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Characteristics of Women - Moral, Poetical, and Historical
by Anna Jameson
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It appears, also, that when the Archbishop of York and Bishop Tunstall waited on her at her house near Huntingdon, with the sentence of the divorce, signed by Henry, and confirmed by act of parliament, she refused to admit its validity, she being Henry's wife, and not his subject. The bishop describes her conduct in his letter: "She being therewith in great choler and agony, and always interrupting our words, declared that she would never leave the name of queen, but would persist in accounting herself the king's wife till death." When the official letter containing minutes of their conference was shown to her, she seized a pen, and dashed it angrily across every sentence in which she was styled Princess-dowager.

If now we turn to that inimitable scene between Katherine and the two cardinals, (act iii. scene 1,) we shall observe how finely Shakspeare has condensed these incidents, and unfolded to us all the workings of Katherine's proud yet feminine nature. She is discovered at work with some of her women—she calls for music "to soothe her soul grown sad with troubles"—then follows the little song, of which the sentiment is so well adapted to the occasion, while its quaint yet classic elegance breathes the very spirit of those times, when Surrey loved and sung.

SONG.

Orpheus with his lute-made trees, And the mountain-tops that freeze, Bow themselves when he did sing To his music, plants and flowers Ever sprung, as sun and showers There had made a lasting spring.

Every thing that heard him play, Even the billows of the sea, Hung their heads and then lay by In sweet music is such art, Killing care, and grief of heart, Fall asleep, on hearing, die.

They are interrupted by the arrival of the two cardinals. Katherine's perception of their subtlety—her suspicion of their purpose—her sense of her own weakness and inability to contend with them, and her mild subdued dignity, are beautifully represented; as also the guarded self-command with which she eludes giving a definitive answer; but when they counsel her to that which she, who knows Henry, feels must end in her ruin, then the native temper is roused at once, or, to use Tunstall's expression, "the choler and the agony," burst forth in words.

Is this your christian counsel? Out upon ye! Heaven is above all yet; there sits a Judge That no king can corrupt.

WOLSEY.

Your rage mistakes us.

QUEEN KATHERINE.

The more shame for ye! Holy men I thought ye, Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues; But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye: Mend them, for shame, my lords: is this your comfort The cordial that ye bring a wretched lady?

With the same force of language, and impetuous yet dignified feeling, she asserts her own conjugal truth and merit, and insists upon her rights.

Have I liv'd thus long, (let me speak myself, Since virtue finds no friends,) a wife, a true one A woman, (I dare say, without vain-glory,) Never yet branded with suspicion? Have I, with all my full affections, Still met the king—lov'd him next heaven, obey'd him Been out of fondness superstitious to him— Almost forgot my prayers to content him, And am I thus rewarded? 'tis not well, lords, &c.

My lord, I dare not make myself so guilty, To give up willingly that noble title Your master wed me to: nothing but death Shall e'er divorce my dignities.

And this burst of unwonted passion is immediately followed by the natural reaction; it subsides into tears, dejection, and a mournful self-compassion.

Would I had never trod this English ground, Or felt the flatteries that grow upon it. What will become of me now, wretched lady? I am the most unhappy woman living. Alas! poor wenches! where are now your fortunes? [To her women Shipwrecked upon a kingdom, where no pity, No friends, no hope, no kindred weep for me! Almost no grave allowed me! Like the lily that once Was mistress of the field, and flourish'd, I'll hang my head and perish.

Dr. Johnson observes on this scene, that all Katherine's distresses could not save her from a quibble on the word cardinal.

Holy men I thought ye, Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues; But cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear ye!

When we read this passage in connection with the situation and sentiment, the scornful play upon the words is not only appropriate and natural, it seems inevitable. Katherine, assuredly, is neither an imaginative nor a witty personage; but we all acknowledge the truism, that anger inspires wit, and whenever there is passion there is poetry. In the instance just alluded to, the sarcasm springs naturally out from the bitter indignation of the moment. In her grand rebuke of Wolsey, in the trial scene, how just and beautiful is the gradual elevation of her language, till it rises into that magnificent image—

You have by fortune and his highness' favors, Gone slightly o'er low steps, and now are mounted, Where powers are your retainers, &c.

In the depth of her affliction, the pathos as naturally clothes itself in poetry.

Like the lily, That was mistress of the field, and flourish'd, I'll hang my head and perish.

But these, I believe, are the only instances of imagery throughout; for, in general, her language is plain and energetic. It has the strength and simplicity of her character, with very little metaphor and less wit.

In approaching the last scene of Katherine's life, I feel as if about to tread within a sanctuary, where nothing befits us but silence and tears; veneration so strives with compassion, tenderness with awe.[108]

We must suppose a long interval to have elapsed since Katherine's interview with the two cardinals. Wolsey was disgraced, and poor Anna Bullen at the height of her short-lived prosperity. It was Wolsey's fate to be detested by both queens. In the pursuance of his own selfish and ambitious designs, he had treated both with perfidy; and one was the remote, the other the immediate, cause of his ruin.[109]

The ruffian king, of whom one hates to think, was bent on forcing Katherine to concede her rights, and illegitimize her daughter, in favor of the offspring of Anna Bullen: she steadily refused, was declared contumacious, and the sentence of divorce pronounced in 1533. Such of her attendants as persisted in paying her the honors due to a queen were driven from her household; those who consented to serve her as princess-dowager, she refused to admit into her presence; so that she remained unattended, except by a few women, and her gentleman usher, Griffith. During the last eighteen months of her life, she resided at Kimbolton. Her nephew, Charles V., had offered her an asylum and princely treatment; but Katherine, broken in heart, and declining in health, was unwilling to drag the spectacle of her misery and degradation into a strange country: she pined in her loneliness, deprived of her daughter, receiving no consolation from the pope, and no redress from the emperor. Wounded pride, wronged affection, and a cankering jealousy of the woman preferred to her, (which though it never broke out into unseemly words, is enumerated as one of the causes of her death,) at length wore out a feeble frame. "Thus," says the chronicle, "Queen Katherine fell into her last sickness; and though the king sent to comfort her through Chapuys, the emperor's ambassador, she grew worse and worse; and finding death now coming, she caused a maid attending on her to write to the king to this effect:—

"My most dear Lord, King, and Husband;

"The hour of my death now approaching, I cannot choose but, out of the love I bear you, advise you of your soul's health, which you ought to prefer before all considerations of the world or flesh whatsoever; for which yet you have cast me into many calamities, and yourself into many troubles: but I forgive you all, and pray God to do so likewise; for the rest, I commend unto you Mary our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father to her, as I have heretofore desired. I must intreat you also to respect my maids, and give them in marriage, which is not much, they being but three, and all my other servants a year's pay besides their due, lest otherwise they be unprovided for: lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.—Farewell!"[110]

She also wrote another letter to the ambassador, desiring that he would remind the king of her dying request, and urge him to do her this last right.

