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RE-EMINENT, even among the tragic creations of
Shakspere, stands the magnificent “Macbeth ;”its foundations deep in the darkest recesses of the human heart—its every buttress and pinnacle,
"jutty, frieze, and coigne of vantage,” radiant with the golden light that streams in prodigal abund
ance from the most poetic of imaginations. All the constituents of a perfect tragedy are here combined, with a degree of success never probably before attained, and certainly not since. In this great drama, we find incident ever changing, congruous, progressive, and interesting; character richly diversified and exquisitely portrayed ; dialogue teeming with every species of excellence; and, to crown all, moral teaching of the highest and purest tendency-not obviously obtruded, like the doctor's drench, but rapturously inhaled without an effort of the will, as the infant derives sustenance from the maternal bosom, unknowing of the great results to which its instincts are subservient. Philosophy delights to dwell on the profound thought, the practical wisdom, evolved from the speakers by the various exigences to which the progress of the plot in turn exposes them ; Poetry
revels in contemplation of the priceless jewels here collected to enrich her treasury; while Religion, pointing to the guilt-struck murderer, "listening the fear” of the sleeping grooms (conscious the while that he himself has slept his last), proclaims the poet her beloved ally; and reading her sternest lessons by the hallowed taper of fiction, needs no stronger evidence to warn the waverer from the lures of unholy and inordinate desire.
The “great argument” of “Macbeth” is derived from Holinshed's “HISTORY of Scotland." The story in itself is highly interesting, and has been expressly pointed out by Buchanan, as forming an eligible subject for the drama. The principal incidents on which the play is founded are briefly stated by the commentators, to this effect :-Malcolm II., King of Scotland, had two daughters, the eldest married to Crinan, father of Duncan (thane of the Isles and western parts of Scotland); and on the death of Malcolm without male issue, Duncan succeeded him. The second daughter of Malcolm married Sinel (thane of Glamis), the father of Macbeth. Duncan married either the daughter or sister of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, and was murdered by his cousin-german Macbeth, in the Castle of Inverness. According to Boethius, this event took place in 1045, in the seventh year of Duncan's reign. Macbeth then usurped the crown, and was himself slain by Macduff, in conformity with the play, in 1061 ; having thus reigned during the long period of sixteen years. Dramatic justice, however, required that punishment should overtake his crime with swifter wing. In the chronicle, also, Shakspere found hints for the terrific character of Lady Macbeth, who is represented as strongly instigating her husband to the destruction of his sovereign, and as a woman “very ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to bear the name of a Queen.” With what surpassing power this rough material has been wrought upon, all can feel, but who can hope adequately to describe ?
"Macbeth” was first printed in the original folio (1623). It is generally supposed to have been written in or about 1606. Three years previously, James I. ascended the English throne; and this circumstance possibly turned the poet's attention to Scottish history.