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whereupon she tells him to screw his courage to the sticking place, and describes the deed itself. Infected by her masculine resolution, Macbeth at length consents to what he calls the “terrible feat." The word “ terrible” here is surely more characteristic of the humane poet-thinker than of the chieftain-murderer. Even at this crisis, too, of his fate Macbeth cannot cheat himself; like Hamlet he is compelled to see himself as he is :
* False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”
I have now considered nearly every word used by Macbeth in this first act: I have neither picked passages nor omitted anything that might make against my argument; yet every impartial reader must acknowledge that Hamlet is far more clearly sketched in this first act of “ Macbeth” than in the first act of “Hamlet." Macbeth appears in it as an irresolute dreamer, courteous, and gentle-hearted, of perfect intellectual fairness and bookish phrase; and in especial his love of thought and dislike of action are insisted upon again and again.
In spite of the fact that the second act is one chiefly of incident, filled indeed with the murder and its discovery, Shakespeare uses Macbeth as the mouthpiece of his marvellous lyrical faculty as freely as he uses Hamlet. A greater singer even than Romeo, Hamlet is a poet by nature, and turns every possible occasion to account, charming the ear with subtle harmonies. With a father's murder to avenge, he postpones action and sings to himself of life and death and the undiscovered country in words of such magical spirit-beauty that they can be compared to nothing in the world's literature save perhaps to the last chapter of Ecclesiastes. From the beginning to the end of the drama Hamlet is a great lyric poet, and this supreme personal gift is so natural to him that it is hardly mentioned by the critics. This gift, however, is possessed by Macbeth in at least equal degree and excites just as little notice. It is credible that Shakespeare used the drama sometimes as a means of reaching the highest lyrical utterance.
Without pressing this point further let us now take up the second act of the play. Banquo and Fleance enter; Macbeth has a few words with them; they depart, and after giving a servant an order, Macbeth begins another long soliloquy. He thinks he sees a dagger before him, and immediately falls to philosophizing:
Come, let me clutch thee:-
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses.
What is all this but an illustration of Hamlet's assertion:
“There is nothing either good or bad But thinking makes it so."
Just too as Hamlet swings on his mental balance, so that it is still a debated question among academic critics whether his madness was feigned or real, so here Shakespeare shows us how Macbeth loses his foothold on reality and falls into the void.
The lyrical effusion that follows is not very successful, and probably on that account Macbeth breaks off abruptly:
“Whiles I threat he lives, Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives,”
which is, of course, precisely Hamlet's complaint:
This is most brave;
After this Lady Macbeth enters, and the murder is committed, and now wrought to the highest tension Macbeth must speak from the depths of his nature with perfect sincerity. Will he exult, the ambitious man would, at having taken successfully the longest step towards his goal? Or will he, like a prudent man, do his utmost to hide the traces of his crime, and hatch plans to cast suspicion on others? It is Lady Macbeth who plays this part; she tells Macbeth to “get some water,”
“And wash this filthy witness from your hand,"
while he, brainsick, rehearses past fears and shows himself the sensitive poet-dreamer inclined to piety: here is the incredible scene:
Lady M. There are two lodged together.
Listening their fear, I could not say 'Amen,'
Consider it not so deeply.
This religious tinge colouring the weakness of self-pity is to be found again and again in “Hamlet”; Hamlet, too, is religious-minded; he begs Ophelia to remember his sins in her orisons. When he first sees his father's ghost he cries:
“ Angels and ministers of grace defend us,”
and when the ghost leaves him his word is, “ I'll go pray." This new trait, most intimate and distinctive, is therefore the most conclusive proof of the identity of the two characters. The whole passage in the mouth of a murderer is utterly unexpected and out of place; no wonder Lady Macbeth exclaims:
“ These deeds must not be thought After these ways: so, it will make us mad.”
But nothing can restrain Macbeth; he gives rein to his poetic imagination, and breaks out in an exquisite lyric, a lyric which has hardly any closer relation to the circumstances than its truth to Shakespeare's nature:
“Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,'—the innocent sleep:
Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleave of care, and so forth—the poet in love with his own imaginings.
Again Lady Macbeth tries to bring him back to a sense of reality; tells him his thinking unbends his strength, and finally urges him to take the daggers back and
The sleepy grooms with the blood."
But Macbeth's nerve is gone; he is physically broken now as well as mentally o'erwrought; he cries :
“I'll go no more; I am afraid to think what I have done. Look on't again I dare not.”
All this is exquisitely characteristic of the nervous student who has been screwed up to a feat beyond his strength, "a terrible feat," and who has broken down over it, but the words are altogether absurd in the mouth of an ambitious, half-barbarous chieftain.
His wife chides him as fanciful, childish-“ infirm of purpose,”—she'll put the daggers back herself; but nothing can hearten Macbeth; every household noise sets his heart thumping:
* Whence is that knocking? How is't with me when every noise appals me?" His mind rocks; he even imagines he is being tortured:
“What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out my eyes.” And then he swings into another incomparable lyric: “Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather