Page images
[blocks in formation]

IN Macbeth, Shakspeare has given us all the horrors of deep tragedy. He paints the crimes and tormenting fears of the midnight murderer with painful vividness; and traces out the course, which leads to retribution, with severe and unsparing hand.

The first act introduces all the chief characters. MACBETH is represented as returning home, after successfully putting to flight the enemies of Scotland; and is rewarded by DUNCAN, the king, with the title of one of the Thanes he has vanquished. On his road, MACBETH meets with three Witches, who prophesy his advancement to be Thane of Cawdor, and, lastly, to the throne. He writes to LADY MACBETH, informing her of his good fortune and of the words of the Witches, and thus stirs up the ambition of that wretched woman to hasten, by foul means, her husband's elevation to the throne of Scotland. DUNCAN has determined to visit MACBETH at his castle; and LADY MACBETH resolves to complete her designs by murdering the King, whilst a guest with them. MACBETH struggles against the commission of so horrid a deed; but his wife, with fiend-like ferocity, urges him by every motive in her power. The attendants of the King are made drunk, and DUNCAN, whilst sleeping, is murdered by MACBETH. They contrive, however, to throw the guilt of the crime on the servants of the King, by placing daggers, smeared with blood, in their hands.

MACDUFF and LENOX, calling early next morning, discover that the King is murdered, and are joined in their horror of the deed by MACBETH and his wife, who thus contrive to conceal their black crime. Shortly afterwards MACBETH is proclaimed King of Scotland.

BANQUO, a devoted adherent of DUNCAN, stands in their way, and his death is accordingly resolved on. They hire murderers, who kill him, but allow FLEANCE, his son, to escape.

At the feast which follows, MACBETH, conscience-stricken, sees the ghost of BANQUO, and unwittingly becomes the publisher of his own crimes. His wife endeavours to excuse him before the guests, by laying it to his absence of mind-a habit which "hath been from his youth;" but suspicion rests on him, and retribution speedily follows.

Passing over the celebrated witch scene, we find, in the fifth act, a masterpiece of dramatic representation. LADY MACBETH, rising from her bed and still sleeping, utters unconsciously a confession of her crime, in the ears of her doctor and an attendant. She gives a broken account of the deaths of DUNCAN and BANQUO: but the most effective picture of her remorse is exhibited in her attempt to remove an imaginary spot on her hand, typical of the stings of a guilty conscience. She re-echoes her own words, spoken to urge her husband to his past deeds of murder, and presents an awful picture of horror and despair.

LADY MACBETH, soon after this, dies; and her husband becomes the victim of MALCOLM, the son of DUNCAN, whom he had hoped to have excluded from the throne.


[graphic][merged small][merged small]


Lady Macbeth. Go, get some water,

And wash this filthy witness from your hand.-
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: Go, carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.


I'll go no more:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look on't again, I dare not.

Lady Macbeth.

Infirm of purpose!

Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: 'tis the eye of childhood,

That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.


[Exit. Knocking within.

Whence is that knocking?

How is't with me, when every noise appals me?

What hands are here! Ha! they pluck out mine eyes!
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green-one red.


Lady Macbeth. My hands are of your colour: but I shame
To wear a heart so white. [Knock.] I hear a knocking
At the south entry:-retire we to our chamber:

A little water clears us of this deed:

How easy is it then? Your constancy

Hath left you unattended. [Knocking.] Hark! more knocking:

Get on your night-gown, lest occasion call us,

And show us to be watchers :-Be not lost

So poorly in your thoughts.

Macbeth. To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself.

Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou could'st!



MACBETH. Act II. Scene II.

« PreviousContinue »