Page images

"What imitation, in such circumstances as these, would ever satisfy the demands of expectation? The terror, the remorse,

the hypocrisy of this astonishing being, flitting in frightful succession over her countenance, and actuating her agitated gestures with her varying emotions, present, perhaps, one of the greatest difficulties of the scenic art, and cause her representative no less to tremble for the suffrage of her private study than for its public effect.

"It is now the time to inform you of an idea which I have conceived of Lady Macbeth's character, which perhaps will appear as fanciful as that which I have adopted respecting the style of her beauty; and, in order to justify this idea, I must carry you back to the scene immediately preceding the banquet, in which you will recollect the following dialogue:

'Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife;

Thou knowest that Banquo and his Fleance live.*

Lady Macbeth.

'But in them Nature's copy's not eterne.'


'There's comfort yet-they are assailable.
Then be thou jocund; ere the bat has flown
His cloistered flight-ere to black Hecate's summons
The shard-born beetle, with his drowsy hums,

Hath rung night's yawning peal-there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.'

Lady Macbeth.

'What's to be done "


'Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, unfeeling night,
Scarf up the tender, pitiful eye of day,

And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond

Which keeps me pale. Light thickens, and the crow
Makes way to the rooky wood.-

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night's black agents to their prey do rouse.
Thou marvellest at my words-but hold thee still

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill."

"Now, it is not possible that she should hear all these ambiguous hints about Banquo without being too well aware

that a sudden, lamentable fate awaits him. Yet, so far from offering any opposition to Macbeth's murderous designs, she even hints, I think, at the facility, if not the expediency, of destroying both Banquo and his equally unoffending child, when she observes that, in them Nature's copy is not eterne.' Having, therefore, now filled the measure of her crimes, I have imagined that the last appearance of Banquo's ghost became no less visible to her eyes than it became to those of her husband. Yes, the spirit of the noble Banquo has smilingly filled up, even to overflowing, and now commends to her own lips the ingredients of her poisoned chalice.

"The Fifth Act.

"Behold her now, with wasted form, with wan and haggard countenance, her starry eyes glazed with the ever-burning fever of remorse, and on their lids the shadows of death. Her everrestless spirit wanders in troubled dreams about her dismal apartment; and, whether waking or asleep, the smell of innocent blood incessantly haunts her imagination:

'Here's the smell of the blood still.

All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten

This little hand.'

"How beautifully contrasted is the exclamation with the bolder image of Macbeth, in expressing the same feeling!


'Will all great Neptune's ocean wash the blood
Clean from this hand?'

And how appropriately either sex illustrates the same idea! During this appalling scene, which, to my sense, is the most so of them all, the wretched creature, in imagination, acts over again the accumulated horrors of her whole conduct. These dreadful images, accompanied with the agitations they have induced, have obviously accelerated her untimely end; for in a few moments the tidings of her death are brought to her unhappy husband. It is conjectured that she died by her own hand. Too certain it is, that she dies, and makes no sign. I have now to account to you for the weakness which I have, a few lines back, ascribed to Macbeth; and I am not quite without hope that the following observations will bear me out in my opinion. Please to observe, that he (I must think pusillanimously, when I compare his conduct to her forbearance) has been continually pouring out his miseries to his wife. His

heart has therefore been eased, from time to time, by unloading its weight of wo; while she, on the contrary, has perseveringly endured in silence the uttermost anguish of a wounded spirit.

'The grief that does not speak

Whispers the o'erfraught heart, and bids it break.'

“Her feminine nature, her delicate structure, it is too evident, are soon overwhelmed by the enormous pressure of her crimes. Yet it will be granted, that she gives proofs of a naturally higher-toned mind than that of Macbeth. The different physical powers of the two sexes are finely delineated, in the different effects which their mutual crimes produce. Her frailer frame, and keener feelings, have now sunk under the struggle his robust and less sensitive constitution has not only resisted it, but bears him on to deeper wickedness, and to experience the fatal fecundity of crime.

For mine own good-all causes shall give way.

I am in blood so far stepp'd in, that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.'

Henceforth, accordingly, he perpetrates horrors to the day of his doom.