What the historian relates, Shakspeare realizes. On the wonderful beauty of Katherine's closing scene we need not dwell; for that requires no illustration. In transferring the sentiments of her letter to her lips, Shakspeare has given them added grace, and pathos, and tenderness, without injuring their truth and simplicity: the feelings, and almost the manner of expression, are Katherine's own. The severe justice with which she draws the character of Wolsey is extremely characteristic! the benign candor with which she listens to the praise of him "whom living she most hated," is not less so. How beautiful her religious enthusiasm!—the slumber which visits her pillow, as she listens to that sad music she called her knell; her awakening from the vision of celestial joy to find herself still on earth—

Spirits of peace! where are ye? are ye gone, And leave me here in wretchedness behind ye?

how unspeakably beautiful! And to consummate all in one final touch of truth and nature, we see that consciousness of her own worth and integrity which had sustained her through all her trials of heart, and that pride of station for which she had contended through long years,—which had become more dear by opposition, and by the perseverance with which she had asserted it,—remaining the last strong feeling upon her mind, to the very last hour of existence.

When I am dead, good wench, Let me be used with honor: strew me over With maiden flowers, that all the world may know I was a chaste wife to my grave; embalm me, Then lay me forth: although unqueen'd, yet like A queen, and daughter to a king, inter me I can no more.—

In the epilogue to this play,[111] it is recommended—

To the merciful construction of good women, For such a one we show'd them:

alluding to the character of Queen Katherine. Shakspeare has, in fact, placed before us a queen and a heroine, who in the first place, and above all, is a good woman; and I repeat, that in doing so, and in trusting for all his effect to truth and virtue, he has given a sublime proof of his genius and his wisdom;—for which, among many other obligations, we women remain his debtors.

LADY MACBETH.

I doubt whether the epithet historical can properly apply to the character of Lady Macbeth; for though the subject of the play be taken from history, we never think of her with any reference to historical associations, as we do with regard to Constance, Volumnia, Katherine of Arragon, and others. I remember reading some critique, in which Lady Macbeth was styled the "Scottish queen;" and methought the title, as applied to her sounded like a vulgarism. It appears that the real wife of Macbeth,—she who lives only in the obscure record of an obscure age, bore the very unmusical appellation of Graoch, and was instigated to the murder of Duncan, not only by ambition, but by motives of vengeance. She was the grand-daughter of Kenneth the Fourth, killed in 1003, fighting against Malcolm the Second, the Father of Duncan. Macbeth reigned over Scotland from the year 1039 to 1056—but what is all this to the purpose? The sternly magnificent creation of the poet stands before us independent of all these aids of fancy: she is Lady Macbeth; as such she lives, she reigns, and is immortal in the world to imagination. What earthly title could add to her grandeur? what human record or attestation strengthen our impression of her reality?

Characters in history move before us like a procession of figures in basso relievo: we see one side only, that which the artist chose to exhibit to us; the rest is sunk in the block: the same characters in Shakspeare are like the statues cut out of the block, fashioned, finished, tangible in every part: we may consider them under every aspect, we may examine them on every side. As the classical times, when the garb did not make the man, were peculiarly favorable to the development and delineation of the human form, and have handed down to us the purest models of strength and grace—so the times in which Shakspeare lived were favorable to the vigorous delineation of natural character. Society was not then one vast conventional masquerade of manners. In his revelations, the accidental circumstances are to the individual character, what the drapery of the antique statue is to the statue itself; it is evident, that, though adapted to each other, and studied relatively, they were also studied separately. We trace through the folds the fine and true proportions of the figure beneath: they seem and are independent of each other to the practised eye, though carved together from the same enduring substance; at once perfectly distinct and eternally inseparable. In history we can but study character in relation to events, to situation and circumstances, which disguise and encumber it: we are left to imagine, to infer, what certain people must have been, from the manner in which they have acted or suffered. Shakspeare and nature bring us back to the true order of things; and showing us what the human being is, enable us to judge of the possible as well as the positive result in acting and suffering. Here, instead of judging the individual by his actions, we are enabled to judge of actions by a reference to the individual. When we can carry this power into the experience of real life, we shall perhaps be more just to one another, and not consider ourselves aggrieved, because we cannot gather figs from thistles and grapes from thorns.

In the play or poem of Macbeth, the interest of the story is so engrossing, the events so rapid and so appalling, the accessories so sublimely conceived and so skilfully combined, that it is difficult to detach Lady Macbeth from the dramatic situation, or consider her apart from the terrible associations of our first and earliest impressions. As the vulgar idea of a Juliet—that all-beautiful and heaven-gifted child of the south—is merely a love-sick girl in white satin, so the common-place idea of Lady Macbeth, though endowed with the rarest powers, the loftiest energies, and the profoundest affections, is nothing but a fierce, cruel woman, brandishing a couple of daggers, and inciting her husband to butcher a poor old king.

Even those who reflect more deeply are apt to consider rather the mode in which a certain character is manifested, than the combination of abstract qualities making up that individual human being; so what should be last, is first; effects are mistaken for causes, qualities are confounded with their results, and the perversion of what is essentially good, with the operation of positive evil. Hence it is, that those who can feel and estimate the magnificent conception and poetical development of the character, have overlooked the grand moral lesson it conveys; they forget that the crime of Lady Macbeth terrifies us in proportion as we sympathize with her; and that this sympathy is in proportion to the degree of pride, passion, and intellect, we may ourselves possess. It is good to behold and to tremble at the possible result of the noblest faculties uncontrolled or perverted. True it is, that the ambitious women of these civilized times do not murder sleeping kings: but are there, therefore, no Lady Macbeths in the world? no women who, under the influence of a diseased or excited appetite for power or distinction, would sacrifice the happiness of a daughter, the fortunes of a husband, the principles of a son, and peril their own souls?

