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fice. He was not a posturer or phrase-monger. He was too intense, too earnest, to employ the cheap and paltry decorations of discourse. He never reconnoitered a hostile position, nor approached it by stealthy parallels. He could not lay siege to an enemy, nor beleaguer him, nor open trenches, and sap and mine. His method was the charge and the onset. He was the Murat of senatorial debate. Not many men of this generation have been better equipped for parliamentary warfare than he, with his commanding presence, his sinewy diction, his confidence, and imperturbable self-control. But in the maturity of his powers and his fame, with unmeasured opportunities for achievement apparently before him, with great designs unaccomplished, surrounded by the proud and affectionate solicitude of a great constituency, the pallid messenger with the inverted torch beckoned him to depart. There are few scenes in history more tragic than that protracted combat with death. No man had greater inducements to live. But in the long struggle against the inexorable advances of an insidious and mortal malady, he did not falter nor repine. He retreated with the aspect of a victor, and though he succumbed, he seemed to conquer. His sun went down at noon, but it sank amid the prophetic splendors of an eternal dawn. With more than a hero's courage, with more than a martyr's fortitude, he waited the approach of the inevitable hour, and went to the undiscovered country.
SIR HENRY IRVING
THE CHARACTER OF MACBETH
[Address by Sir Henry Irving (born Henry Brodribb, in Keinton, near Glastonbury, England, February 6, 1838; ), delivered before the students of Columbia University, New York City, November 20, 1895. The large hall of the Library was cleared for the occasion and a temporary platform erected on one side, against a background of palms. The speaker stood at a reading-desk decorated with palms. He was conducted to the platform by the President, Seth Low, and briefly introduced, Mr. Low saying that “all Englishspeaking people had long claimed the actor for their own before the sovereign of England had given them the right to call him with pleasant familiarity, “Sir Henry.’” The students then welcomed him with the college cheer. At the close of the address Sir Henry was conducted through the hall by Mr. Low, while the students kept up a continuous cheering.]
MY FRIENDs:—I value very much the honor of appearing before the scholars and students of this great university to-day, and I have thought that the best subject on which I might address you would be one bearing on my own art. For this reason I have chosen “The Character of Macbeth.”
The generally received opinion regarding Macbeth has been that of a good man who has gone wrong under the influence of a wicked and dominant wife. This tradition has been in force for many years and was mainly due to the powerful rendering of the character of Lady Macbeth by Mrs. Siddons, whose personality lent its view of an essentially powerful and dominant woman; and as the play was not given as often as might have been expected, the tradition flourished without challenge of any kind save now and then some scholarly comment which practically never reached the masses.
Now, I should like to-day to examine briefly the proposition. I think we shall find that Shakespeare has in his text given Macbeth as one of the most bloody-minded, hypocritical villains in all his long gallery of portraits of men instinct with the virtues and vices of their kind. It is in the very text that, before the opening of the play— before the curtain rises upon it—Macbeth had not only thought of murdering Duncan, but had even broached the subject to his wife, and that this vague possibility became a resolute intention under stress of unexpected developments; that although Macbeth played with the subject and even cultivated assiduously a keen sense of the horrors of his crimes, his resolution never really slackened. Thus we find that the very first suggestion of murder comes from him on the occasion of his meeting with the witches:—
“Why do I yield to that suggestion
My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical "
Up to this moment no other suggestion of murder has been made by anybody—even the witches—and there does not seem even the active cause for it which later appears. The prognostications of the witches are on purely natural lines and it needs positively no effort of imagination and only a very small exercise of the logic of cause and effect to understand that any gipsy might have made a guess at the prophecy of the weird sisters, even without the special gift of invisibility and corporal transference, which these ladies seem to have had in common with the modern Mahatma of esoteric Buddhism. They hail him under three titles—Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King that shall be. Now, regarding the first of these, the new title was manifestly in Macbeth's own mind:—
“By Sinel's death, I know, I am Thane of Glamis;"
with regard to the second, he was returning from having conquered in battle the Thane of Cawdor, who, leagued with his country's enemies, had been fighting against his King, and it was but natural to suppose that, on his attainder, his estates and honors would be forfeited and as usual bestowed upon his victor. With regard to the third, it was so apparent a possibility that even Banquo, the loyal soldier, whose loyalty is all through the play held up in starlike purity, did not show any surprise at it:“Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear Things that do sound so fair 7”
Even the acceptance of the thought—not even to build upon it—did not in itself imply any murderous intent on the part of Macbeth. History, as told by the chronicler Holinshed, gives all the necessary facts, and these were before Shakespeare when he wrote and embodied them in his work. There are, I believe, many who think that Macbeth was an ordinary villain, a mere noble or chieftain—one of many of the same kind—who under the influence of an ambitious wife coveted the crown, and got it by the simple process of killing the owner and taking it for himself. Crowns are not to be treated in the simple manner of property in the typical melodrama in which the legal canon is: “When a man dies, his property goes to the nearest villain.” At the time of the opening of the play, Macbeth was the next heir to the crown, and it was only human that he should dream of natural possibilities of succession. It is true that Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, stood between him and succession so long as the King lived, but then these were both minors and as such unable to succeed if not of age to bear arms. This point is of importance as we shall see presently. When Duncan hailed Macbeth as “Cousin,” it was not merely a vague designation of kinship; the two men were first cousins, each being the only son of one of the coheiresses of King Malcolm (the predecessor of Duncan), who was the common grandfather of them both. The full relationship is thus told by the chronicler Holinshed:—
“After Malcolme succeeded Duncane, sonne of his daughter Beatrice; for Malcolme had two daughters, the one of which was this Beatrice being given in marriage unto one Abbanath Crinen, a man of great nobility, a thane of the isles and west parts of Scotland, bare of that marriage the aforesaid Duncane. The other called Doada, was married unto Cinell, a thane of Glammis, by whom she had issue one Makbeth, a violent gentleman and one that, if he had not been somewhat cruell of nature, might have been thought most worthy the government of a realm.”
Thus it is that we understand Macbeth's utterance:–
he was simply speaking of his own father. Thus too, we can see that while it was only natural for Macbeth to dream of succession to the Kingship of Scotland, there was no need for any unnatural crime to achieve such possibility. Why then, was it that the presage of the witches created such a tumult in the mind of the victorious Thane? Because he had long before discussed with his wife the question of the murder of the King. When Duncan went to Macbeth's castle, he (Macbeth) begins to play with his conscience after his habit as a cat does with a mouse; thinks that he has made up his mind definitely to commit murder. He tells his wife that he will not go on with the project, to which she replies:—
"“What beast was’t, then,
Nor time, nor place,
Is there any possibility of mistaking the significance of this passage? Here it is definitely stated that before the present time the subject of the murder had been broached and that it was Macbeth who had broached it. Is there any evidence here of a good man gone wrong under the insluence of a wicked wife? Let us see how far recorded history bears out the view—and Shakespeare had his Holinshed before him. Holinshed says:–
“The same night (that of the day of seeing the witches and in sequence before his coming to his own castle) at supper Banquho pested