"In one point of view, at least, this guilty pair extort from us, in spite of ourselves, a certain respect and approbation. Their grandeur of character sustains them both above recrimination (the despicable accustomed resort of vulgar minds) in adversity; for the wretched husband, though almost impelled into this gulf of destruction by the instigations of his wife, feels no abatement of his love for her, while she, on her part, appears to have known no tenderness for him, till, with a heart bleeding at every pore, she beholds in him the miserable vie tim of their mutual ambition. Unlike the first frail pair in Paradise, they spent not the fruitless hours in mutual accusation."

Mrs. Siddons had played Lady Macbeth in the provincial theatres many years before she attempted the character in London. Adverting to the first time this part was allotted to her, she says, "It was my custom to study my characters at night, when all the domestic cares and business of the day were over. On the night preceding that in which I was to appear in this part for the first time, I shut myself up, as usual, when all the family were retired, and commenced my study of


Lady Macbeth. As the character is very short, I thought I should soon accomplish it. Being then only twenty years of age, I believed, as many others do believe, that little more was necessary than to get the words into my head; for the necessity of discrimination, and the development of character, at that time of my life, had scarcely entered into my imagination. But to proceed. I went on with tolerable composure, in the silence of the night (a night I never can forget), till I came to the assassination scene, when the horrors of the scene rose to a degree that made it impossible for me to get farther. I snatched up my candle, and hurried out of the room, in a paroxysm of terror. My dress was of silk, and the rustling of it, as I ascended the stairs to go to bed, seemed to my panicstruck fancy like the movement of a spectre pursuing me. At last I reached my chamber, where I found my husband fast asleep. I clapped my candlestick down upon the table, without the power of putting the candle out; and I threw myself on my bed, without daring to stay even to take off my clothes. At peep of day I rose to resume my task; but so little did I know of my part when I appeared in it at night, that my shame and confusion cured me of procrastinating my business for the remainder of my life.


"About six years afterward I was called upon to act the same character in London. By this time I had perceived the difficulty of assuming a personage with whom no one feeling of common general nature was congenial or assistant. own heart could prompt one to express, with some degree of truth, the sentiments of a mother, a daughter, a wife, a lover, a sister, &c., but to adopt this character must be an effort of the judgment alone.

"Therefore it was with the utmost diffidence, nay, terror, that I undertook it, and with the additional fear of Mrs. Pritchard's reputation in it before my eyes. The dreaded first night at length arrived, when, just as I had finished my toilet, and was pondering with fearfulness my first appearance in the grand fiendish part, comes Mr. Sheridan, knocking at my door, and insisting, in spite of all my entreaties not to be interrupted at this to me tremendous moment, to be admitted. He would not be denied admittance; for he protested he must speak to me on a circumstance which so deeply concerned my own interest, that it was of the most serious naturé. Well, after much squabbling, I was compelled to admit him, that I might dismiss him the sooner, and compose myself before the play began. But, what was my distress and astonishment, when I

found that he wanted me, even at this moment of anxiety and terror, to adopt another mode of acting the sleeping scene. He told me he had heard with the greatest surprise and concern that I meant to act it without holding the candle in my hand; and, when I urged the impracticability of washing out that damned spot,' with the vehemence that was certainly implied by both her own words and by those of her gentlewoman, he insisted, that if I did put the candle out of my hand, it would be thought a presumptuous innovation, as Mrs. Pritchard had always retained it in hers. My mind, however, was made up, and it was then too late to make me alter it; for it was too agitated to adopt another method. My deference for Mr. Sheridan's taste and judgment was, however, so great, that, had he proposed the alteration while it was possible for me to change my own plan, I should have yielded to his suggestion; though, even then, it would have been against my own opinion, and my observation of the accuracy with which somnambulists perform all the acts of waking persons. The scene, of course, was acted as I had myself conceived it; and the innovation, as Mr. Sheridan called it, was received with approbation. Mr. Sheridan himself came to me, after the play, and most ingenuously congratulated me on my obstinacy. When he was gone out of the room, I began to undress; and, while standing up before my glass, and taking off my mantle, a diverting circumstance occurred to chase away the feelings of this anxious night; for, while I was repeating, and endeavouring to call to mind the appropriate tone and action to the following words, 'Here's the smell of blood still!' my dresser innocently exclaimed, Dear me, ma'am, how very hysterical you are tonight; I protest and vow, ma'am, it was not blood, but rosepink and water; for I saw the property-man mix it up with my own eyes."

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »