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MACBETH was printed for the first time in the folio of 1623, where it comes between Julius Cæsar and Hamlet, and occupies pages 131-151. It is divided throughout into acts and scenes. The text, though not so corrupt as that of some other plays—Coriolanus for example—is yet in many places very faulty, especially as regards the division of the lines. Probably it was printed from a transcript of the author's MS., which was in great part not copied from the original but written to dictation. This is confirmed by the fact that several of the most palpable blunders are blunders of the ear and not of the eye. Here, as elsewhere, we have great reason to join in the regret expressed by the editors of the first folio, that the author did not live to oversee' his own works before they were committed to the press.
With regard to the time at which Macbeth was written, if we had the evidence of style alone to guide us, we should assign it to a period when Shakespeare had attained the full perfection of his powers. From the vision of the eight kings,
iv, I. 120,
Some I see
we learn further that it was produced after the union of the two kingdoms under James I. We do not agree with some critics in thinking that this allusion necessarily implies that the play was produced immediately after that king's accession, because an event of such great moment and such permanent consequences would long continue to be present to the minds of men. In act ii. sc. 3, in the Porter's speech,
Malone believed that the mention of the equivocator who committed treason enough for God's sake' was suggested by the trial of Garnett the Jesuit, in March 1606, for participation in the Gunpowder Plot, and that of the farmer who hanged himself on the expectation of plenty,' by the scarcity of corn in the autumn of the same year. The latter reference would be quite as apposite if we supposed it to be made to the abundant harvest of any other year, and the Jesuit doctrine of equivocation was at all times so favourite a theme of invective with Protestant preachers, that it could not but be familiar to the public, who in those days frequented the pulpit as assiduously as the stage.
We have however a more precise indication in the Journal of Dr. Simon Forman (privately printed by Mr. Halliwell, from a manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum), who writes as follows:
“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 shall be a king, but shall beget no kings, &c. Then said Banquo, What, all to Macbeth and nothing to me? Yes, said the nymphs, Hail, to thee, Banquo; thou shall 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 bade them both kindly welcome, and made Macbeth [sic] forth with 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, they 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 as he rode. The next 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 into Scotland, and at Dunscenanyse 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 walked, and talked and confessed all, and the Doctor noted her words.'
We have given the foregoing passage with modern spelling and punctuation. We learn from it that Dr. Forman saw Macbeth for the first time on April 20, 1610. In all probability it was then a new play, otherwise he would scarcely have been at the pains to make an elaborate summary of its plot. And in those days the demand for and the supply of new plays were so great, that even the most popular play had not such a 'run' nor was so frequently · revived' as at present. Besides, as we have shown, there is nothing to justify the inference, still less to prove, that Macbeth was produced at an
earlier date. In Beaumont and Fletcher's Knight of the Burning. Pestle, a burlesque produced in 1611, we find an obvious allusion to the ghost of Banquo. Jasper, one of the characters, enters with his face mealed,' as his own ghost. He says to Venturewell, v. i. (vol. ji. p. 216, ed. Dyce),—
“When thou art at thy table with thy friends,
Invisible to all men but thyself.' This supports the inference that Macbeth was in 1611 a new play, and fresh in the recollection of the audience.
We now turn to a question of greater interest—whether any other dramatist besides Shakespeare had a hand in the composition of Macbeth. In the folio, iii. 5. 33, is a stage direction, Musicke and a Song,' and two lines below, “Sing within. Come away, come away, &c.' In iv. 1. 43 is another stage-direction, ' Musicke and a Song. Blacke Spirits, &c.' Davenant, in his alteration of Macbeth, published 1673, supplied these . et ceteras,' as we have mentioned in our Notes, by words which were supposed to be his own till they were found in Thomas Middleton's play of The Witch, which was discovered in MS. by Steevens, in 1779. This play contains many other points of resemblance to Macbeth, as for instance (p. 268, ed. Dyce), Hecate says of Sebastian, who has come to seek her aid, "I know he loves me not.' Compare Macbeth, iii. 5. 13. In p. 314 :
• For the maid servants and the girls o'th' house
I spiced them lately with a drowsy posset.'
. Hec. Come my sweet sisters ; let the air strike our tune.' Compare Macbeth, iv. 1. 129.
To these may be added 'the innocence of sleep,' p. 316, and there's no such thing,' p. 317, which remind us of Macbeth, ii. 2. 36, and ii. 1. 47. In p. 319, the words " I'll rip thee down from neck to navel,' recall. Macbeth, i. 2. 22.