« PreviousContinue »
M A C B E T H .
witH THE STAGE BUSINESS, CAST OF CHARACTERS, RELATIVE POSITIONS, ETC.
NEW YORK :
AND FOR SALE BY ALL BOOKSELLER8.
Macbeth appears to have been one of the latest, as it is one of the greatest of Shakspeare's dramatic achievements. It is believed to have been written and first performed some time between the years 1603 and 1610. The traditions on which the plot is founded, are related by Hollingshed in his "Chronicles," first published in London, 1577; and also by George Buchanan, in his Latin "History of Scotland." Not only the historical outline, but the principal incidents of the drama, may be found in the works of these writers. The prophecy of Macbeth's destiny and that of Banquo's issue, the interview between Macduff and Malcolm, and the influence of Macbeth's wife, whom Hollingshed describes as "burning with unquenchable desire to beare the name of a queene," have all a legendary or semi-historical foundation in truth. It is worthy of note that Buchanan, who wrote as early as 1582, gave as a reason for omitting some of the supernatural parts of the tradition in relation to Macbeth, that they are more apt for the stage than for the historian—" theatris aptiora quam historiae."
There is reason to believe that Macbeth was often represented with success at the Globe during the life-time of the author; and that Burbage, who was the most distinguished tragedian of the day, was in the habit of personating the hero. The tragedy had been banished from the stage, however, for some time, when in 1672, Sir William Davenant produced a version of it at the Duke's theatre, "with alterations, amendments, additions and new songs." The admirable music for these and the other songs was composed by Matthew Locke, and, amid all the mutations of musical taste, it has retained its popularity, being still always introduced in the representation of the tragedy at every liberally conducted theatre. But the other innovations of Davenant have been deservedly repudiated; although till Garrick's
iv. EDITORIAL INTRODUCTION.
time they had been so much in vogue, that "The Tattler" quotes Shakspeare's "Macbeth" from Davenant's alteration of it. To Garrick belongs the merit of restoring to the stage the original Macbeth ; and the present acting version is that which he prepared, and which was afterwards improved by Philip Kemble. The language, except in one or two of the choruses," is almost exclusively that of Shakspeare. Garrick, who excelled in the expression of conclusive throes and dying agonies, composed, as we learn from his biographer, a pretty long dying speech for Macbeth ; but this is no longer retained. There are more of the elements of the sublime, as it seems to us, in this character, than in any other known to the drama; and this, perhaps, is the reason why it is so rarely embodied to the satisfaction of a judicious audience. The “Tattler" has celebrated Betterton for his excellence in the part. Quin's figure and countenance were much in his favor ; but he was too monotonous and unimpassioned. Garrick, notwithstanding his diminutive stature, was probably the best of all the representatives of the character. From the first scene, in which he was accosted by the witches, to the last desperate encounter with Macduff, he is said to have been animated, consistent, and impressive. One of his cotemporaries speaks of his “terrible graces of action" in the banquet scene where he sees the ghost of Banquo—a scene, by the way, in which most modern performers fail utterly. "Many stage critics," says Davies, "suppose the dagger scene to be one of the most difficult situations in acting. The sudden start on seeing the dagger in the air—the endeavor of the actor to seize it—the disappointment, the suggestion of its being only a vision of the disturbed fancy—the seeing it still in form most palpable, with the reasoning upon it, these are the difficulties which the mind of Garrick was capable of encountering and subduing. So happy did he think himself in the exhibition of this scene, that, when he was in Italy, and requested by the Duke of Parma to give a proof of his skill in action, to the admiration of that prince, he at once threw himself into the attitude of Macbeth seeing the air-drawn dagger. The duke desired no farther assurance of Garrick's great excellence in his profession—being perfectly convinced by this specimen, that he was an absolute master of it.
“The merits of the scene preparatory and subsequent to the murder of Duncan, transcend all panegyric. What moral dehortations and dissuasions could produce such an effect, hostile to the crime, upon the human mind, as witnessing the anguish and remorse of Macbeth ! The representation of this terrible part of the play by Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard, can no more be described than I believe it can be equalled. His distraction and agonizing horror were finely contrasted by her seeming apathy, tranquillity, and confidence. The beginning of the scene after the murder, was conducted in terrifying whispers. Their looks and their action supplied the place of words. The wonderful expression of heartfelt horror, with which Garrick displayed his bloody hands, can only be conceived by those who saw him."
The character of Lady Macbeth seems to have found its most celebrated representative in Mrs. Siddons. "The moment she seized the part," says Campbell, "she identified her image with it in the minds of the living generation." It had long been her favorite study; and she has left some remarks upon it from her own pen, which are creditable to her good sense and powers of discrimination. Mrs. Jameson says: "In her impersonation of the part of Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Siddons adopted three different intonations in giving he words 'We fail.' (Scene VII. Act I.) 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 we—We 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 lines following; and the effect was sublime almost awful."