* * * * *

The character of Macbeth is considered as one of the most complex in the whole range of Shakspeare's dramatic creations. He is represented in the course of the action under such a variety of aspects; the good and evil qualities of his mind are so poised and blended, and instead of being gradually and successively developed, evolve themselves so like shifting lights and shadows playing over the "unstable waters," that his character has afforded a continual and interesting subject of analysis and contemplation. None of Shakspeare's personages have been treated of more at large; none have been more minutely criticized and profoundly examined. A single feature in his character—the question, for instance, as to whether his courage be personal or constitutional, or excited by mere desperation—has been canvassed, asserted, and refuted, in two masterly essays.

On the other hand, the character of Lady Macbeth resolves itself into few and simple elements. The grand features of her character are so distinctly and prominently marked, that, though acknowledged to be one of the poet's most sublime creations, she has been passed over with comparatively few words: generally speaking, the commentators seem to have considered Lady Macbeth rather with reference to her husband, and as influencing the action of the drama, than as an individual conception of amazing power, poetry, and beauty: or if they do individualize her, it is ever with those associations of scenic representation which Mrs. Siddons has identified with the character. Those who have been accustomed to see it arrayed in the form and lineaments of that magnificent woman, and developed with her wonder-working powers, seem satisfied to leave it there, as if nothing more could be said or added.[112]

But the generation which beheld Mrs. Siddons in her glory is passing away, and we are again left to our own unassisted feelings, or to all the satisfaction to be derived from the sagacity of critics and the reflections of commentators. Let us turn to them for a moment.

Dr. Johnson, who seems to have regarded her as nothing better than a kind of ogress, tells us, in so many words, that "Lady Macbeth is merely detested." Schlegel dismisses her in haste, as a species of female fury. In the two essays on Macbeth already mentioned, she is passed over with one or two slight allusions. The only justice that has yet been done to her is by Hazlitt, in the "Characters of Shakspeare's Plays." Nothing can be finer than his remarks as far as they go, but his plan did not allow him sufficient space to work out his own conception of the character, with the minuteness it requires. All that he says is just in sentiment, and most eloquent in the expression; but in leaving some of the finest points altogether untouched, he has also left us in doubt whether he even felt or perceived them; and this masterly criticism stops short of the whole truth—it is a little superficial, and a little too harsh.

In the mind of Lady Macbeth, ambition is represented as the ruling motive, an intense over-mastering passion, which is gratified at the expense of every just and generous principle, and every feminine feeling. In the pursuit of her object, she is cruel, treacherous, and daring. She is doubly, trebly dyed in guilt and blood; for the murder she instigates is rendered more frightful by disloyalty and ingratitude, and by the violation of all the most sacred claims of kindred and hospitality. When her husband's more kindly nature shrinks from the perpetration of the deed of horror, she, like an evil genius, whispers him on to his damnation. The full measure of her wickedness is never disguised, the magnitude and atrocity of her crime is never extenuated, forgotten, or forgiven, in the whole course of the play. Our judgment is not bewildered, nor our moral feeling insulted, by the sentimental jumble of great crimes and dazzling virtues, after the fashion of the German school and of some admirable writers of our own time. Lady Macbeth's amazing power of intellect, her inexorable determination of purpose, her superhuman strength of nerve, render her as fearful in herself as her deeds are hateful; yet she is not a mere monster of depravity, with whom we have nothing in common, nor a meteor whose destroying path we watch in ignorant affright and amaze. She is a terrible impersonation of evil passions and mighty powers, never so far removed from our own nature as to be cast beyond the pale of our sympathies; for the woman herself remains a woman to the last—still linked with her sex and with humanity.

This impression is produced partly by the essential truth in the conception of the character, and partly by the manner in which it is evolved; by a combination of minute and delicate touches, in some instances by speech, in others by silence: at one time by what is revealed, at another by what we are left to infer. As in real life, we perceive distinctions in character we cannot always explain, and receive impressions for which we cannot always account, without going back to the beginning of an acquaintance, and recalling many and trifling circumstances—looks, and tones, and words: thus, to explain that hold which Lady Macbeth, in the midst of all her atrocities, still keeps upon our feelings, it is necessary to trace minutely the action of the play, as far as she is concerned in it, from its very commencement to its close.

We must bear in mind, that the first idea of murdering Duncan is not suggested by Lady Macbeth to her husband: it springs within his mind, and is revealed to us, before his first interview with his wife,—before she is introduced or even alluded to.

MACBETH.

This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill; cannot be good. If ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success, Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor— If good, why do I yield to that suggestion, Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, Against the use of nature?

It will be said, that the same "horrid suggestion" presents itself spontaneously to her, on the reception of his letter; or rather, that the letter itself acts upon her mind as the prophecy of the Weird Sisters on the mind of her husband, kindling the latent passion for empire into a quenchless flame. We are prepared to see the train of evil, first lighted by hellish agency, extend itself to her through the medium of her husband; but we are spared the more revolting idea that it originated with her. The guilt is thus more equally divided than we should suppose, when we hear people pitying "the noble nature of Macbeth," bewildered and goaded on to crime, solely or chiefly by the instigation of his wife.

It is true that she afterwards appears the more active agent of the two; but it is less through her preeminence in wickedness than through her superiority of intellect. The eloquence—the fierce, fervid eloquence with which she bears down the relenting and reluctant spirit of her husband, the dexterous sophistry with which she wards off his objections, her artful and affected doubts of his courage—the sarcastic manner in which she lets fall the word coward—a word which no man can endure from another, still less from a woman, and least of all from a woman he loves—and the bold address with which she removes all obstacles, silences all arguments, overpowers all scruples, and marshals the way before him, absolutely make us shrink before the commanding intellect of the woman, with a terror in which interest and admiration are strangely mingled.

LADY MACBETH.

He has almost supp'd: why have you left the chamber?

MACBETH.

Hath he ask'd for me?

LADY MACBETH.

Know you not, he has?

MACBETH.

We will proceed no farther in this business; He hath honored me of late, and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon.

LADY MACBETH.

Was the hope drunk, Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since, And wakes it now, to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? From this time, Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valor, As thou art in desire? Would'st thou have that Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem; Letting I dare not wait upon I would, Like the poor cat i' the adage?

MACBETH.

Pr'ythee, peace I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more, is none.

LADY MACBETH.

What beast was it then, That made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; And, to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place, Did then adhere, and yet you would make both; They have made themselves, and that their fitness now Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it were smiling in my face, Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn, as you Have done to this.

MACBETH.

If we should fail.—

LADY MACBETH.

We fail.[113] But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail.

