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Shakespear has been fufficiently justified, by the best critics, for availing himself of the popular faith in witchcraft; and he is certainly as defenfible in this point, as Euripides, and other Greek tragedians, for introducing Jupiter, Diana, Minerva, &c. whofe perfonal intervention, in the events exhibited on their ftage, had not obtained more credit, with the thinking and the philofophical part of the fpectators, than tales of witchcraft among the wife and learned here. Much later than the age in which Macbeth lived, even in Shakefpear's own time, there were fevere ftatutes extant against witchcraft.
Some objections have been made to the Hecate of the Greeks being joined to the witches of cur country.
Milton, a more correct writer, has often mixed the pagan deities, even with the moít facred characters of our religion. Our witches' power was fuppofed to be exerted only in little and low mifchief: this therefore being the only example where their interpofition is recorded, in the revolutions of a kingdom, the poet thought, perhaps, that the ftory would pafs off better, with the learned at leaft, if he added the celebrated Hecate to the weird fifters; and fhe is introduced, chiding their prefumption, for trading in prophecies and affairs of death. The dexterity is admirable, with which the predictions of the witches (as Macbeth.obferves) prove true to the ear, but falfe to the hope, according to the general condition of all vain oracles. And it is with great judgment the poet has given to Macbeth the very temper to be wrought upon by fuch fuggeftions. The bad man is his own tempter. Richard III. had a heart that prompted him to do all, that the worst demon could have fuggefted, fo that the witches would have been only an idle wonder in his ftory; nor did he want fuch a counfellor as Lady Macbeth: a ready inftrument like Buckingham, to adopt his projects, and execute his orders, was fufficient. But Macbeth of a generous difpofition, and good propenfities, but with vehement paffions and afpiring wifhes, was a fubject
liable to be feduced by splendid profpects and ambitious counfels. This appears from the following character given of him by his wife:
Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o'th' milk of human kindness
To catch the neareft way.
Thou wouldst be great;
So much inherent ambition in a character, without any other vice, and full of the milk of human kindness, though obnoxious to temptation, yet would have great truggles before it yielded, and as violent fits of fubfequent remorfe.
If the mind is to be medicated by the operations of pity and terror, furely no means are fo well adapted to that end, as a ftrong and lively reprefentation of the agonizing ftruggles that precede, and the terrible horrors that follow wicked actions. Other poets thought they had fufficiently attended to the moral purpose of the drama, by making the furies purfue the perpetrated crime. Our author waves their bloody daggers in the road to guilt, and demonftrates, that fo foon as a man begins to hearken to ill fuggeftions, terrors inviron, and fears distract him. Tenderness and conjugal love combat in the breafts of a Medea and a Herod, in their purpofed vengeance. Perfonal affection often weeps on the threatre, while jealoufy or revenge whet the bloody knife: but Macbeth's emotions are the ftruggles of confcience; his agonies are the agonies of remorfe. They are leffons of juftice, and warnings to innocence. I do not know that any dramatic writer, except Shakespear, has fet forth the pangs of guilt feparate from the fear of punishment. Clytemnestra is reprefented by Euripides, as under great terrors on account of the murder of Agamemnon; but they rife from fear of punishment, not repentance. It is not the memory of the affaffinated husband, which haunts and terrifies her, but an apprehenfion
henfion of vengeance from his furviving fon: when she is told Oreftes is dead, her mind is again at ease. It must be allowed, that on the Grecian stage, it is the office of the chorus to moralize, and to point out, on every occafion, the advantages of virtue over vice. But how much lefs affecting are their animadverfions than the teftimony of the perfon concerned! Whatever belongs to the part of the chorus has hardly the force of dramatic imitation. The chorus is in a manner without perfonal character, or intereft, and no way an agent in the drama. We cannot fympathize with the cool reflections of these idle fpectators, as we do with the fentiments of the perfons in whofe circumftances and fituation we are interested.
The heart of man, like iron and other metal, is hard, and of firm resistance, when cold; but, warmed, it becomes malleable and ductile. It is by touching the paffions, and exciting fympathetic emotions, not by fentences, that the tragedian must make his impreffions on the fpectator. I will appeal to any person of taste, whether the following fpeeches of Wolfey, in another play of Shakespear, the firft a foliloquy, the fecond addreffed to his fervant Cromwell, in which he gives the testimony of his experience, and the refult of his own feelings, would make the fame impreffion, if uttered by a fet of speculative fages in the episode of a chorus.
Wolfy. So farewel to the little good you bear me !
Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye
And in another place,
Let's dry our eyes, and thus far hear me, Cromwell ;
Still in thy right-hand carry gentle peace,
To filence envious tongues, be just, and fear not.
There take an inventory of all I have,
To the last penny, 'tis the king's. My robe,
I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell,
I select these two paffages as containing reflections of fuch a general kind, as might be with leaft impropriety transferred to the chorus; but if even thefe would lofe much of their force and pathos, if not fpoken by the fallen statesman, how much more would those do, which are the expreffions of fome inftantaneous emotion, occafioned by the peculiar fituation of the perfon VOL. III. K
by whom they are uttered! The felf-condemnation of a murderer makes a very deep impreffion upon us; when we are told by Macbeth himself, that hearing, while he was killing Duncan, one of the grooms cry God bless us, and Amen the other, he durft not say Amen. Had a formal chorus obferved, that a man in fuch a guilty moment, durft not implore that mercy of which he flood fo much in need, it would have had but a flight effect. All know the deteftation with which virtuous men behold a bad action. A much more falutary admonition is given, when we are fhewn the terrors that are combined with guilt in the breast of the offender.
Our author has fo tempered the conftitutional character of Macbeth, by infufing into it the milk of human kindness, and a strong tincture of honour, as to make the most violent perturbation, and pungent remorfe, naturally attend on those steps to which he is led by the force of temptation. Here we must commend the poet's judgment, and his invariable attention to confiftency of character; but more amazing still is the art with which he exhibits the movement of the human mind, and renders audible the filent march of thought: traces its modes of operation in the courfe of deliberating, the pauses of hefitation, and the final act of decifion; fhews how reafon checks, and how the paffions impel: and displays to us the trepidation that precede, and the horrors that pursue acts of blood. No fpecies of dialogue, but that which a man holds with himself, could effect this. The foliloquy has been permitted to all dramatic writers; but its true ufe feems to be understood only by our author, who alone has attained to a just imitation of nature, in this kind of self-conference.
It is certain, that men do no not tell themselves who they are, and whence they came, they neither narrate nor declaim in the folitude of the closet, as Greek and French writers reprefent. Here then is added to the drama an imitation of the most difficult and delicate kind, that of representing the internal procefs of the mind in reafoning and reflecting; and it is not only a difficult, but