« PreviousContinue »
“ The Tragedie of Macbeth” was first printed in the folio of 1623, where it occupies twenty-one pages ; viz. from p. 131 to p. 151 inclusive, in the division of “ Tragedies.” The Acts and Scenes are regularly marked there, as well as in the later folios.
The only ascertained fact respecting the performance of “Macbeth," in the lifetime of its author, is that it was represented at the Globe Theatre on the 20th of April, 1610. Whether it was then a new play, it is impossible to decide ; but we are inclined to think that it was not, and that Malone was right in his conjecture, that it was first acted about the year 1606. The subsequent account of the plot is derived from Dr. Simon Forman's manuscript Diary, preserved in the Ashmolean Museum, from which it appears, that he saw “Macbeth" played at the Globe on the day we have stated :
" In Macbeth, at the Globe, 1610, the 20th of April, Saturday, there was to be observed, first, how Macbeth and Banquo, two noblemen of Scotland, riding through a wood, there stood before them three women Fairies, or Nymphs, and saluted Macbeth, saying three times unto him, Hail, Macbeth, King of Codor, for thou shalt be a King, but shalt beget no Kings, &c. Then, said Banquo, What! all to Macbeth, and nothing to me? Yes, said the Nymphs, Hail to thee, Banquo; thou shalt beget Kings, yet be no King. And so they departed, and came to the Court of Scotland, to Duncan, King of Scots, and it was in the days of Edward the Confessor. And Duncan bad them both kindly welcome, and made Macbeth forthwith Prince of Northumberland ; and sent him home to his own Castle, and appointed Macbeth to provide for him, for he would sup with him the next day at night, and did so.
“ And Macbeth contrived to kill Duncan, and through the persuasion of his wife did that night murder the king in his own Castle, being his guest. And there were many prodigies seen that night and the day before. And when Macbeth had murdered the King, the blood on his hands could not be washed off by any means, nor from his wife's hands, which handled the bloody daggers in hiding them, by which means they became both much amazed and affronted.
“ The murder being known, Duncan's two sons fled, the one to England, the (other to] Wales, to save themselves : they, being fled, were supposed guilty of the murder of their father, which was nothing so.
“ Then was Macbeth crowned King, and then he for fear of Banquo, his old companion, that he should beget kings but be no king himself, he contrived the death of Banquo, and caused him to be murdered on the way that he rode. The night, being at supper with his noblemen, whom he had bid to a feast, (to the which also Banquo should have come,) he began to speak of noble Banquo, and to wish that he were there. And as he thus did, standing up to drink a carouse to him, the ghost of Banquo came, and sat down in his chair behind him. And he, turning about to sit down again, saw the ghost of Banquo, which fronted him, so that he fell in a great passion of fear and fury, uttering many words about his murder, by which, when they heard that Banquo was murdered, they suspected Macbeth.
“ Then Macduff fled to England to the King's son, and so they raised an
army and came to Scotland, and at Dunston Anyse overthrew Macbeth. In the mean time, while Macduff was in England, Macbeth slew Macduff's wife and children, and after, in the battle, Macduff slew Macbeth.
“ Observe, also, how Macbeth's Queen did rise in the night in her sleep, and walk, and talked and confessed all, and the Doctor noted her words."
Our principal reason for thinking that “ Macbeth” had been originally represented at least four years before 1610, is the striking allusion, in Act iv. sc. 1, to the union of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the hands of James I. That monarch ascended the throne in March, 1602-3, and the words,
“ Some I see, That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry,” would have had little point, if we suppose them to have been delivered after the king who bore the balls and sceptres had been more than seven years on the throne. James was proclaimed king of Great Britain and Ireland on the 24th of October, 1601, and we may perhaps conclude that Shakespeare wrote “ Macbeth " in the year 1605, and that it was first acted at the Globe, when it was opened for the summer season, in the spring of 1606.