Again, in the murdering scene, the obdurate inflexibility of purpose with which she drives on Macbeth to the execution of their project, and her masculine indifference to blood and death, would inspire unmitigated disgust and horror, but for the involuntary consciousness that it is produced rather by the exertion of a strong power over herself, than by absolute depravity of disposition and ferocity of temper. This impression of her character is brought home at once to our very hearts with the most profound knowledge of the springs of nature within us, the most subtle mastery over their various operations, and a feeling of dramatic effect not less wonderful. The very passages in which Lady Macbeth displays the most savage and relentless determination, are so worded as to fill the mind with the idea of sex, and place the woman before us in all her dearest attributes, at once softening and refining the horror, and rendering it more intense. Thus, when she reproaches her husband for his weakness—

From this time, Such I account thy love!

Again,

Come to my woman's breasts, And take my milk for gall, ye murdering ministers, That no compunctions visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, &c.

I have given suck, and know how tender 'tis To love the babe that milks me, &c.

And lastly, in the moment of extremest horror comes that unexpected touch of feeling, so startling, yet so wonderfully true to nature—

Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done it!

Thus in one of Weber's or Beethoven's grand symphonies, some unexpected soft minor chord or passage will steal on the ear, heard amid the magnificent crash of harmony, making the blood pause, and filling the eye with unbidden tears.

It is particularly observable, that in Lady Macbeth's concentrated, strong-nerved ambition, the ruling passion of her mind, there is yet a touch of womanhood: she is ambitious less for herself than for her husband. It is fair to think this, because we have no reason to draw any other inference either from her words or actions. In her famous soliloquy, after reading her husband's letter, she does not once refer to herself. It is of him she thinks: she wishes to see her husband on the throne, and to place the sceptre within his grasp. The strength of her affections adds strength to her ambition. Although in the old story of Boethius we are told that the wife of Macbeth "burned with unquenchable desire to bear the name of queen," yet in the aspect under which Shakspeare has represented the character to us, the selfish part of this ambition is kept out of sight. We must remark also, that in Lady Macbeth's reflections on her husband's character, and on that milkiness of nature, which she fears "may impede him from the golden round," there is no indication of female scorn: there is exceeding pride, but no egotism in the sentiment or the expression;—no want of wifely and womanly respect and love for him, but on the contrary, a sort of unconsciousness of her own mental superiority, which she betrays rather than asserts, as interesting in itself as it is most admirably conceived and delineated.

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised:—Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human kindness, To catch the nearest way. Thou would'st be great, Art not without ambition; but without The illness should attend it. What thou would'st highly That would'st thou holily; would'st not play false. And yet would'st wrongly win: thou'dst have, great Glamis, That which cries, Thus thou must do, if thou have it; And that which rather thou dost fear to do, Than wishest should be undone. Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; And chastise with the valor of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round, Which fate and metaphysical[114] aid doth seem To have thee crowned withal

Nor is there any thing vulgar in her ambition: as the strength of her affections lends to it something profound and concentrated, so her splendid imagination invests the object of her desire with its own radiance. We cannot trace in her grand and capacious mind that it is the mere baubles and trappings of royalty which dazzle and allure her: hers is the sin of the "star-bright apostate," and she plunges with her husband into the abyss of guilt, to procure for "all their days and nights sole sovereign sway and masterdom." She revels, she luxuriates in her dream of power. She reaches at the golden diadem, which is to sear her brain; she perils life and soul for its attainment, with an enthusiasm as perfect, a faith as settled, as that of the martyr, who sees at the stake, heaven and its crowns of glory opening upon him.

Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor! Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter! Thy letters have transported me beyond This ignorant present, and I feel now The future in the instant!

This is surely the very rapture of ambition! and those who have heard Mrs. Siddons pronounce the word hereafter, cannot forget the look, the tone, which seemed to give her auditors a glimpse of that awful future, which she, in her prophetic fury, beholds upon the instant.

But to return to the text before us: Lady Macbeth having proposed the object to herself, and arrayed it with an ideal glory, fixes her eye steadily upon it, soars far above all womanish feelings and scruples to attain it, and stoops upon her victim with the strength and velocity of a vulture; but having committed unflinchingly the crime necessary for the attainment of her purpose, she stops there. After the murder of Duncan, we see Lady Macbeth, during the rest of the play, occupied in supporting the nervous weakness and sustaining the fortitude of her husband; for instance, Macbeth is at one time on the verge of frenzy, between fear and horror, and it is clear that if she loses her self-command, both must perish:—

MACBETH.

One cried, God bless us! and, Amen! the other, As they had seen me, with these hangman's hands. Listening their fear, I could not say, Amen! When they did say, God bless us!

LADY MACBETH.

Consider it not so deeply!

MACBETH.

But wherefore could not I pronounce, amen? I had most need of blessing, and amen Stuck in my throat.

LADY MACBETH.

These deeds must not be thought After these ways: so, it will make us mad.

MACBETH.

Methought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more," &c. &c.

LADY MACBETH.

What do you mean? who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy Thane, You do unbend your noble strength, to think So brainsickly of things.—Go, get some water, &c. &c.

Afterwards, in act iii., she is represented as muttering to herself,

Nought's had, all's spent, When our desire is got without content;

yet immediately addresses her moody and conscience-stricken husband—

How now, my lord? why do you keep alone, Of sorriest fancies your companions making? Using those thoughts, which should indeed have died With them they think on? Things without remedy, Should be without regard; what's done, is done.

But she is nowhere represented as urging him on to new crimes, so far from it, that when Macbeth darkly hints his purposed assassination of Banquo, and she inquires his meaning, he replies,

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou approve the deed.

The same may be said of the destruction of Macduff's family. Every one must perceive how our detestation of the woman had been increased, if she had been placed before us as suggesting and abetting those additional cruelties into which Macbeth is hurried by his mental cowardice.

If my feeling of Lady Macbeth's character be just to the conception of the poet, then she is one who could steel herself to the commission of a crime from necessity and expediency, and be daringly wicked for a great end, but not likely to perpetrate gratuitous murders from any vague or selfish fears. I do not mean to say that the perfect confidence existing between herself and Macbeth could possibly leave her in ignorance of his actions or designs: that heart-broken and shuddering allusion to the murder of Lady Macduff (in the sleeping scene) proves the contrary:—

The thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now?

But she is nowhere brought before us in immediate connection with these horrors, and we are spared any flagrant proof of her participation in them. This may not strike us at first, but most undoubtedly has an effect on the general bearing of the character, considered as a whole.

