Page images

The rain and wind beat dark December! How,
In this our pinching (ave, shall we discours
The freezing hours away? We have sen nothing.
We are beasily; subtle as the fovx 8-14 prey,
Like warlike as the wolf for what we eat:
Onir valor is to chase what flies; our raze
We make a quire, as doth the prison'd bird,
And sing our bondage freely."

The answer of Bellarius to this expostulation is hardly satis factory; for nothing can be an answer to hope, or the passion of the mind for unknown good, but experience. The forest of Arden, in As you hke it, can alone compare with the mountain soepes in CYMBELINE : yet how ditlerent the contemplative quiet of the one from the enterprising boldness and precarious mode of subsistence in the other! Shaksprare not only lets us into the minds of his characters, but gives a tone and color to the scenes he describes from the feelings of their imaginary inhabit. ants. He at the same time preserves the utmost propriety of action and passion, and gives all their local accompaniments, If he was equal to the greatest things, he was not above an attention to the smallest. Thus the gallant sportsmen in Cym. BELINE have to encounter the abrupt declivities of hill and valley: Touchstone and Audrey jog along a level path. The deer in ('YMBELINE are only regarded as objects of prey, “The game's a fome," &c.,- with Jaques they are fine subjects to moralize upon at leisure, " under the shade of melancholy boughs."

We cannot take leave of this play, which is a favorite with us, without notieing some occasional touches of natural piety and morality. We may allude here to the opening of the scrne in which Bellarius instructs the young princes to pay their onsons to heaven :

** Ser buy this gate
lestra ts vou how use the Heav'ns; and bums yra
To tri'i's he's offre
Gripexit: Harl. Herea!
ARVIRAGT* Hul, Heaven!
BELLANIT Now for our mountain-speurt, up to yon hill

What a grace and unaffected spirit of piety breathes in this passage! In like manner, one of the brothers says to the other, when about to perform the funeral rites to Fidele,

“ Nay, Cadwall, we must lay his head to the east;

My father hath a reason for't." Shakspeare's morality is introduced in the same simple, unobtrusive manner. Imogen will not let her companions stay away from the chase to attend her when sick, and gives her reason for it

“ Stick to your journal course; the breach of custom
Is breach of all!

When the Queen attempts to disguise her motives for procuring the poison from Cornelius, by saying she means to try its effect on "creatures not worth the hanging,” his answer conveys at once a tacit reproof of her hypocrisy and a useful lesson of humanity

“ Your Highness
Shall from this practice but make hard your heart.”


MACBETH and Lear, Othello and Hamlet, are usually reckonea Shakspeare's four principal tragedies. Lear stands first for the profound intensity of the passion; Macbeth for the wildness of the imagination and the rapidity of the action ; Othello for the progressive interest and powerful alternations of feeling; Hamlet for the refined development of thought and sentiment. If the force of genius shown in each of these works is astonishing, their variety is not less so. They are like different creations of the same mind, not one of which has the slightest reference to the rest. This distinctness and originality is indeed the necessary consequence of truth and nature. Shakspeare's genius alone appeared to prosess the resources of nature. He is " your only tragedy.maker." His plays have the force of things upon the mind. What he represents is brought home to the bosom as a part of our experience, implanted in the memory as if we had known the places, persons, and things of which he treats. Mac. BETH is like a record of a preternatural and tragical event. has the rugged severity of an old chronicle, with all that the ima. gination of the poet can engraft upon traditional belief. The castle of Macbeth, round which the air smells wooingly ” and where the temple-haunting martlet builds," has a real subsistence in the mind; the Weird Sisters meet us in person on " the blasted heath ;" the "air-drawn dagger" moves slowly before our eyes ; the "gracious Duncan," the “blowd boltered Banquo " stand before us; all that passed through the mind of Macbeth passes, without the loss of a title, through our's. All that could actually take place, and all that is only pw.ble to be conceived, what was said and what was done, the workings of passion, the spells of magic, are brought before us with the same


absolute truth and vividness. Shakspeare excelled in the openings of his plays; that of Macbeth is the most striking of any. The wildness of the scenery, the sudden shifting of the situations and characters, the bustle, the expectations excited, are equally extraordinary. From the first entrance of the Witches and the description of them when they meet Macbeth,

-“What are these
So wither'd and so wild in their attire,
That look not like the inhabitants of th’ earth

And yet are on't ?”
the mind is prepared for all that follows.

This tragedy is alike distinguished for the lofty imagination it displays, and for the tumultuous vehemence of the action ; and the one is made the moving principle of the other. The overwhelming pressure of preternatural agency urges on the tide of human passion with redoubled force. Macbeth himself appears driven along by the violence of his fate like a vessel drifting before a storm; he reels to and fro like a drunken man; he staggers under the weight of his own purposes and the suggestions of others; he stands at bay with his own situation ; and from the superstitious awe and breathless suspense into which the communications of the Weird Sisters throw him, is hurried on with daring impatience to verify their predictions, and with inpious and bloody hand to tear aside the veil which hides the uncertainty of the future. He is not equal to the struggle with fate and conscience. He now “bends up each corporal in. strument to the terrible feat;" at other times his heart misgives him, and he is cowed and abashed by his success. “ The deed, no less than the attempt, confounds him.” His mind is assailed by the stings of remorse, and full of “ preternatural solicitings.” His speeches and soliloquies are dark riddles on human life, baffling solution, and entangling him in their labyrinths. In thought he is absent and perplexed, sudden and desperate in act, from a distrust of his own resolution. His energy springs from the anxiety and agitation of his mind. His blindly rushing forward on the objects of his ambition and revenge, or his recoiling from them, equally betrays the harassed state of his feelings

This part of his character is admirably set off by being brought in connection with that of Lady Macbeth, whose obdurale strength of will and masculine firmness give her the ascendency over her husband's faltering virtue. She at once seizes on the opportunity that offers for the accomplishment of their wished. for greatness, and never flinches from her object till all is over. The magnitude of her resolution almost covers the magnitude of her guilt. She is a great bad woman, whom we hate, but whom we fear more than we hate. She does not excite our loathing and abhorrence like Regan and Goneril. She is only wicked to gain a great end ; and is perhaps more distinguished by her commanding presence of mind and inexorable self will, which do not suffer her to be diverted from a bad purpose, when once formed, by weak and womanly regrets, than by the hardness of her heart or want of natural atlections. The impression which her lofty determination of character makes on the mind of Mac. beth is well described where he exclaims,

." Bring forth men children only: For thy undaunted mettle should compone

Nothing but males?" Nor do the pains she is at to “screw his courage to the sticking. place," the reproach to him, not to be " lost so poorly in himself," the assurance that "a little water cleans them of this derd," show anything but her greater consistency in wickedness. Her strong-nerved ambition furnishes ribs of steel to the sides of his intent ;" and she is herself wound up to the execution of her baneful project with the same unshrinking fortitude in crime, that in other circumstances she would probably have shown pa. tience in suffering. The deliberate sacrifice of all other considerations to the gaining “ for their future days and nights sole Sovereign sway and masterdon," by the murder of Duncan, is gorgeously expressed in her invocation on bearing of “ hus fatal entrance under her battletnents :"

- Cote all you write
That te and can be atal tk walts, unerk me here.
And all me, fr en the count there, inp-fall
of derwat cruelty, make thak my blemal,

« PreviousContinue »