THERE is a brief mention in the Life of Macaulay of a discussion among some members of the Literary Club as to the relative rank of Shakespeare’s “ four great tragedies, ” Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and Hamlet. This is the order in which they were ranked by Macaulay. The other speakers, however, agreed in assigning the highest place to Macbeth, a preference which Macaulay attributed to the powerful impression produced by Mrs. Siddons in her famous personation of Lady Macbeth. But many persons who never saw Mrs. Siddons, and who perhaps formed their judgment merely from reading the play, have taken the same view ; and it is one in which all readers might concur if they confined their attention to the dramatic construction of the work, and looked at it simply as the production of a consummate playwright. In this respect it is undoubtedly the author’s masterpiece. It may be called a typical Elizabethan drama, in the same sense in which the Œdipus Tyrannus has been called a typical Greek drama; bearing the same analogy, though not the same resemblance, to that which King Lear bears to the Œdipus Coloneus. It is distinguished by the concentration and rapid movement of the action, by the logical development of the plot from the initiatory situation to the inevitable conclusion, and by the absence of subordinate complications and of everything partaking of the nature of digression, episode, or commentary. It is the shortest of the great tragedies, with the fewest changes of scene, the smallest number of important characters, and the most concise speeches. Alike in soliloquy and in dialogue the utterance is constantly connected with or suggestive of some external movement or perception, so that here, at least, the performers should find little difficulty in suiting the action to the word, the word to the action. Finally, the “ effects ” are in the highest degree “ telling,” full of strong contrasts and swift alternations, such as hold an audience in a state of breathless suspense, or startle it as with a sudden crash.
These peculiarities, coupled with some incidental defects in the literary workmanship, have suggested a theory that the play was written in haste, for a particular occasion. That it was struck off, so to speak, at a white heat is highly probable ; but the subject was one which imposed a purely dramatic treatment, and did not lend itself to that expansive and discursive elaboration with which Shakespeare is wont to pour forth his profoundest thoughts, his subtlest observations, his most bewitching fancies, and his sweetest flow of verse, in passages which we study and are enthralled by in the closet, but which the modern stage so often finds it necessary to mutilate or excise. In Macbeth, as generally in his tragedies, and as all creators of heroic poems, whether tragic or epic, have been accustomed to do, Shakespeare drew his material, the situations and incidents, from the copious fountain of popular legend and tradition. There was a real Macbeth, who overthrew his sovereign or overlord, Duncan, and was himself overthrown by Duncan’s son, Malcolm. But the version of his story which Shakespeare borrowed from Holinshed was a creation of the popular imagination, working upon partially known or dimly remembered facts, interpreting and embellishing them by its own familiar processes, and thus not only adorning the tale, but pointing the moral. The result of this operation in the present case, as also, though less obviously, in other narratives having a similar origin, was to transform one of the commonest events of mediæval history into an unconscious reproduction in mediæval guise of the story of the Fall of Man. Here is essentially the same situation, with the same natural and supernatural agencies. In both there is the violation of the divine command,— “Ye shall not eat,” “ Thou shalt not hill ; ” in both there is the tempter seeking to defeat the Almighty’s will, — the subtle serpent, the witches, or the power which they serve and represent; in both there is the delusive assurance, keeping the word of promise to the ear, and breaking it to the hope,—“ Ye shall not surely die,” “ No man of woman born shall harm Macbeth ; ” in both there are the husband and the wife, the woman the bolder of the two, not only an accomplice, but an instigator of the deed.