Another more obvious and pervading source of interest arises from that bond of entire affection and confidence which, through the whole of this dreadful tissue of crime and its consequences, unites Macbeth and his wife; claiming from us an involuntary respect and sympathy, and shedding a softening influence over the whole tragedy. Macbeth leans upon her strength, trusts in her fidelity, and throws himself on her tenderness.

O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!

She sustains him, calms him, soothes him—

Come on; Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks; Be bright and jovial 'mong your guests to-night.

The endearing epithets, the terms of fondness in which he addresses her, and the tone of respect she invariably maintains towards him, even when most exasperated by his vacillation of mind and his brain-sick terrors, have, by the very force of contrast, a powerful effect on the fancy.

By these tender redeeming touches we are impressed with a feeling that Lady Macbeth's influence over the affections of her husband, as a wife and a woman, is at least equal to her power over him as a superior mind. Another thing has always struck me. During the supper scene, in which Macbeth is haunted by the spectre of the murdered Banquo, and his reason appears unsettled by the extremity of his horror and dismay, her indignant rebuke, her low whispered remonstrance, the sarcastic emphasis with which she combats his sick fancies, and endeavors to recall him to himself, have an intenseness, a severity, a bitterness, which makes the blood creep.

LADY MACBETH.

Are you a man?

MACBETH.

Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that Which might appall the devil.

LADY MACBETH.

O proper stuff! This is the very painting of your fear: This is the air-drawn dagger, which, you said, Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts (Impostors to true fear) would well become A woman's story, at a winter's fire, Authoriz'd by her grandam! Shame itself! Why do you make such faces? When all's done You look but on a stool. What! quite unmann'd in folly?

Yet when the guests are dismissed, and they are left alone, she says no more, and not a syllable of reproach or scorn escapes her: a few words in submissive reply to his questions, and an entreaty to seek repose, are all she permits herself to utter. There is a touch of pathos and of tenderness in this silence which has always affected me beyond expression: it is one of the most masterly and most beautiful traits of character in the whole play.

Lastly, it is clear that in a mind constituted like that of Lady Macbeth, and not utterly depraved and hardened by the habit of crime, conscience must wake some time or other, and bring with it remorse closed by despair, and despair by death. This great moral retribution was to be displayed to us—but how? Lady Macbeth is not a woman to start at shadows; she mocks at air-drawn daggers; she sees no imagined spectres rise from the tomb to appall or accuse her.[115] The towering bravery of her mind disdains the visionary terrors which haunt her weaker husband. We know, or rather we feel, that she who could give a voice to the most direful intent, and call on the spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to "unsex her," and "stop up all access and passage of remorse"—to that remorse would have given nor tongue nor sound; and that rather than have uttered a complaint, she would have held her breath and died. To have given her a confidant, though in the partner of her guilt, would have been a degrading resource, and have disappointed and enfeebled all our previous impressions of her character; yet justice is to be done, and we are to be made acquainted with that which the woman herself would have suffered a thousand deaths of torture rather than have betrayed. In the sleeping scene we have a glimpse into the depths of that inward hell: the seared brain and broken heart are laid bare before us in the helplessness of slumber. By a judgment the most sublime ever imagined, yet the most unforced, natural, and inevitable, the sleep of her who murdered sleep is no longer repose, but a condensation of resistless horrors which the prostrate intellect and powerless will can neither baffle nor repel. We shudder and are satisfied; yet our human sympathies are again touched: we rather sigh over the ruin than exult in it; and after watching her through this wonderful scene with a sort of fascination, we dismiss the unconscious, helpless, despair-stricken murderess, with a feeling which Lady Macbeth, in her waking strength, with all her awe-commanding powers about her, could never have excited.

It is here especially we perceive that sweetness of nature which in Shakspeare went hand in hand with his astonishing powers. He never confounds that line of demarcation which eternally separates good from evil, yet he never places evil before us without exciting in some way a consciousness of the opposite good which shall balance and relieve it.

I do deny that he has represented in Lady Macbeth a woman "naturally cruel,"[116] "invariably savage,"[117] or endued with "pure demoniac firmness."[118] If ever there could have existed a woman to whom such phrases could apply—a woman without touch of modesty, pity or fear,—Shakspeare knew that a thing so monstrous was unfit for all the purposes of poetry. If Lady Macbeth had been naturally cruel, she needed not so solemnly to have abjured all pity, and called on the spirits that wait on mortal thoughts to unsex her; nor would she have been loved to excess by a man of Macbeth's character; for it is the sense of intellectual energy and strength of will overpowering her feminine nature, which draws from him that burst of intense admiration—

Bring forth men children only, For thy undaunted metal should compose Nothing but males.

If she had been invariably savage, her love would not have comforted and sustained her husband in his despair, nor would her uplifted dagger have been arrested by a dear and venerable image rising between her soul and its fell purpose. If endued with pure demoniac firmness, her woman's nature would not, by the reaction, have been so horribly avenged, she would not have died of remorse and despair.

* * * * *

We cannot but observe that through the whole of the dialogue appropriated to Lady Macbeth, there is something very peculiar and characteristic in the turn of expression: her compliments, when she is playing the hostess or the queen, are elaborately elegant and verbose: but, when in earnest, she speaks in short energetic sentences—sometimes abrupt, but always full of meaning; her thoughts are rapid and clear, her expressions forcible, and the imagery like sudden flashes of lightning: all the foregoing extracts exhibit this, but I will venture one more, as an immediate illustration.

MACBETH.

My dearest love, Duncan comes here to-night.

LADY MACBETH.

And when goes hence?

MACBETH.

To-morrow,—as he purposes.

LADY MACBETH.

O never Shall sun that morrow see! Thy face, my thane, is as a book, where men May read strange matters;—to beguile the time, Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye Your tongue, your hand; look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under it.

What would not the firmness, the self-command, the enthusiasm, the intellect, the ardent affections of this woman have performed, if properly directed? but the object being unworthy of the effort, the end is disappointment, despair, and death.

The power of religion could alone have controlled such a mind; but it is the misery of a very proud, strong, and gifted spirit, without sense of religion, that instead of looking upward to find a superior, looks round and sees all things as subject to itself. Lady Macbeth is placed in a dark, ignorant, iron age; her powerful intellect is slightly tinged with its credulity and superstition, but she has no religious feeling to restrain the force of will. She is a stern fatalist in principle and action—"what is done, is done," and would be done over again under the same circumstances; her remorse is without repentance, or any reference to an offended Deity; it arises from the pang of a wounded conscience, the recoil of the violated feelings of nature: it is the horror of the past, not the terror of the future; the torture of self-condemnation, not the fear of judgment; it is strong as her soul, deep as her guilt, fatal as her resolve, and terrible as her crime.

