Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

II. Black spirits and white, red spirits and gray,
Mingle, mingle, mingle, you that mingle may.

Titty, Tiffin,

Keep it stiff in ;

Firedrake, Puckey,

Make it lucky;

Liard, Robin,

You must bob in.

Round, around, around, about, about!

All ill come running in, all good keep out.

It seems fairly certain that Middleton, who frequently wrote plays for Shakespeare's company, was invited by the actors to touch up Macbeth for some revival which took place between the date of Shakespeare's leaving London and the publication of the Folio. By way of increasing the attractiveness of the play Middleton inserted in it these two songs from his own unpublished Witch, and a marginal direction for this insertion in the playhouse manuscript of the drama was reproduced in the first printed copy of Macbeth.

1 The name of another witch, as are those of Puckle, Hoppo, and Hellwain.

There has been much dispute as to the extent of Middleton's interference with the original form of Macbeth. Some critics suppose him to have made extensive cuts; but there is no evidence of this. It has also been stated that Middleton added several scenes of his own composition; i. 2; i. 3. 1-37; ii. 3. 1-46; and v. 2, for example, have been assigned to him. But there is no good reason for this statement, and the general consensus of scholars limits Middleton's additions, apart from the songs, to one scene, iii. 5, and a few lines in another, iv. 1. 39-49, and 125-132.

The reasons for assigning these passages to Middleton may be briefly stated. Hecate, who appears in iii. 5, is a prominent character in his play, The Witch, where she figures as the mistress of a band of hags. She contributes nothing to the action in Macbeth, and her rebuke to the witches and their fear of her is quite inconsistent with Shakespeare's conception of their characters. The iambic rhythm of her speeches is a favourite of Middleton's, but contrasts strongly with the trochaic metre which Shakespeare puts into the mouths of the witches. The same iambic metre appears in the speech of the First Witch in iv. 1. 125-132, where the idea that the witches should cheer up Macbeth by a dance is much more suggestive of Middleton than of Shakespeare. Middleton's additions, in short, were mere devices to introduce music and dancing and so lighten the sternly tragic character of the play.

The un-Shakespearean element in Macbeth is, after all,

a minor matter. It is limited in quantity, and although it is out of keeping with Shakespeare's genuine work, it does not impair the essential unity of his conception. Macbeth is one of the shortest of Shakespeare's plays; it is by far the shortest of his great tragedies. It includes no underplot; it contains, with the single brief exception of the Porter scene, no comic relief; it holds with stern self-restraint to the development of the main action and discards the broader and more varied presentation of life which Shakespeare, as a rule, employed in his dramatic treatment of tragic and historic themes. There is not a single scene in the play which does not either contribute to, or comment upon, the main story. The movement of the action is so swift as to produce the effect of breathless haste. And the whole interest of the drama centres round the heroic figure of Macbeth, to whom all the other characters are but reliefs and foils. And as a result there is no other play of Shakespeare's which possesses in so marked a degree the characteristic of unity. It has the effect of a magnificent improvisation upon a theme which, at one period of his life, completely dominated his mind and impelled him irresistibly to give it dramatic expression.

The theme of Macbeth is the word which once came to the prophet Ezekiel : "The soul that sinneth it shall die." There is a sense, indeed, in which this may be said to be the theme of all the great tragedies of Shakespeare. Thus Brutus perishes because of his inability to square his ideal conceptions with the practical demands of life,

and Hamlet because he prefers until too late melancholy brooding to resolute action; Othello's fault is want of faith in womanly purity; Coriolanus is the victim of his selfish pride, Lear of his own folly and impatience, Antony of his lustful passion. But the peculiar and distinguishing characteristic of Macbeth is that its hero. alone of Shakespeare's great tragic figures sins deliberately and wilfully, realizing from the beginning the unpardonable nature of his crime. No sooner does the temptation to seize the crown enter his mind than he calls the act which he must commit to gain his end by its proper name of murder. He is willing to "jump the life to come" in order to obtain his desire upon earth; but he realizes perfectly what price he must pay for the satisfaction of his desire. And that this realization comes to him even before he has committed the deed is amply shown by a phrase in the great soliloquy of the first act, where he speaks of the "deep damnation" of the murder. Macbeth's later crimes spring from his first deed of blood, but in no case does he pretend to any higher motive than that which actually impels him, the securing of the fruits of his sin. Macbeth, in short, sells himself to the devil deliberately, and the witches who tempt him to this sin may, in a sense, be regarded as the poet's symbols, or personifications, of its deliberate and wilful nature, for witches were in Shakespeare's day regarded in no sense as supernatural powers, but simply as human beings who had of their own free will renounced God and chosen Satan as their master.

And just as Macbeth's sin is more conscious and deliberate than that of any other of the protagonists of Shakespeare's tragedies, so his fall is deeper and his ruin more complete and hopeless. It does not consist so much in his loss of the throne, or his death upon the battle-field, as in the utter degeneration of his moral nature. He whose whole "state of man" was shaken by the first temptation to murder comes at last to love blood for its own sake. It takes all the powerful influence of his wife to nerve him to the actual killing of Duncan, but he needs no encouragement to plot the assassination of Banquo, and he massacres the household of Macduff with as little reason as remorse. Through the isolating influence of his career of guilt he forfeits even the companionship of her who had been his "dearest partner," and turns for aid and counsel to the witches from whose first apparition he had recoiled in horror. The final revelation that the powers of evil have mocked him brings him. no hope of pardon or escape, but only fills him with a wild beast's desire of selling his life as dearly as possible. No other hero in Shakespeare's plays passes away in a catastrophe of such utter darkness.

Macbeth's punishment, like his fall, is progressive and corresponds to the depth of his plunge into sin. The first stage is marked by violent mental suffering. He has no sooner slain Duncan than he bitterly regrets the deed. Terrible dreams shake him nightly; his very meals are haunted by the fear of detection; the vessel of his peace is full of rancours. His words to Lady Macbeth in the

« ÎnapoiContinuă »