Malone elaborately supports his opinion, that “Macbeth” was produced in 1606, by two allusions in the speech of the Porter, Act ii. sc. 3, to the cheapness of corn, and to the doctrine of equivocation, which had been supported by Robert Garnet, who was executed on the 3d of May, 1606. We are generally disposed to place little confidence in such passages, not only because they are frequently obscure in their application, but because they may have been introduced at any subsequent period, either by the author or actor, with the purpose of exciting the applause of the audience, by reference to some circumstance then attracting public attention. We know that dramatists were in the constant habit of making additiors and alterations, and that comic performers had the vice of delivering “ more than was set down for them.” The speech of the Porter, in which the two supposed temporary allusions are contained, is exactly of the kind which the performer of the part might be inclined to enlarge, and so strongly was Coleridge convinced that it was an interpolation by the player, that he boldly “pledged himself to demonstrate it.” (Lit. Rem. vol. ii. p. 235.) This notion was not new to him in 1818; for three years earlier he had publicly declared it in a lecture devoted to “Macbeth,” although he admitted that there was something of Shakespeare in “the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire." It inay be doubted whether he would have made this concession, if he had not recollected “the primrose path of dalliance” in “Hamlet."
Shakespeare, doubtless, derived all the materials he required from Holinshed, without resorting to Boethius, or to any other authority. Steevens continued to maintain, that Shakespeare was indebted, in some degree, to Middleton's “Witch” for the preternatural portion
of “ Macbeth ;” but Malone, who at first entertained the same view of the subject, ultimately abandoned it, and became convinced that “ The Witch” was a play written subsequently to the production of “Macbeth.” Those who read the two will, perhaps, wonder how a doubt could have been entertained. “The Witch," in all probability, was not written until about 1613; and what must surprise every body is, that a poet of Middleton's rank could so degrade the awful beings of Shakespeare's invention ; for although, as Lamb observes, “the power of Middleton's witches is in some measure over the mind," (Specimens of Engl. Dram. Poets, p. 174,) they are of a degenerate race, as if, Shakespeare having created them, no other mind was sufficiently gifted even to continue their existence.
Whether Shakespeare obtained his knowledge regarding these agents, and of the locality he supposes them to have frequented, from actual observation, is a point we have considered in the Biography of the poet. The existing evidence on the question is there collected, and we have shown, that ten years before the date hitherto assigned to that circumstance, a company called “ the Queen's Players” had visited Edinburgh. This fact is quite new in the history of the introduction of English theatrical performances into Scotland. That the Queen's comedians were north of the Tweed in 1599, on the invitation of James VI., we have distinct evidence: we know also that they were in Aberdeen in 1601, when the freedom of the city was presented to Laurence Fletcher (the first name in the patent of 1603); but to establish that they were in Edinburgh in 1589 gives much more latitude for speculation on the question, whether Shakespeare, in the interval of about fourteen years before James I. ascended the throne of England, had at any time accompanied his fellow-actors to Scotland.
At whatever date we suppose Shakespeare to have written “Macbeth,” we may perhaps infer, from a passage in Kemp's “Nine Days' Wonder," 1600, that there existed a ballad upon the story, which may have been older than the tragedy: such is the opinion of the Rer. Mr. Dyce, in his notes to the reprint of this tract by the Camden Society, p. 34. The point, however, is doubtful, and it is obvious that Kemp did not mean to be very intelligible: his other allusions to ballad-makers of his time are purposely obscure.
“Macbeth” was inserted by the player-editors in the folio of 1623 ; and, as in other similar cases, we may presume that it had not come from the press at an earlier date, because in the books of the Stationers' Company it is registered by Blount and Jaggard, on the 8th of November, 1623, as one of the plays “not formerly entered to other men.” It has been handed down in an unusually complete state, for not only are the divisions of the acts pointed out, but the subdivisions of the scenes carefully and accurately noted.
DUNCAN, King of Scotland.
1 his Sons.
DONALBAIN, ) "
Generals of his Army.
Thanes of Scotland.
Lords, Gentlemen, Officers, Soldiers, Murderers, Attendants,
SCENE, in the end of the fourth Act, in England ; through
the rest of the Play, in Scotland.
1 There is no list of characters in any of the old copies : it was first supplied by Rowe.