If it should be objected to this view of Lady Macbeth's character, that it engages our sympathies in behalf of a perverted being—and that to leave her so strong a power upon our feelings in the midst of such supreme wickedness, involves a moral wrong, I can only reply in the words of Dr. Channing, that "in this and the like cases our interest fastens on what is not evil in the character—that there is something kindling and ennobling in the consciousness, however awakened, of the energy which resides in mind; and many a virtuous man has borrowed new strength from the force, constancy, and dauntless courage of evil agents."[119]

This is true; and might he not have added, that many a powerful and gifted spirit has learnt humility and self-government, from beholding how far the energy which resides in mind may be degraded and perverted?

* * * * *

In general, when a woman is introduced into a tragedy to be the presiding genius of evil in herself, or the cause of evil to others, she is either too feebly or too darkly portrayed; either crime is heaped on crime, and horror on horror, till our sympathy is lost in incredulity, or the stimulus is sought in unnatural or impossible situations, or in situations that ought to be impossible, (as in the Myrrha or the Cenci,) or the character is enfeebled by a mixture of degrading propensities and sexual weakness, as in Vittoria Corombona. But Lady Macbeth, though so supremely wicked, and so consistently feminine, is still kept aloof from all base alloy. When Shakspeare created a female character purely detestable, he made her an accessory, never a principal. Thus Regan and Goneril are two powerful sketches of selfishness, cruelty, and ingratitude; we abhor them whenever we see or think of them, but we think very little about them, except as necessary to the action of the drama. They are to cause the madness of Lear, and to call forth the filial devotion of Cordelia, and their depravity is forgotten in its effects. A comparison has been made between Lady Macbeth and the Greek Clytemnestra in the Agamemnon of Eschylus. The Clytemnestra of Sophocles is something more in Shakspeare's spirit, for she is something less impudently atrocious; but, considered as a woman and an individual, would any one compare this shameless adulteress, cruel murderess, and unnatural mother, with Lady Macbeth? Lady Macbeth herself would certainly shrink from the approximation.[120]

The Electra of Sophocles comes nearer to Lady Macbeth as a poetical conception, with this strong distinction, that she commands more respect and esteem, and less sympathy. The murder in which she participates is ordained by the oracle—is an act of justice, and therefore less a murder than a sacrifice. Electra is drawn with magnificent simplicity and intensity of feeling and purpose, but there is a want of light, and shade, and relief. Thus the scene in which Orestes stabs his mother within her chamber, and she is heard pleading for mercy, while Electra stands forward listening exultingly to her mother's cries, and urging her brother to strike again, "another blow! another!" &c. is terribly fine, but the horror is too shocking, too physical—if I may use such an expression: it will not surely bear a comparison with the murdering scene in Macbeth, where the exhibition of various passions—the irresolution of Macbeth, the bold determination of his wife, the deep suspense, the rage of the elements without, the horrid stillness within, and the secret feeling of that infernal agency which is ever present to the fancy, even when not visible on the scene—throw a rich coloring of poetry over the whole, which does not take from "the present horror of the time," and yet relieves it. Shakspeare's blackest shadows are like those of Rembrandt; so intense, that the gloom which brooded over Egypt in her day of wrath was pale in comparison—yet so transparent that we seem to see the light of heaven through their depth.

In the whole compass of dramatic poetry, there is but one female character which can be placed near that of Lady Macbeth; the MEDEA. Not the vulgar, voluble fury of the Latin tragedy,[121] nor the Medea in a hoop petticoat of Corneille, but the genuine Greek Medea,—the Medea of Euripides.[122]

There is something in the Medea which seizes irresistibly on the imagination. Her passionate devotion to Jason, for whom she had left her parents and country—to whom she had given all, and

Would have drawn the spirit from her breast Had he but asked it, sighing forth her soul Into his bosom;[123]

the wrongs and insults which drive her to desperation—the horrid refinement of cruelty with which she plans and executes her revenge upon her faithless husband—the gush of fondness with which she weeps over her children, whom in the next moment she devotes to destruction in a paroxysm of insane fury, carry the terror and pathos of tragic situation to their extreme height. But if we may be allowed to judge through the medium of a translation, there is a certain hardness in the manner of treating the character, which in some degree defeats the effect. Medea talks too much: her human feelings and superhuman power are not sufficiently blended. Taking into consideration the different impulses which actuate Medea and Lady Macbeth, as love, jealousy, and revenge on the one side, and ambition on the other, we expect to find more of female nature in the first than in the last: and yet the contrary is the fact: at least, my own impression as far as a woman may judge of a woman, is, that although the passions of Medea are more feminine, the character is less so; we seem to require more feeling in her fierceness, more passion in her frenzy; something less of poetical abstraction,—less art, fewer words: her delirious vengeance we might forgive, but her calmness and subtlety are rather revolting.

These two admirable characters, placed in contrast to each other, afford a fine illustration of Schlegel's distinction between the ancient or Greek drama, which he compares to sculpture, and the modern or romantic drama, which he compares to painting. The gothic grandeur, the rich chiaroscuro, and deep-toned colors of Lady Macbeth, stand thus opposed to the classical elegance and mythological splendor, the delicate yet inflexible outline of the Medea. If I might be permitted to carry this illustration still further, I would add, that there exists the same distinction between the Lady Macbeth and the Medea, as between the Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci and the Medusa of the Greek gems and bas reliefs. In the painting, the horror of the subject is at once exalted and softened by the most vivid coloring, and the most magical contrast of light and shade. We gaze—until, from the murky depths of the background, the serpent hair seems to stir and glitter as if instinct with life, and the head itself, in all its ghastliness and brightness, appears to rise from the canvass with the glare of reality. In the Medusa of sculpture, how different is the effect on the imagination! We have here the snakes convolving round the winged and graceful head: the brows contracted with horror and pain; but every feature is chiselled into the most regular and faultless perfection; and amid the gorgon terrors, there rests a marbly, fixed, supernatural grace, which, without reminding us for a moment of common life or nature, stands before us a presence, a power, and an enchantment!

FOOTNOTES:

[66] Milton.

[67] "That the treachery of King John, the death of Arthur, and the grief of Constance, had a real truth in history, sharpens the sense of pain, while it hangs a leaden weight on the heart and the imagination. Something whispers us that we have no right to make a mock of calamities like these, or to turn the truth of things into the puppet and plaything of our fancies."—See Characters of Shakspeare's Plays.—To consider thus is not to consider too deeply, but not deeply enough.

