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The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
There is a great deal of the poet-neuropath and very little of the murderer for ambition's sake in this lyrical hysteria. No wonder Lady Macbeth declares she would be ashamed to wear a heart so white." It is all Hamlet over again, Hamlet wrought up to a higher pitch of intensity. And here it should be remembered that “Macbeth” was written three years after “Hamlet” and probably just before “Lear"; one would therefore expect a greater intensity and a deeper pessimism in Macbeth than in Hamlet.
The character-drawing in the next scene is necessarily slight. The discovery of the murder impels every one save the protagonist to action, but Macbeth finds time even at the climax of excitement to coin Hamlet-words that can never be forgotten:
“There's nothing serious in mortality;”
and the description of Duncan:
“ His silver skin laced with his golden blood ” —as sugar'd sweet as any line in the sonnets, and here completely out of place.
In these first two acts the character of Macbeth is outlined so firmly that no after-touches can efface the impression.
Now comes a period in the drama in which deed follows so fast upon deed, that there is scarcely any opportunity for characterization. To the casual view Macbeth seems almost to change his nature, passing from murder to murder quickly if not easily. He not only arranges for Banquo's as
sassination, but leaves Lady Macbeth innocent of the knowledge. The explanation of this seeming change of character is at hand. Shakespeare took the history of Macbeth from Holinshed's Chronicle, and there it is recorded that Macbeth murdered Banquo and many others, as well as Macduff's wife and children. Holinshed makes Duncan have “ too much of clemencie," and Macbeth “ too much of crueltie." Macbeth's actions correspond with his nature in Holinshed; but Shakespeare first made Macbeth in his own image-gentle, bookish and irresolute--and then found himself fettered by the historical fact that Macbeth murdered Banquo and the rest. He was therefore forced to explain in some way or other why his Macbeth strode from crime to crime. It must be noted as most characteristic of gentle Shakespeare that
when confronted with this difficulty he did not think of lending Macbeth any tinge of cruelty, harshness, or ambition. His Macbeth commits murder for the same reason that the timorous deer fights—out of fear.
“ To be thus is nothing;
“ There is none but he Whose being I do fear":
This proves, as nothing else could prove, the allpervading, attaching kindness of Shakespeare's nature. Again and again Lady Macbeth saves the situation and tries to shame her husband into stern resolve, but in vain; he's “ quite unmann'd in folly.” Had Macbeth been made ambitious, as the commentators assume, there would have been a sufficient motive for his later actions. But ambition is foreign to the Shakespeare-Hamlet nature, so the poet does not employ it. Again and again he returns to the explanation that the timid grow dangerous when“ frighted out of fear.” Macbeth says:
“But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds
In passing I may remark that Hamlet, too, plains of “bad dreams."
In deep Hamlet melancholy, Macbeth now begins to contrast his state with Duncan's:
“After life's fitful fever he sleeps well. Treason has done his worst: nor steel nor poison, Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, Can touch him further."
Lady Macbeth begs him to sleek o'er his rugged looks, be bright and jovial. He promises obedience; but soon falls into the dark mood again and predicts" a deed of dreadful note.” Naturally his wife questions him, and he replies:
“Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,
No other motive for murder is possible to Shakespeare-Macbeth but fear.
Banquo is murdered, but still Macbeth cries :
“I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears.”
The scene with the ghost of Banquo follows, wherein Macbeth again shows the nervous imaginative Hamlet nature. His next speech is mere reflection, and again Hamlet might have framed it:
" the time has been That when the brains were out the man would die And there an end":
But while fear may be an adequate motive for Banquo's murder, it can hardly explain the murder of Macduff's wife and children. Shakespeare feels this, too, and therefore finds other reasons natural enough; but the first of these reasons, “his own good,” is not especially characteristic of Macbeth, and the second, while perhaps characteristic, is absurdly inadequate: men don't murder out of tediousness :
“For mine own good All causes shall give way: I am in blood 1 Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.” 1 It seems to me probable that Shakespeare, unable to find an adequate motive for murder, borrowed this one from Richard III.” Richard says:
“ But I am in So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin”. This is an explanation following the fact rather than a cause producing it-an explanation, moreover, which may be true in the case of a fiend like Richard, but is not true of a Macbeth.
Take it all in all, this latter reason is as poor a motive for cold blooded murder as was ever given, and Shakespeare again feels this, for he brings in the witches once more to predict safety to Macbeth and adjure him to be “ bloody, bold and resolute.” When they have thus screwed his courage to the sticking place as his wife did before, Macbeth resolves on Macduff's murder, but he immediately recurs to the old explanation ; he does not do it for “ his
good nor because “ returning is tedious"; he does it
“That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
And sleep in spite of thunder."
It is fair to say that Shakespeare's Macbeth is so gentle-kind, that he can find no motive in himself for murder, save fear. The words Shakespeare puts into Hubert's mouth in “ King John” are really his own confession:
“Within this bosom never enter'd yet The dreadful motion of a murderous thought.”
The murders take place and the silly scenes in England between Malcolm and Macduff follow, and then come Lady Macbeth's illness, and the characteristic end. The servant tells Macbeth of the approach of the English force, and he begins the wonderful monologue:
my May of life Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but in their stead Curses, not loud, but deep, mouth-honour, breath Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not.”