Page images

consider it without admiring our poet's improvement of every hint he receives from the ancients,


Medaea, Met. VII. where the boiling and bubbling of the cauldron is prettily expreft:

Interea validum pofito medicamen aheno

Fervet et exultat, Spumisque tumentibus albet. among the ingredients in her charms, are mentioned the ewlet's wing, and fillet of a fenny snake. Et ftrigis infames ipfis cum carnibus alas

Nec defuit illic
Squamea Cinyphii tenuis membrana Chelydri.
See likewise the Medaea of Seneca :

Mortifera carpit gramina, ac ferpentium
Saniem exprimit ; miscetque et obscenas aves
Maeftique cor bubonis, et raucae frigis

Exfe&a vivaz viscera.
And the Priestess in Virgil, Aen. IV, 509, &c. And the witch
Erecho in Lucan, B. VI. where she mixes for her ingre-
dients every thing of the ill-ominous kind.

Huc quicquid foetu genuit natura finiftra

Mifcetur, &c.
And Canidia in Horace, Epod. V.

Jubet sepulcris caprificos erutas,

Jubet cupressus funebres,
Et uneta turpis ova ranae fanguine,

Plumamque nocturnae ftrigisa
Herbasque, &c.

D 3



moderns. Then again those apparitions,



Before the witches call up the apparitions, they pour into the cauldron sow's blood. So the witches in Horace, L. I. fat. 8. pour out the blood of a black ram into a pit digged for that purpose.

Cruor in folam confufus, ut inde
Manes elicerent, animas refponfa daturas.

The ghost of Darius is conjur’d up in the Persae of Aeschylus, and foretells te queen Atoffa her calamities. Sextus Pompeius, in Lucan, enquired of Ericho the forceress the event of the civil wars, and the raised up a dead body hy her magic art, to answer his demands. Homer ought not to be passed over ; in his Odyff. B. XI. Ulyffes calls up Tiresias. Our poet will bear comparison with any of these.

16 See a masque of Johnson's at Whitehall, Feb. 2. 1609. which seems to have preceded this play. For Johnson's pride would not suffer him to borrow from Shakespeare, tho' he stole from the ancients : a theft excusable enough. But these poets made this entertainment of the witches to please king James, who then had written his book of Demonology. Johnson, in the introduction of the masque says, “ The part of the feene which first presented itself was an « ugly Hell, which flaming beneath, smoked unto the top “ of the rocfe. And in respect all evils are morally said

to come from hell; as also from that observation of Torrentius upon Horace his Ganidia, quae tat inftru&la

venenis, ex orci faucibus profe&ta videri poffit : these " witches, with a hollow and infernal mufick came forth

14 from

being " symbolịcal representations of what shall happen to him, are introduced paltering with him in a double fenfe, and leading him on, according to the common notions of diabolical oracles, to his confufion. And when the kings appear, we have a piece of machinery, that neither the ancients or moderns can exceed. I know nothing any where can parallel it, but that most fublime passage in 18 Virgil, where the great successors of Aeneas pass in review before the hero's eyes. Our poet's closing with a compliment to James the first upon the union, equals Virgil's compli, ment to Auguftus.

« from thence." He tells us, Jones invented the archite&ture of the whole scene and machine. Perhaps Shakespeare made use of the same scenes : as may be guessed from what Hecate says, A&. III.

« Get you gone,
“ And at the pit of Acheron
• Meet me i'th' morning."

17 The armed head represents fymbolically Macbeth's head cut off and brought to Malcolm by Macduff. The bloody child is Macduff untimely ripp'd from his mother's womb. The child with a crown on his head, and a bough in his hand, is the royal Malcolme ; who ordered his foldiers to hew them down a bough, and bear it before them to Dunfinane.

18 Virg. VI, 756, &c.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

The variety of characters with their different manners ought not to be passed over in silence. Banquo was as deep in the murder of the king, as some of the 19 Scotish writers inform us, as Macbeth. But Shakespeare, with great art and address, deviątes from the history. By these means his characters have the greater variety ; and he at the same time pays a compliment to king James, who was lineally descended from Banquo. There is a thorough honesty, and a love of his country in Macduff, that distinguishes him from all the rest. The characters of the two kings, Duncan and Macbeth, are finely contrasted; fo are those of the two women, lady Macbeth and lady Macduff:

In whatever fight this play is viewed, it will shew beautiful in all. The emperor 20 Marcus Antoninus fpeaks in commendation of tragedy, as not only exhibiting the various events of life,

19. Igitur re cum

intimis amicorum, in quibus erat BANQUO, communicata, regem opportunum infidiis ad Envert neffum nactus, feptimum jam regnantem annum, obtruncat, Buchan. rer. Scot. L. 7. Confilia igitur cum proximis amicis communicata ac in primis cum BANQUHONĘ ; qui ubi omnia polliciti fuiffent, per occafionem regem feptimum jam annum regnantem ad Envernes (alii dicunt ad Borgosuanae) obtruncat. Heet Boeth. p. 250. 30 Març. Ant. XI, 6.


but teaching us wise and moral observations. What tragedian equals Shakespeare ?, When news was brought to Macbeth that the queen was dead, he wishes she had not then died morrow, or any other time would have pleased him better. This is the concatenation of ideas, and hence is introduced the observation that follows.

; to

To morrow, and to morrow, and to morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last fyllable of recorded time :
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to ? study death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his bour' upon the stage
And then is heard no more! It is a tale,
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing !


[ocr errors]

21 The first folio edition reads dusty death : i, e. death which reduces us to dust and alhes ; as Mr. Theobald explains it, an espouser of this reading. It might be further frengthened from a similar expression in the psalms, xxii. 15, thou hast brought me to the duft of death; the dust of death į. e, dufty death. I don't doubt but dusty death was Shakespeare's own reading ; but 'twas his first reading; and he afterwards altered it himself into study death, which the players finding in some other copy, gave it us in their


« PreviousContinue »