[68] Grave, in the sense of mighty or potent.

[69] Fulvia, the first wife of Antony.

[70] The well-known violence and coarseness of Queen Elizabeth's manners, in which she was imitated by the women about her, may in Shakspeare's time have rendered the image of a royal virago less offensive and less extraordinary.

[71] She was as good as her word. See the life of Antony in Plutarch.

[72] i. e. retinue.

[73] i. e. silver coins, from the Spanish plata.

[74] Cleopatra replies to the first word she hears on recovering her sense, "No more an empress, but a mere woman!"

[75] i. e. sedate determination.—JOHNSON

[76] The Cleopatra of Jodelle was the first regular French tragedy: the last French tragedy on the same subject was the Cleopatre of Marmontel. For the representation of this tragedy Vaucanson, the celebrated French mechanist, invented an automaton asp, which crawled and hissed to the life,—to the great delight of the Parisians. But it appears that neither Vaucanson's asp, nor Clairon, could save Cleopatre from a deserved fate. Of the English tragedies, one was written by the Countess of Pembroke, the sister of Sir Philip Sydney; and is, I believe, the first instance in our language, of original dramatic writing, by female.

[77] "The sober eye of dull Octavia."—Act v. scene 2.

[78] Octavia was never in Egypt.

[79] "The Octavia of Dryden is a much more important personage than in the Antony and Cleopatra of Shakspeare. She is, however, more cold and unamiable, for in the very short scenes in which the Octavia of Shakspeare is introduced, she is placed in rather an interesting point of view. But Dryden has himself informed us that he was apprehensive that the justice of a wife's claim would draw the audience to her side, and lessen their interest in the lover and the mistress. He seems accordingly to have studiously lowered the character of the injured Octavia who, in her conduct to her husband, shows much duty and little love." Sir W. Scott (in the same fine piece of criticism prefixed to Dryden's All for Love) gives the preference to Shakspeare's Cleopatra.

[80] In all, about two thousand pounds.

[81] The corresponding passage in the old English Plutarch runs thus: "My son, why dost thou not answer me? Dost thou think it good altogether to give place unto thy choler and revenge, and thinkest thou it not honesty for thee to grant thy mother's request in so weighty a cause? Dost thou take it honorable for a nobleman to remember the wrongs and injuries done him, and dost not in like case think it an honest nobleman's part to be thankful for the goodness that parents do show to their children, acknowledging the duty and reverence they ought to bear unto them? No man living is more bound to show himself thankful in all parts and respects than thyself, who so universally showest all ingratitude. Moreover, my son, thou hast sorely taken of thy country, exacting grievous payments upon them in revenge of the injuries offered thee; besides, thou hast not hitherto showed thy poor mother any courtesy. And, therefore, it is not only honest, but due unto me, that without compulsion I should obtain my so just and reasonable request of thee. But since by reason I cannot persuade ye to it, to what purpose do I defer my last hope?" And with these words, herself, his wife, and children, fell down upon their knees before him.

[82] Vide Daru, Histoire de Bretagne.

[83] Vide Sir Peter Leycester's Antiquities of Chester.

[84] By the treaty of Messina, 1190

[85] Malone says, that "In expanding the character of the bastard, Shakspeare seems to have proceeded on the following slight hint in an old play on the story of King John:—

Next them a bastard of the king's deceased— A hardy wild-head, rough and venturous."

It is easy to say this; yet who but Shakspeare could have expanded the last line into a Falconbridge?

[86] The Greek Merope, which was esteemed one of the finest of the tragedies of Euripides, is unhappily lost; those of Maffei, Alfieri, and Voltaire, are well known. There is another Merope in Italian, which I have not seen: the English Merope is merely a bad translation from Voltaire.

[87] "Queen Elinor saw that if he were king, how his mother Constance would look to bear the most rule in the realm of England, till her son should come of a lawful age to govern of himself."—HOLINSHED.

[88] King John, Act iii, Scene 1.

[89] Louis VII. of France, whom she was accustomed to call, in contempt, the monk. Elinor's adventures in Syria, whither she accompanied Louis on the second Crusade, would form a romance.

[90] Henry II. of England. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the story of Fair Rosamond, as far as Elinor is concerned, is a mere invention of some ballad-maker of later times.

[91] Vide Mezerai.

[92] When at Naples, I have often stood upon the rock at the extreme point of Posilippo, and looked down upon the little Island of Nisida, and thought of this scene till I forgot the Lazaretta which now deforms it: deforms it, however, to the fancy only, for the building itself, as it rises from amid the vines, the cypresses and fig-trees which embosom it, looks beautiful at a distance.

[93] "The contention of the two Houses of York and Lancaster," in two parts, supposed by Malone to have been written about 1590.

[94] I abstain from making any remarks on the character of Joan of Arc, as delineated in the First part of Henry VI.; first, because I do not in my conscience attribute it to Shakspeare, and secondly, because in representing her according to the vulgar English traditions, as half sorceress, half enthusiast, and in the end, corrupted by pleasure and ambition, the truth of history, and the truth of nature, justice, and common sense, are equally violated. Schiller has treated the character nobly: but in making Joan the slave of passion, and the victim of love, instead of the victim of patriotism, has committed, I think, a serious error in judgment and feeling; and I cannot sympathize with Madame de Stael's defence of him on this particular point. There was no occasion for this deviation from the truth of things, and from the dignity and spotless purity of the character. This young enthusiast, with her religious reveries, her simplicity, her heroism, her melancholy, her sensibility, her fortitude, her perfectly feminine bearing in all her exploits, (for though she so often led the van of battle unshrinking, while death was all around her, she never struck a blow, nor stained her consecrated sword with blood,—another point in which Schiller has wronged her,) this heroine and martyr, over whose last moments we shed burning tears of pity and indignation, remains yet to be treated as a Dramatic character, and I know but one person capable of doing this.

[95] See Henry VI. Part III. Act. iii. sc. 3—

QUEEN MARGARET.

Warwick, these words have turned my hate to love,— And I forgive and quite forget old faults, And joy that thou becom'st King Henry's friend.

[96] Horace Walpole observes, that "it is evident from the conduct of Shakspeare, that the house of Tudor retained all their Lancasterian prejudices even in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. In his play of Richard the Third, he seems to deduce the woes of the house of York from the curses which Queen Margaret had vented against them; and he could not give that weight to her curses, without supposing a right in her to utter them."

