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“The Tragedie of Macbeth " was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies twenty-one pages; viz. from p. 131 to p. 151 inclusive, in the division of “ Tragedies.” The Acts and Scenes are marked there, as well as in the later folios.
The only ascertained fact respecting the performance of“ Macbeth," in the lifetime of its author, is that it was represented at the Globe Theatre on the 20th of April, 1610. Whether it was then a new play, it is impossible to decide ; but we are inclined to think that it was not, and that Malone was right in his conjecture, that it was first acted about the year 1606. The subsequent account of the plot is derived from Dr. Simon Forman's manuscript Diary, preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, from which it appears, that he saw “Macbeth" played at the Globe on the day we have stated :
“ 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 Codor, for thou shalt be a King, but shalt beget no Kings, &c. Then, said Banquo, What! all to Macbeth, and nothing 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 bad 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 bands, 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, uttering 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 to 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."
Our principal reason for thinking that “Macbeth " had been originally represented at least four years before 1610, is the striking allusion, in Act iv. sc. 1, to the union of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the hands of James I. That monarch ascended the throne in March, 1602-3, and the words,
“Some I see, That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry," would have had little point, if we suppose them to have been delivered after the king who bore the balls and sceptres had been more than seven years on the throne. James was proclaimed king of Great Britain and Ireland on the 24th of October, 1604, and we may perhaps conclude that Shakespeare wrote “Macbeth” in the year 1605, and that it was first acted at the Globe, when it was opened for the summer season, in the spring of 1606.
It may admit of doubt whether there was not a considerably older drama on the story of Macbeth, for we meet with an entry of a ballad called “ Macdobeth” in the Registers of the Stationers' Company in 1596: the notice of it is, we believe, quite new, and we quote the very words of the register :
“27 die Augusti 1596. Tho. Millington, Thomas Myllington is likewyse fyned at ije vjd for printinge of a ballad contrarye to · order, which he also presently paid. Md. the ballad entituled The taming of a shrew. Also one other Ballad of Macdobeth.”
This shows the existence of a so-called “ballad ” on the subject; and if “ The Taming of a Shrew,” which we know to have been a play, were so recorded, it is not unlikely that the “Ballad of Macdobeth” was of the same character. The latter part of the above entry is struck out, but it is not the less probable that the incidents were then known to the stage; and we derive soine confirmation of the fact from the subsequent, not very intelligible, passage in Kemp's “ Nine Days Wonder," printed in 1600:-—"A penny poet, whose first making was the miserable stolen story of Macdoel, or Macdobeth, or Macsomewhat, for I am sure Mac it was, though I never had the maw to see it.” Here the words “to see it" seem to show that the piece had been publicly represented, and that it was not merely a printed " ballad.” Kemp, as a highly popular actor, would most naturally refer to dramatic performances; but, as we also gather from him, this “miserable story" had been “stolen,” and perhaps he may mean to refer to a pre-existing production of which the author of the play of Macdobeth had availed himself. It is to be observed, that both in Kemp’s tract, and in the Registers at Stationers' Hall, the production, whatever it may have been, was distinctly called “ Macdobeth."
Malone elaborately supports his opinion, that “Macbeth " was produced in 1606, by two allusions in the speech of the Porter, Act ii. sc. 3, to the cheapness of corn, and to the doctrine of equivocation, which had been supported by Robert Garnet, who was executed on the 3rd of May, 1606. We are generally disposed to place little confidence in such passages, not only because they are frequently obscure in their application, but because they may have been introduced at any subsequent period, either by the author or actor.
Shakespeare, doubtless, derived all the materials he required from Holinshed, without resorting to Boethius, or to any other authority. Steevens persevered in maintaining that Shakespeare was indebted, in some degree, to Middleton's “ Witch” for the preternatural portion of “Macbeth ;" but Malone, who at first entertained the same view of the subject, ultimately abandoned it, and became convinced that “The Witch” was a play written subsequently to the production of “Macbeth.” Those who read the two will, perhaps, wonder how a doubt could have been entertained. “The Witch,” in all probability, was not written until about 1613; and what must surprise every body is, that a poet of Middleton's rank could so degrade the awful beings of Shakespeare's invention ; for although, as Lamb observes, “the power of Middleton's witches is in some measure over the mind,” (Specimens of Engl. Dram. Poets, p. 174,) they are of a degenerate race, as if, Shakespeare having created them, no other poet was sufficiently gifted even to continue their existence.
Whether Shakespeare obtained his knowledge regarding these agents, and of the locality he supposes them to have frequented, from actual observation, is a point we have considered in the Biography of the poet. The existing evidence on the question is there collected, and we have shown, that ten years before the date hitherto assigned to that circumstance, a company called “the Queen's Players" had visited Edinburgh. This fact is novel in the history of the introduction of English theatrical performances into Scotland'.
“Macbeth” was inserted by the player-editors in the folio of 1623; and, as in other similar cases, we may presume that it had not come from the press at an earlier date, because in the books of the Stationers' Company it is registered by Blount and Jaggard, on the 8th of November, 1623, as one of the plays “not formerly entered to other men.” It has been handed down in an unusually complete state, for not only are the divisions of the acts pointed out, but the subdivisions of the scenes carefully and, for the most part, accurately noted.
I From the Registrum Sancti Andrea, printed by the Bannatyne Club in 1841, p. 114, it appears that “Macbet, filius Finlach, et Gruoch filia Bodhe, Rex et Regina Scotorum,” were the grantors in a deed there printed.
DUNCAN, King of Scotland.
Generals of his Army.
Thanes of Scotland.
Lords, Gentlemen, Officers, Soldiers, Murderers, Attendants,
The Ghost of Banquo, and other Apparitions.
SCENE, in the end of the fourth Act, in England; through
the rest of the Play, in Scotland.
1 There is no list of characters in the old copies: it was first supplied by Rowe.