patent of James the First of England directed to Lawrence Fletcher, William Shakspere, and others, eighteen months after the performances at Aberdeen, is directed to those persons as “our servants.” It does not appoint them the King's servants, but recognises the appointment as already
existing. Can there be a reasonable doubt that the appointment was originally made by the King in Scotland, and subsisted when the same King ascended the English throne? Lawrence Fletcher was admitted a burgess of Guild of the borough of Aberdeen as comedian to his Majesty, in company with other persons who were servitors to his Majesty. He received that honour, we may conclude, as the head of the company, also the King's servants. We know not how he attained this distinction amongst his fellows, but it is impossible to imagine that accident so favoured him in two instances. The King's servant who was most favoured at Aberdeen, and the King's servant who is first in the patent in 1603, was surely placed in that position by the voice of his fellows, the other King's servants. William Shakspere is named with him in a marked manner in the heading of the patent. Seven of their fellows are also named, as distinguished from “the rest of their associates.” There can be no doubt of the identity of the Lawrence Fletcher, the servant of James VI. of Scotland, and the Lawrence Fletcher, the servant of James I. of England. Can we doubt that the King's servants who played comedies and stage-plays in Aberdeen, in 1601, were, taken as a company, the King's servants who were licensed to exercise the art and faculty of playing, throughout all the realm, in 1603? If these points are evident, what reason have we to doubt that William Shakspere, the second named in the licence of 1603, was amongst the King's servants at Aberdeen in 1601 | Every circumstance concurs in the likelihood that he was of that number recommended by the King's special letter; and his position in the licence, even before Burbage, was, we may well believe, a compliment to him who in 1601 had taught “our James” something of the power and riches of the English drama. These circumstances give us, we think, warranty to conclude that the story of Macbeth might have been suggested to Shakspere upon Scottish ground; that the accuracy displayed in the local descriptions and allusions might have been derived from a rapid personal observation; and that some
of the peculiarities of the witchcraft imagery might have been found in Scottish superstitions, more especially in those which are known to have been rife at Aberdeen at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
In Coleridge's early sonnet ‘to the Author of the Robbers,’ his imagination is enchained to the most terrible scene of that play; disregarding, as it were, all the accessories by which its horrors are mitigated and rendered endurable:—
“Schiller! that hour I would have wish'd to die, If through the shuddering midnight I had sent From the dark dungeon of the tower time-rent That fearful voice, a famish'd father's cry— Lest in some after-moment aught more mean Might stamp me mortal! A triumphant shout Black Horror scream’d, and all her goblin rout Diminish'd shrunk from the more withering
It was in a somewhat similar manner that Shakspere's representation of the murder of Duncan affected the imagination of Mrs. Siddons:—“It was my custom to study my characters at night, when all the domestic cares and business of the day were over. On the night preceding that on which I was to appear in this part for the first time, I shut myself up, as usual, when all the family were retired, and commenced my study of Lady Macbeth. As the character is very short, I thought I should soon accomplish it. Being then only twenty years of age, I believed, as many others do believe, that little more was necessary than to get the words into my head; for the necessity of discrimination, and the development of character, at that time of my life, had scarcely entered into my imagination. But to proceed. I went on with tolerable composure, in the silence of the night, (a night I can never forget,) till I came to the assassination scene, when the horrors of the scene rose to a degree that made it impossible for me to get farther. I snatched up my candle, and hurried out of the room in a paroxysm of terror. My dress was of silk, and the rustling of it, as I ascended the stairs to go to bed, seemed to my panic-struck fancy like the movement of a spectre pursuing me. At last I reached