[97] See her letters in Ellis's Collection.

[98] Under similar circumstances, one of Katherine's predecessors, Philippe of Hainault, had gained in her husband's absence the battle of Neville Cross, in which David Bruce was taken prisoner.

[99] Ellis's Collection. We must keep in mind that Katherine was a foreigner, and till after she was seventeen, never spoke or wrote a word of English.

[100] Hall's Chronicle

[101] Hall's Chronicle, p. 781.

[102] The court at Blackfriars sat on the 28th of May, 1529. "The queen being called, accompanied by the four bishops and others of her counsel, and a great company of ladies and gentlewomen following her; and after her obeisance, sadly and with great gravity, she appealed from them to the court of Rome."—See Hall and Cavendish's Life of Wolsey.

The account which Hume gives of this scene is very elegant; but after the affecting naivete of the old chroniclers, it is very cold and unsatisfactory.

[103] "The queen answered the Duke of Suffolk very highly and obstinately, with many high words: and suddenly, in a fury she departed from him into her privy chamber."—Vide Hall's Chronicle.

[104] Vide Cavendish's Life of Wolsey.

[105] Winter's Tale, act iii. scene 2.

[106] I have constantly abstained from considering any of these characters with a reference to the theatre; yet I cannot help remarking, that if Mrs. Siddons, who excelled equally in Hermione and Katherine, and threw such majesty of demeanor, such power, such picturesque effect, into both, could likewise feel and convey the infinite contrast between the ideal grace, the classical repose and imaginative charm thrown round Hermione, and the matter-of-fact, artless, prosaic nature of Katherine; between the poetical grandeur of the former, and the moral dignity of the latter,—then she certainly exceeded all that I could have imagined possible, even to her wonderful powers.

[107] This affecting passage is thus rendered by Shakspeare:—

Nay, forsooth, my friends, They that must weigh out my afflictions— They that my trust must grow to, live not here— They are, as all my other comforts, far hence, In mine own country, lords.

Henry VIII. act iii. sc. 1

[108] Dr. Johnson is of opinion, that this scene "is above any other part of Shakspeare's tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetic; without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices; without the help of romantic circumstances; without improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without any throes of tumultuous misery."

I have already observed, that in judging of Shakspeare's characters as of persons we meet in real life, we are swayed unconsciously by our own habits and feelings, and our preference governed, more or less, by our individual prejudices or sympathies. Thus, Dr. Johnson, who has not a word to bestow on Imogen, and who has treated poor Juliet as if she had been in truth "the very beadle to an amorous sigh," does full justice to the character of Katherine, because the logical turn of his mind, his vigorous intellect, and his austere integrity, enabled him to appreciate its peculiar beauties: and, accordingly, we find that he gives it, not only unqualified, but almost exclusive admiration: he goes so far as to assert, that in this play the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katherine.

[109] It will be remembered, that in early youth Anna Bullen was betrothed to Lord Henry Percy, who was passionately in love with her. Wolsey, to serve the king's purposes, broke off this match, and forced Percy into an unwilling marriage with Lady Mary Talbot. "The stout Earl of Northumberland," who arrested Wolsey at York, was this very Percy; he was chosen for his mission by the interference of Anna Bullen—a piece of vengeance truly feminine in its mixture of sentiment and spitefulness; and every way characteristic of the individual woman.

[110] The king is said to have wept on reading this letter, and her body being interred at Peterbro', in the monastery, for honor of her memory it was preserved at the dissolution, and erected into a bishop's see.—Herbert's Life of Henry VIII.

[111] Written, (as the commentators suppose,) not by Shakspeare, but by Ben Jonson.

[112] Mrs. Siddons left among her papers an analysis of the character of Lady Macbeth, which I have never seen: but I have heard her say, that after playing the part for thirty years, she never read it without discovering in it something new. She had an idea that Lady Macbeth must from her Celtic origin have been a small, fair, blue-eyed woman. Bonduca, Fredegonde, Brunehault, and other Amazons of the gothic ages were of this complexion; yet I cannot help fancying Lady Macbeth dark, like Black Agnes of Douglas—a sort of Lady Macbeth in her way.

[113] In her impersonation of the part of Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Siddons adopted successively three different intonations in giving the words we fail. At first a quick contemptuous interrogation—"we fail?" Afterwards with the note of admiration—we fail! and an accent of indignant astonishment, laying the principal emphasis on the word wewe fail! Lastly, she fixed on what I am convinced is the true reading—we fail. with the simple period, modulating her voice to a deep, low, resolute tone, which settled the issue at once—as though she had said, "if we fail, why then we fail, and all is over." This is consistent with the dark fatalism of the character and the sense of the line following, and the effect was sublime, almost awful.

[114] Metaphysical is here used in the sense of spiritual or preternatural.

[115] Mrs. Siddons, I believe, had an idea that Lady Macbeth beheld the spectre of Banquo in the supper scene, and that her self-control and presence of mind enabled her to surmount her consciousness of the ghastly presence. This would be superhuman, and I do not see that either the character or the text bear out this supposition.

[116] Cumberland.

[117] Professor Richardson.

[118] Foster's Essays.

[119] See Dr. Channing's remarks on Satan, in his essay "On the Character and Writings of Milton."—Works, p 181.

[120] The vision of Clytemnestra the night before she is murdered, in which she dreams that she has given birth to a dragon, and that, in laying it to her bosom, it draws blood instead of milk, has been greatly admired; but I suppose that those who most admire it would not place it in comparison with Lady Macbeth's sleeping scene. Lady Ashton, in the Bride of Lammermoor, is a domestic Lady Macbeth; but the development being in the narrative, not the dramatic form, it follows hence that we have a masterly portrait, not a complete individual: and the relief of poetry and sympathy being wanting, the detestation she inspires is so unmixed as to be almost intolerable: consequently the character, considered in relation to the other personages of the story, is perfect; but abstractedly, it is imperfect; a basso relievo—not a statue.

[121] Attributed to Seneca.

[122] A comparison has already been made in an article in the "Reflector." It will be seen on a reference to that very masterly Essay, that I differ from the author in his conception of Lady Macbeth's character.

[123] Appollonius Rhodius.—Vide Elton's Specimens of the Classic Poets.

THE END.



Books by Mrs. Anna Jameson

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LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS as represented in the Fine Arts. Forming the Second Series of Sacred and Legendary Art.

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