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of which I have drawn attention, may be offered in support of this judgment. Such incidents as Hamlet's speech over the praying criminal, and the very unpleasant episode at the grave of Ophelia, are further obvious blemishes which cannot easily escape the most indulgent critic. Yet, withal, its universal popularity is richly deserved. Such closeness of speech, such insight into character, such masterly manipulation of incidents, are nowhere to be paralleled outside the volume of Shakespeare himself. Idolatry is no true reverence, and one shows deeper respect for the master by pointing out what he would himself have admitted as defects, than by accepting and praising indiscriminately all that is labelled with his name. Yet
Yet every reader of Hamlet must end by bowing his head in silent wonderment before the man who thus can “shake our dispositions with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls."
MACBETH": THE WORKING OF THE INWARD JUDGE
THE HE question as to which is the greatest indi- The crownvidual play of Shakespeare is insoluble. You ing Trilogy:
Macbeth, cannot set the unfallen angels by the ears in competi- Lear,
Othello. tive strife. It is idle to attempt to decide between the respective merits of a series of perfect sunsets or sunrises. But we pass beyond the region of possible dispute when we affirm that the three tragedies of Macbeth, King Lear and Othello together form the mightiest trilogy in human literature. Nowhere else do we find such preternatural depth of penetration into the volcanic forces in character that determine conduct; nowhere else is the reality of the natural nemesis, by which vice courts its own doom, so unerringly and relentlessly exhibited. The three sins of inordinate ambition, ingratitude and jealousy are traced through all their hateful cruelty to the innocent, and, still more, through their inevitable recoil upon the guilty.
The poet, being a creator, has no need to preach Shakeat us; he makes his doctrine live. He is here expos- speare's
the ing to our view what he conceives to be the moral moral order order of the universe in its tragic aspect. Here may
of the world. we see the price that men must needs pay for certain ends. They are free; "none leads them, and none ever led.” Their freedom is not a gift from without, but an inherently necessitated goal of their nature.
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Causative interaction between conduct and character.
If it were given, it could not be freedom. If God "gave” us freedom, that would be to force us to accept it—and thus the gift would destroy itself. Hence springs the wondrous subtlety of the spiritual economy,— that we are our own creators. Freedom can only be self-achieved; and life is the decisive action by which we either realize it or relinquish it and enslave ourselves. According to Shakespeare, the moral order of the world is such that men reap what they have sown: not, however, in outward success or failure, good and evil hap,— not in the sense of socalled “poetical justice," — but in the inner realm of the spirit's quality. Men become what they have willed to be; but that willing carries with it certain necessary consequences, which, as a rule, the wrongdoer realizes only when his self-entailed fate is upon him. The end necessitates the means; whence springs the deep ethical truth, not that the end justifies the means that it can never do- but that only those ends are right, the means to which can be disinterestedly approved. The test of the rightness or wrongness of Macbeth's ambition is not the goal at which he aims, but the steps that he must inevitably take in order to reach it. These being spontaneously condemned by any fair moral judgment, the end is therefore to be stamped as wrong, irrespective of any good to which, once attained, it might lead.
But we are anticipating. Let us revert to the safer path of induction; and, to begin at the beginning, let us see what are the elements in this tragedy which first commended it to Shakespeare from the business point of view. What would the groundlings like in it? What is there on which the most successful playwright of his time could safely count
Macbeth from the box-office standpoint.
to ensure the first end of play-making,- namely, the winning of an audience?
These elements are not far to seek. The ever- The melodarkening atmosphere of blood and thunder, with its dramatic
material. poetic suggestion of a secret sympathy between the moral and the material world, would have its charın for an audience that could not detect its inner meaning. The Witches could be counted upon to impart a thrill that would vibrate in the box-office. The murder of Duncan, even without the magic vesture of poesy in which Shakespeare has dressed it, would appeal at once to that primal mental instinct which in our own time secures the sale of detective stories and of the sanguineous literature in which boyhood surreptitiously delights. The errant ghost of Banquo would fill more seats than Macbeth's, and the SleepWalking scene would be a precious novelty in horror. The simultaneous fulfilment and falsification of the ambiguous prophecy to Macbeth, which gives rise to the trick of bringing the boughs of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane, and to the disclosure of Macduff's abnormal advent into the world, was a certain draw. And, to crown all, the splendid clash of arms, in which Macbeth, after laying about him like a Titan, is slain by the deeply wronged Macduff, who later brings his bloody head upon the stage, make up such a pennyworth as the Jacobean Londoner could not fail to applaud to the echo.
In this play, too, we find Shakespeare making con- Baits for cessions not only to the vulgar Philistines in the pit, King James. but to the snobbish Philistine at Court. The comparison of Macbeth with its crude ore in Holinshed shows us with what judicious dexterity Shakespeare has incidentally turned his tragedy into a compliment to King James and a flattery of that pedantic
Solomon's regal egoism and his superstitions and
fads. The Scottish The very choice of the theme was not improbably story: The
dictated by this consideration. Never during Elizause & abuse of Holin- beth's reign had Shakespeare selected a subject from shed.
Scottish history; and Macbeth comes within two or three years of the accession of the first Stuart to the English throne. The representation of Banquo as a noble and gallant gentleman has no foundation in history —not even in history according to Holinshed. Banquo, as portrayed by that authority, is Macbeth's accomplice in the murder of King Duncan. He is, indeed, as inveterate a savage as any of the bloodthirsty mob of bandits whose adventures, according to the chronicler's conception of things, made up the history of Scotland. But the tradition had it that Banquo was King James's ancestor. He is to “get kings, though he be none"; and so, in the vision that horrifies Macbeth, the last disclosure is of Banquo's royal descendants carrying “twofold balls and treble sceptres”-a prophecy safely uttered after the event, which was the union of the sovereignty of England, Scotland and Ireland in the
person of the son of Mary Stuart. The occult James, too, as is well known, was a deep student and necro
of witchcraft and demonology, and zealous in the mantic “ business." extirpation of those who had purchased these malefi
cent powers from the devil. Hence the introduction of the Witches, with infinitely more of circumstance than is accorded to them in the chronicle. Another
of James's amiable peculiarities was his belief in his The“ King's- own miraculous power of curing the scrofula, otherevi!” super- wise known as the “ king's evil.” His researches in stition.
science and divinity had led him to believe that one of the attributes of an anointed king (bestowed by