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own time, and in that to which the reign of Macbeth is * referred. And, in doing this, he has shown not less taste than genius; for in the principal authorities to which he has had recourse for particulars ; in the Discoverie of Scot, in the Demonologie of James, and even in the Witch of Middleton, a play now allowed to have been anterior to his own drama, the ludicrous and the frivolous are blended, in a very large proportion, with that which is calculated to excite solemnity and awe.
With exquisite skill has he separated the latter from the former, exalting it with so many touches of grandeur, and throwing round it such an air of dreadful mystery, that, although the actual superstition on which the machinery is founded, be no more, there remains attached to it, in consequence of passing through the mind of Shakspeare, such a portion of what is naturally inherent in the human mind, in relation to its apprehensions of the invisible world of spirits, such a sublime, though indistinct conception of powers unknown and mightier far than we, that nearly the same degree of grateful terror is experienced from the perusal or representation of Macbeth in modern days, as was felt in the age of its production. In the
appearance, indeed, of the Weird Sisters to Macbeth and Banquo on the blasted heath, we discern beings of a more awful and spiritualised character than belongs to the vulgar herd of witches. “ What are these,” exclaims the astonished Banquo, –
66 What are these,
* To the traditions of Boethius and Holinshed, we may add a modern authority in the person of Sir John Sinclair, who tells us that “ In Macbeth's time, Witchcraft was very prevalent in Scotland, and two of the most famous witches in the kingdom lived on each hand of Macbeth, one at Collace, the other not far from Dunsinnan House, at a place called the Cape. Macbeth applied to them for advice, and by their counsel built a lofty Castle upon the top of an adjoining hill, since called Dunsinnan. The moor where the Witches met, which is in the parish of St. Martin's, is yet pointed out by the countrypeople, and there is a stone still preserved which is called the Witches Stone.” — Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. xx. p. 242.
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
Speak, I charge you.
Macb. Into the air; and what seem'd corporal, melted
Even when unattended by any human witnesses, when supporting the dialogue merely among themselves, Shakspeare has placed in the mouths of these agents imagery and diction of a cast so peculiar and mysterious, as to render them objects of alarm and fear, emotions incompatible with any tendency towards the ludicrous. But when, wheeling round the magic cauldron, in the gloomy recesses of their cave, they commence their incantations, chanting in tones wild and unearthly, and heard only during the intervals of a thunder-storm, their metrical charm, while flashes of subterranean fire obscurely light their haggard features, their language seems to breathe of hell, and we shrink back, as from beings at war with all that is good. Yet is the impression capable of augmentation, and is felt to have attained its acmé of sublimity and horror, when, in reply to the question of Macbeth,
Much, however, of the dread, solemnity, and awe which is experienced in reading this play, from the intervention of the witches, is lost in its representation on the stage, owing to the injudicious custom of bringing them too forward on the scene; where, appearing little better than a group of old women, the effect intended by the poet is not only destroyed, but reversed. Their dignity and grandeur must arise, as evil beings gifted with superhuman powers, from the unde
fined nature both of their agency and of their external forms. Were they indistinctly seen, though audible, at a distance, and, as it were, through a hazy twilight, celebrating their orgies, and with shadowy and gigantic shape flitting between the pale blue flames of their cauldron and the eager eye of the spectator, sufficient latitude would be
, given to the imagination, and the finest drama of our author would receive in the theatre that deep tone of supernatural horror with which it is felt to be so highly imbued in the solitude of the closet.
OBSERVATIONS ON JULIUS CÆSAR; ON ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA; ON CORIOLANUS; ON
THE WINTER'S TALE; ON THE TEMPEST; DISSERTATION ON THE GENERAL BELIEF OF THE TIMES IN THE ART OF MAGIC, AND ON SHAKSPEARE'S MANAGEMENT OF THIS SUPERSTITION, AS EXHIBITED IN THE TEMPEST OBSERVATIONS ON OTHELLO; ON TWELFTH NIGHT, AND ON THE PLAYS ASCRIBED TO SHAKSPEARE SUMMARY OF SHAKSPEARE'S DRAMATIC CHARACTER.
The Roman tragedy of Shakspeare, including the three pieces of Julius Cæsar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus, exhibit the poet under a new aspect. We have seen him dramatise the annals of his own country with matchless skill and effect; we have beheld him touching with a discriminative pencil the heroes of ancient Greece, and he now brings before us, clothed in the majesty of republican greatness, or surrounded with the splendour of illimitable power, the most illustrious patriots and warriors of the Roman world.
The task of combining a faithful adhesion to the records of history with that grandeur and freedom of conception which characterise the unfettered poet, could alone have been achieved by the genius of Shakspeare. He has, accordingly, not only fixed his scene at Rome, during the days of Coriolanus or of Cæsar, but he has resuscitated the manners and the modes of thinking of their respective ages. We enter with enthusiasm into the characters and fortunes of these masters of the civilised globe, and the patriotism and martial glory, the very feelings and public life of the eternal city again start into existence.
The chronology of these three plays having been ascertained with as much probability, as the subject will admit, it is only necessary to observe, as a preliminary remark, that the dates of the first and second are adopted from Mr. Malone, and that of the third from Mr. Chalmers; and to these critics the reader is referred for facts and inferences which, not being susceptible as we conceive of further extension or improvement, it would be useless here to repeat.
29. Julius Cæsar: 1607. Of this tragedy Brutus is the principal and most interesting character, and to the developement of his motives, and to the result of his actions, is the greater part of the play appropriated; for it is not the fall of Cæsar, but that of Brutus, which constitutes the catastrophe. Cæsar is introduced indeed expressing that characteristic confidence in himself, which has been ascribed to him by history; and his influence over those who surround him, the effect of high mental powers and unrivalled military success, is represented as very great ; but he takes little part in the business of the scene, and his assassination occurs at the commencement of the third act.
While the conqueror of the world is thus in some degree thrown into the shade, Brutus, the favourite of the poet, is brought forward, not only adorned with all the virtues attributed to him by Plutarch, but, in order to excite a deeper interest in his favour, and to prove, that not jealousy, ambition, or revenge, but unalloyed patriotism was the sole director of his conduct, our author has drawn him as possessing the utmost sweetness and gentleness of disposition, sympathising with all that suffer, and unwilling to inflict pain but from motives of the strongest moral necessity. He has most feelingly and beautifully painted him in the relations of a master, a friend, and a husband ; his
l kindness to his domestics, his attachment to his friends, and his love for Portia, to whom he declares, that she is
« As dear to him, as are the ruddy drops
That visit his sad heart,"
demonstrating, that nothing but a high sense of public duty could have induced him to lift his hand against the life of Cæsar.
It is this struggle between the humanity of his temper and his ardent and hereditary love of liberty, now threatened with extinction by the despotism of Cæsar, that gives to Brutus that grandeur of character and that predominancy over his associates in purity of