페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

—or that he has not hitherto succeeded in gaining succours from the chiefs among whom he sojourns, as Malcolm,

"Who is received of the most pious Edward with such grace."

The author, therefore, obviously meant that Macbeth drew to himself these excitements, that they found in him a susceptibility and readiness for compliance, that he tempted the temptation! And what a fitting and solemn lesson, as well as natural and horrible example, are set before us! The hags might have prophesied in vain, had not Macbeth prepared his heart for their vaticination. He sowed the seeds, they could but encourage their growth. He collected the embers, they could but blow them to a flame. The first sinful thought was spontaneous, and they but drew it forth and flattered it. So is it! Vice provokes its destiny. The ministers of seduction are not far off, nor are their instruments, when we betray the appetite, and muse the purpose, of any ill. The dramatic picture is of one who attracts to himself the accessories of crime, of him who woos his ruin! "The firstlings" are "of his heart."

It is impossible not to shudder at the recital of Duncan's death. The assassin glares before us with his daggers steeped in gore. The castle rocks with the storm, the sky shoots with portents, nature heaves with wild commotions. But more terrible than all, the She-wolf prowls along, listens undismayed to every sound, and thirsts to lap the life-blood.

"I laid their daggers ready."

What has ambition turned this woman into! The scene is more exciting, with its omens, its noises, its hushings, its sudden wakings and relapsing slumbers, its ring of laughter and cry of violence in sleep, until the sleepers rouse each other, their solemn commendation of themselves to prayer and repose,-than even of the Electra, where she exclaims to Orestes, on hearing the shrick of her cruel mother, Παισον σε σθενείς, διπλην. We follow Lady Macbeth, after she has snatched the daggers from her husband who will "go no more," into the chamber where lies the slaughtered king, and see her take her handfuls of his

yet flowing blood, to stain the faces of his attendants. She has felt no remorse. The monster is far more ravening than her mate. He in the mean while, though conscience-stricken, pursues his reeking cruelty. The next secret he will not disclose even to her. He is not weary of blood-shed, though scared by its spectre, and haunted by its voice. And it may not have been marked, with what anguish he visions to himself that sleeplessness of guilt with which he has been threatened, so true a prediction of those stern vigils of an evil conscience respecting which he afterwards complains. The peculiarity consists in his stripping from him title after title, as though each had brought down upon him this curse. Thus divested, he looks upon his naked self, and feels that the curse clings to him still. What a description! What a searching, all embracing, doom!

"Methought I heard a voice cry, Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep;
Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

This is one terrible wakefulness to which no fiction offers a momentary relief. And if the sense for an instant shuts, the reality only is the more concentrated. The outer light is excluded to make more distinct the hell within.

"But let

The frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,
E'er

we will sleep

In the affliction of these terrible dreams

That shake us nightly."

The malison is fulfilled as though the palpebra of the eye were cut away, and the life were fretted into one irritation. His fever

ever burns.

His frame ever writhes. His conscience, still most

disquiet, tosses to and fro,

"Sleep no more."

On the tortures of the mind he lies,

In restless ecstacy:"

He envies the dead for their repose:

→ Duncan is in his grave, He sleeps well."

The cruel wife, smitten with the same imprecation,-walking in her sleep, sighing over her guilt in broken words,-leaves all tragic character in the shade. We might suppose that the Clytemnestra of Eschylus and Sophocles would be the nearest parallel. The Chorus in the Choephoroi of the former gives a description of her terrors and her dreams. She has commanded lamps to be kept lighted always in her chamber. She thinks that a dragon is born of her, who sucks from her breasts clotted blood. So in the Electra of the latter, Chrysothemis narrates another dream which appals the adulterate murderess. But how more sublime is it that Scotland's demon-queen should act and unfold her appalling trance! Somnambulism is the very restlessness we might expect. She is a troubled spirit. Guilt of such an order, pent up in such a bosom, wrings out its confession. Her never-failing self-command, her caution, her dissimulation, cannot now avail. How she could preside at the feast! How she could fawn at her monarch's feet, and gracefully dispense her favours and her smiles among her lordly guests! How she could

"Keep her state !"

But now she enunciates a conscience too energised for restraint. So the wicked have often shrunk from sleep. They could not rule their visions as they might their waking thoughts.

"Perchance to dream."

Phantasies, but faithful to some dread truth, then held their sway. Interminable perspectives opened before them. Hands have come forth from shrouded forms, and been brandished

against them. Accents, wailing and accusing, have pierced their ears. All has wavered with fear and swam in blood. Shapes were new with some unaltered likeness and some familiar voice. Fancy has shifted the combinations, but has left more hideous all the facts. Imagination has wrought all the fearful story into a tragedy, and bound the "guilty creature" to behold it slowly and climactericly performed. And what must have been her pictures, all independent of her, but which only she had drawn! Duncan's welling, gurgling, wounds! The frantic shrieks of Macduff's wife and all "his pretty ones!"

"Physician. Look how she rubs her hands."

“Gentlewoman. It is an accustomed action with her to seem thus washing her hands; I have known her continue in this a quarter of an hour." "Lady Macbeth.-Yet here's a spot.”

This is not only most transcendent in itself, but is in strictest congruity with all the previous scenes. For it will be remembered that when she hails her lord, reeking from the murder, (who, in the distraction of his mind, has brought away with him the daggers he was to have laid near the servants of “the most sainted king," as proofs against them,) she exclaims,

"If he do bleed,

I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,

For it must seem their guilt."

Hark! to her guilty acknowledgment in this walking dream! "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him !” She had rejoined to her blood-stained Thane,—

"A little water clears us of this deed:

How easy is it then!"

Hark! to the betrayal of her discomfited assurance !

"What will these hands ne'er be clean?

[ocr errors]

Here's the smell of the

blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand."

There is not the slightest ground to suppose that Shakspeare intended her insane. It is life realised to "the inward parts:" memory is but verified in all its impressions, and judgment but illuminated in all its convictions. It would be madness not

to think and feel as she actually does. There is no hallucination, no wayward thought. Most escape the past, to her it is inextricable. Its shadow is not only ever round about her, it is a present thing. Once she said,

"I feel the future in the instant;"

in the instant is now crowded, and lives, all the past. Malcolm could have no knowledge that she

"By self and violent hands took off her life."

The physician has ordered to be

"Removed from her the means of all annoyance."

She is inwardly consumed. No dew of sleep is on her eye-lid. No sweet oblivion soothes her spirit. She "sleeps no more.” The one curse of the House is upon her :

"Thick-coming fancies keep her from her rest."

The Sorcery of the play agrees to the superstitions of that distant age; it was scarcely exploded in the times of our bard. He very ingeniously connects it with the Classical Mythology, subordinating the witches to Hecate. The cave of Acheron is, as by her spell, brought near, or all by the enchantment are hurried thither. And there is consistency in this. For in the soliloquy of Macbeth, ere the bell is struck, he says:

"Now witchcraft celebrates

Pale Hecate's offerings."

No power is so changeful as this. It is celestial and infernal. It is Diana, that Panonym and Multiform. She bears spirits from Earth to Hades. She is the authority of all incantations. She presides over all magic rites.

"She is the mistress of these charms."

This not only raises such supernatural machinery, but the attendant circumstances correspond in elevation. There is the desert wild, over which the returning conquerors pass when they are accosted by these unearthly welcomers, we are transported to the awful den with its seething cauldron and its filthy ingre

« 이전계속 »