[ocr errors]

Truly this is a strange murderer who longs for

troops of friends,” and who at the last push of fate can find in himself kindness enough towards others to sympathize with the “poor heart.” All this is pure Hamlet; one might better say, pure Shakespeare.

We are next led into the field with Malcolm and Macduff, and immediately back to the castle again. While the women break into cries, Macbeth soliloquizes in the very spirit of bookish Hamlet:

“I have almost forgot the taste of fears,

The time has been, my senses would have cooled
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in't.”


The whole passage, and especially the “ dismal treatise," recalls the Wittenberg student with a magic of representment.

The death of the Queen is announced, and wrings from Macbeth a speech full of despairing pessimism, a bitterer mood than Hamlet knew; a speech, moreover, that shows the student as well as the incomparable lyric poet:

She should have died hereafter:
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

Macbeth's philosophy, like Hamlet's, ends in utter doubt, in a passion of contempt for life, deeper than anything in Dante. The word “syllable " in this lyric outburst is as characteristic as the “ dismal treatise ” in the previous one, and more characteristic still of Hamlet is the likening of life to a poor player.”

The messenger tells Macbeth that Birnam Wood has begun to move, and he sees that the witches have cheated him. He can only say, as Hamlet might have said: I 'gin to be aweary of the sun,

And wish the estate o' the world were now undone.Ring the alarum bell! Blow wind! Come, wrack !

At least we'll die with harness on our back.” And later he cries :

“They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,

But bear-like I must fight the course.” This seems to me intensely characteristic of Hamlet; the brutal side of action was never more contemptuously described, and Macbeth's next soliloquy makes the identity apparent to every one; it is in the true thinker-sceptic vein: “Why should I play the Roman fool and die

On mine own sword?" Macbeth then meets Macduff, and there follows 1 About the year 1600 Shakespeare seems to have steeped himself in Plutarch. For the next five or six years, whenever he thinks of suicide, the Roman way of looking at it occurs to him. Having made up his mind to kill himself, Laertes. cries:

“ I am more an antique Roman than a Dane," and, in like case, Cleopatra talks of dying “after the high Roman fashion."


[ocr errors]

the confession of pity and remorse, which must be compared to the gentle-kindness with which Hamlet treats Laertes and Romeo treats Paris. Macbeth says to Macduff: Of all men else I have avoided thee:

But get thee back, my soul is too much charged

With blood of thine already." Then comes the “ something desperate ” in him that Hamlet boasted of—and the end.

Here we have every characteristic of Hamlet without exception. The crying difference of situation only brings out the essential identity of the two characters. The two portraits are of the same person and finished to the finger-tips. The slight shades of difference between Macbeth and Hamlet only strengthen our contention that both are portraits of the poet; for the differences are manifestly changes in the same character, and changes due merely to age. Just as Romeo is younger than Hamlet, showing passion where Hamlet shows thought, so Macbeth is older than Hamlet; in Macbeth the melancholy has grown deeper, the tone more pessimistic, and the heart gentler. I venture, therefore, to as

1 Immediately after the publication of these first two essays, Sir Henry Irving seized the opportunity and lectured before a distinguished audience on the character of Macbeth. He gave it as his opinion that “ Shakespeare has presented Macbeth as one of the most blood-thirsty, most hypocritical villains in his long gallery of men, instinct with the virtues and vices of their kind (sic).” Sir Henry Irving also took the occasion to praise the simile of pity:

“ And pity, like a naked new-born babe,

Striding the blast.” This ridiculous fustian seemed to him “very beautiful.” All this was perfectly gratuitous: no one needed to be informed that a man might have merit as an actor and yet be without any understanding of psychology or any taste in letters.

sert that the portrait we find in Romeo and Jaques first, and then in Hamlet, and afterwards in Macbeth, is the portrait of Shakespeare himself, and we can trace his personal development through these

three stages.

[blocks in formation]

T may be well to add here a couple of portraits

of Shakespeare in later life in order to establish beyond question the chief features of his character. With this purpose in mind I shall take a portrait that is a mere sketch of him, Duke Vincentio in “Measure for Measure," and a portrait that is minutely finished and perfect, though consciously idealized, Posthumus, in “Cymbeline.” And the reason I take this careless, wavering sketch, and contrast it with a highly-finished portrait, is that, though the sketch is here and there hardly recognizable, the outline being all too thin and hesitating, yet now and then a characteristic trait is over-emphasized, as we should expect in careless work. And this sketch in lines now faint, now all too heavy, is curiously convincing when put side by side with a careful and elaborate portrait in which the same traits are reproduced, but harmoniously, and with a perfect sense of the relative value of each feature. No critic, so far as I am aware, not Hazlitt, not Brandes, not even Coleridge, has yet thought of identifying either Duke Vincentio or Posthumus with Hamlet, much less with Shakespeare himself. The two plays are very unlike each other in tone and temper; “Measure for Measure" being a sort of tract for the times, while “ Cymbeline " is a purely romantic drama. Moreover, “Measure for Measure was probably written a couple of years after

« VorigeDoorgaan »