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Macbeth. The Weird Sisters are as true a creation of Shakespeare's as his Ariel and Caliban,-fates, furies, and materializing witches being the elements. They are wholly different from any representation of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar prejudice to act immediately on the audience. Their character consists in the imaginative disconnected from the good; they are the shadowy obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, the lawless of human nature, elemental avengers without sex or kin:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
Hover thro' the fog and filthy air. How much it were to be wished in playing Macbeth, that an attempt should be made to introduce the flexile character-mask of the ancient pantomime;—that Flaxman would contribute his genius to the embodying and making sensuously perceptible that of Shakespeare!.....
Macbeth is described by Lady Macbeth so as at the same time to reveal her own character. Could he have everything he wanted, he would rather have it innocently ;-ignorant, as alas ! how many of us are, that he who wishes a temporal end for itself, does in truth will the means; and hence the danger of indulging fancies. Lady Macbeth, like all in Shakespeare, is a class individualized:of high rank, left much alone, and feeding herself with day-dreams of ambition, she mistakes the courage of fantasy for the power of bearing the consequences of the realities of guilt. Hers is the mock fortitude of a mind deluded by ambition ; she shames her husband with
natura past dangere pleased "itely joy, at thies. She
a superhuman audacity of fancy which she cannot support, but sinks in the season of remorse, and dies in suicidal agony. Her speech :
Come, all you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, &c. is that of one who had habitually familiarized her imagination to dreadful conceptions, and was trying to do so still more. Her invocations and requisitions are all the false efforts of a mind accustomed only hitherto to the shadows of the imagination, vivid enough to throw the every-day substances of life into shadow, but never as yet brought into direct contact with their own correspondent realities. She evinces no womanly life, no wifely joy, at the return of her husband, no pleased terror at the thought of his past dangers ; whilst Macbeth bursts forth naturally—
My dearest loveand shrinks from the boldness with which she presents his own thoughts to him. With consummate art she at first uses as incentives the very circumstances, Duncan's coming to their house, &c., which Macbeth's conscience would most probably have adduced to her as motives of abhorrence or repulsion. Yet Macbeth is not prepared: We will speak further.
Lit. Rem. II. 237.
Hamlet. Hamlet's character is the prevalence of the abstracting and generalizing habit over the practical. He does not want courage, skill, will, or opportunity; but every incident sets him thinking ; and it is curious, and at the same time strictly natural, that
Hamlet, who all the play seems reason itself, should be impelled, at last, by mere accident, to effect his object. I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so....
Polonius.-A Maxim is a conclusion upon observation of matters of fact, and is merely retrospective; an idea, or, if you like, a Principle, carries knowledge within itself, and is prospective. Polonius is a man of maxims. While he is descanting on matters of past experience, as in that excellent speech to Laertes before he sets out on his travels, he is admirable ; but when he comes to advise or project, he is a mere dotard. You see Hamlet, as the man of ideas, despises him. A man of maxims only is like a Cyclops with one eye, and that eye placed in the back of his head. · Hamlet and Ophelia.- In the scene with Ophelia, in the third act, Hamlet is beginning with great and unfeigned tenderness; but perceiving her reserve and coyness, fancies there are some listeners, and then, to sustain his part, breaks out into all that coarseness.
T. T. June 15, 1827.
He intended to portray a person, in whose view the external world, and all its incidents and objects, were comparatively dim, and of no interest in themselves, and which began to interest only, when they were reflected in the mirror of his mind. Hamlet beheld external things in the same way that a man of vivid imagination, who shuts his eyes, sees what has previously made an impression on his; organs.
The poet places him in the most stimulating circumstances that a human being can be placed in. He is the heir apparent of a throne; his father dies
suspiciously; his mother excludes her son from his throne by marrying his uncle. This is not enough; but the Ghost of the murdered father is introduced, to assure the son that he was put to death by his own brother. What is the effect upon the son ?instant action and pursuit of revenge ? No: endless reasoning and hesitating-constant urging and solicitation of the mind to act, and as constant an escape from action ; ceaseless reproaches of himself for sloth and negligence, while the whole energy of his resolution evaporates in these reproaches. This, too, not from cowardice, for he is drawn as one of the bravest of his time--not from want of forethought or slowness of apprehension, for he sees through the very souls of all who surround him, but merely from that aversion to action, which prevails among such as have a world in themselves.
How admirable, too, is the judgment of the poet ! Hamlet's own disordered fancy has not conjured up the spirit of his father ; it has been seen by others; he is prepared by them to witness its re-appearance, and when he does it, Hamlet is not brought forward as having long brooded on the subject. The moment before the Ghost enters, Hamlet speaks of other matters: he mentions the coldness of the night, and observes that he has not heard the clock strike, adding, in reference to the custom of drinking, that it is More honour'd in the breach than the observance.
Act i, Scene 4. Owing to the tranquil state of his mind, he indulges in some moral reflections. Afterwards, the Ghost suddenly enters. Hor.
Look, my lord ! it comes. Ham. Angels and ministers of grace defend us !
andis prepaot his tardered
The same thing occurs in Macbeth: in the daggerscene, the moment before the hero sees it, he has his mind applied to some indifferent matters; Go, tell thy mistress,' &c. Thus, in both cases, the preternatural appearance has all the effect of abruptness, and the reader is totally divested of the notion, that the figure is a vision of a highly wrought imagination. ... .
There is no indecision about Hamlet, as far as own sense of duty is concerned; he knows well what he ought to do, and over and over again he makes up his mind to do it. The moment the players, and the two spies set upon him, have withdrawn, of whom he takes leave with a line so expressive of his contempt,
Ay so; good bye you.—Now I am alone, he breaks out into a delirium of rage against himself for neglecting to perform the solemn duty he had undertaken, and contrasts the factitious and artificial display of feeling by the player with his own apparent indifference;
What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her ? Yet the player did weep for her, and was in an agony of grief at her sufferings, while Hamlet is unable to rouse himself to action, in order that he may perform the command of his father, who had come from the grave to incite him to revenge:
This is most brave ! That I, the son of a dear father murder'd, Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, Must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words, And fall a cursing like a very drab, A scullion.
Act ii, Scene 2.