« PreviousContinue »
with him: “Now, Makbeth, thou'st obtained those things which the two former sisters prophesied, their remaineth onelie for thee to purchase that which the third sister said should come to pass.' Whereupon Makbeth revolved the thing in his mind, began even then to devise how he might attain the kingdom.”
It is quite possible that Macbeth led his wife to believe that she was leading him on. It was part of his nature to work her moral downfall in such a way. We see a similar instance of his hypocrisy in the scene in the First Act when the witch salutes him with the new-given title of the “ Thane of Cawdor.” He answers :
“The Thane of Cawdor lives, A prosperous gentleman."
It was true that the Thane of Cawdor lived, but his “prosperity” was a little doubtful. He had been conquered in battle fighting against his King and country, and by the very man who spoke of him as prosperous. His conqueror had handed him over to the officers of the King, well knowing that his days were numbered and his “prosperity” was nil. There was short shrift for unsuccessful rebels in the Eleventh century! It was in fact the conscious exercise of this hypocritical spirit which marked the "essential difference” of Macbeth's character. His hypocrisy runs throughout the play. There is no stronger instance of it than when in the presence of his wife he pathetically pictures the aspect of the murdered King and the innocent attendants whose faces he and his " dearest partner of greatness” had smeared with blood. This is certainly a little too much for the lady-for she faints and is carried away. He was a poet with his brain —the greatest poet that Shakespeare has ever drawnand a villain with his heart, and the mere appreciation of his own wickedness gives irony to his grim humor and zest to his crime. He loved throughout to paint the man and his deeds in the blackest pigments and by the exercise of his wickedness shows deliberation of an intellectual voluptuary. All through the play his darkest deeds are heralded by high thoughts told in the most glorious wordpainting, so that after a little the reader or the hearer comes to understand that the excellence of the poetic
thought is but a suggestion of the measure of the wickedness that is to follow. Indeed it is the hypocritical idea set forth by Mr. Lewis Carroll, in “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” when that skilled laborer was dealing with the oysters
“ With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size;
Holding his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes."
When the murder of Duncan is at hand, for the King is now his guest, he says:
"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
I should like to call your attention to the beautiful simile of the naked new-born babe-perhaps the most helpless thing on earth—which has frequently been quoted as a proof of the struggle in Macbeth's mind. It is simply
a proof of Macbeth's poetic imaginings, which run on throughout the play on every possible occasion. I can see the tears trickling down Macbeth's cheeks as in the image of pity for Duncan he pictures the new-born babe tossed about by tempestuous wind; but when Lady Macbeth suggests how the murder of Duncan can be accomplished without any fear of discovery, every thought of pity vanishes. Macbeth, the poet—the man of sentiment and sensibility and not of feeling—was the Macbeth that Shakespeare drew. And when he is actually on his way to the room where Duncan sleeps, he thus plays with his own guilt in poetic phrase :
“Now o'er the one half world
You see he revels in the enjoyment of his fervid and poetic imagery. Again, when he has arranged the murder of Banquo and Fleance, he says to his wife:
· Ere the bat hath flown
What's to be done?
Now, to return for a while to the First Act. We have seen that Macbeth had, even before the opening of the play, a vague purpose, for he says in his rapt soliloquy after he met with the witches :
“Why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical"
“If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,
Without my stir.”
Here we get a clue to that vague side of his character spoken of by his wife:
“What thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win."
If chance is to do the dirty work for him, all well and good; but it is of the essence of evil natures that they cannot wait and must do their own dirty work; and of evil prophecy that it doubts its own fulfilment. After his meeting with the weird sisters he goes away almost content to see what will happen. Here again we may note how Shakespeare has taken his hint from history, for Holinshed says:
“But he yet bethought within himselfe that he must tarry a time, which he divines he may therefore (by divine providence), as it came to passe in his former pereferment.”
What does happen is the very spur needed to his wicked intent. The King, in his full-hearted generosity, Aushed as he is in the full tide of warlike and political success, gives away great rewards :
"Sons, kinsmen, Thanes,
Among other things he gives that which does not belong to him, for he makes his eldest son Prince of Cumberland, thus naming him to the succession of his throne, for at this time, according to Steevens, Cumberland was
in the position of a fief held by Scotland from England, and the heir to the monarchy had generally the title of Prince of Cumberland. On this episode of history Holinshed writes:
King Duncane, having two sonnes by his wife which was the daughter of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, he made the elder of them called Malcolme, Prince of Cumberland, as it were, thereby appointing him as successor in the kingdom immediately after his decease, Makbeth sore troubled herewith for that he saw by this means his hope sore hindered (where by the old laws of the realm the ordinance was that if he that should succeed were not of able age to take charge upon himselfe he that was next of bloud unto him should be admitted) he began to take counsel how he might usurp the kingdom by force, having a just quarrel so to doo. (As he tooke the matter, for that Duncane did what in him lay, to defraud him of all manner of title and claime which he might in time to come pretend unto the crowne.)
This setting forth of the historical fact and condition is only a more detailed statement than is made in the action of the piece as set down by Shakespeare; but the great master of the stage knew that here came the opportunity for the actor's art-words were but the skeleton which the player had to clothe with flesh so that he could breathe into it the fire of life. At the close of Duncan's speech, Macbeth having expressed his intention of being the King's avant-courier adds in an aside :
“ The Prince of Cumberland! That is a stop,
It should always be borne in mind that this point is the pivotal one in the action of the play, the position of affairs, as in the development of the story that Macbeth has his former inchoate intention of murder crystallized into immediate and determined resolve to do the deed, for he realizes that the King's unconstitutional action will day by day raise an ever-heightening barrier between him and the throne. Up to this moment there was, constitu