Now it was never Shakespeare’s habit, to modify materially a story which came already invented to his hand, by mere extraneous alterations and additions. His own imagination was in close touch with that universal poetical faculty to which we owe the treasures of myth, legend, and folk-lore. He shared in its necessity for transmuting, gilding, and winging the vulgar fact, so that it should find world-wide acceptance and application. He assented to its fundamental belief that there are more things in heaven and earth than philosophy dreams of, and readily accepted its accounts of a continuous intercourse between a visible and an invisible world. He uses these things as congruous and coherent portions of his subject, not as symbolical fantasies hovering around it, which is the modern archaic mode of treating them. In the single play of which the plot seems with certainty to be wholly of his own invention, — that “ one entire and perfect chrysolite,” The Tempest, — he assumes, one may say, in propria persona, the character of the magician ; performs the wildest feats and summons up the daintiest sprite ever evoked by necromancy; and when the revels are ended lays aside his robe and staff, and vanishes from our sight. In Macbeth he adopts the supernatural machinery supplied to him with the rest, of the action, using it in all its details, while transfusing into it his own incomparable art. He is truer to what was without doubt the original version, woven at firesides or on Highland sheep pastures, than is the chronicle from which he extracted the story ; for there we detect the traces of a prosaic literary manipulation, seeking to exalt the rude popular conceptions into more dignified forms. Thus the “ weird sisters ” are described by Holinshed as “creatures of elder world,” “ the goddesses of destinie, or else some nymphs or feiries, indued with knowledge of prophesie by their necromanticall science.” This boggling mixture of diverse forms and ideas was assuredly no product of Scottish superstition. Fairies, good or bad, could have no place in a tale like this ; nymphs were creations of a very different time and region ; and as for the “ goddesses of destinie,” they were not only beings of an elder world, but denizens of the nether world, where they spun the web and cut the thread of human lives, ministers of inexorable Fate, serenely indifferent to the results of their task, taking no active part in human affairs. Shakespeare’s “ weird sisters,” though they “ seem not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,” are yet “ on’t ” and of it. They are agents, not of Fate, which allots both good and bad to men, but of the powers of evil. They are “ beldames,” “ hags,” grotesque and malignant creatures, hated and contemned by the people with whom they seek to mingle, and wreaking their own spite in return. In a word, they are witches, intrinsically vulgar and despicable, sublimated for the nonce by the awful office entrusted to them and by the genius of the poet, but yet the veritable and familiar products of the popular imagination, which would have recognized them for its own, perhaps without a suspicion of the idealization they had undergone.
It is the second act of Macbeth which exhibits the dramatic power of Shakespeare at its highest point, in a scene unequaled in this respect by any other in the whole range of the drama, ancient and modern. It is the pivotal scene of the play, that which forms the crisis of the action, in which deliberation passes into accomplishment, and the issue of a mental conflict, already determined by the will, becomes an irrevocable fact. The preliminary bending-up of each corporal agent to the terrible feat, the perturbation in the performance, the sudden and overwhelming revulsion that follows, are the features that give to this scene its profoundest interest; but it is the accessories, the confluent circumstances, each with its own import and significance, all blended and adjusted with consummate skill, that render it a picture, fixing the lines and figures in indelible colors. It is therefore on these details, in their harmonious relation to the psychological core of the situation, that one’s attention settles in a consideration of Shakespeare’s method of setting his conceptions for visual presentation.
The place is the inner court of Macbeth’s castle, open to the sky, but surrounded by walls with doors and passages leading to interior apartments and to exterior lodging-places. We do not gather these particulars from a description prefixed to the scene, for none such is given, either here or elsewhere, in the old editions of the Elizabethan dramatists, but from casual indications in the progress of the action. Such indications are generally vague or altogether wanting in the works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. One may read whole plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, for example, with very little notion of the whereabouts or the background of the action. These writers may conceive the thing they wish to represent with force and even intensity of feeling; but they do not see it, and consequently do not set it, in that environment through which it receives the impress of reality, of complete correspondence with the events of actual life, which are always thus characterized and variegated. Shakespeare, on the contrary, incorporates the external concomitants with the essence of the action ; and it is those of his plays in which he has blended the component elements most completely that are the sole survivals on the English stage of that grand dramatic art which was once its monopoly and its glory. There was no scenery on the stage in his day, but there is seldom any lack of scenery in his plays.
The time is night. The time and the passage of the time are kept continually before our minds by allusions and imagery that make the darkness symbolical of the deed which it enshrouds and facilitates. This is in accordance with Shakespeare’s habitual mode of steeping the action in its characteristic atmosphere, a practice especially noticeable in the night scenes which are so frequent in his tragedies, and which occur, indeed, in all but a very few of his plays. In such scenes Night presides over the action, arrayed as befits the season and the clime. The warm, luscious night of the southern summer enfolds and conspires with the elfish bewilderments in the Athenian wood, the trysts and meetings in life and death of the enraptured lovers of Verona, the elopement at Venice, and the rendezvous at Belmont on that loveliest of all nights, with the moonlight sleeping on the bank, while Lorenzo and Jessica call up things that had happened in the fabled past “ in such a night as this,” and listen to Portia’s music, which “ sounds much sweeter than by day.” In strong contrast with these are the northern nights, as that on the platform at Elsinore, when it is “ an eager and a nipping air,” and the ghost stalks under the glimpses of the moon, while the stillness is broken by the blatant noises from the castle that proclaim the drunken wassail of the usurper; or that—of all nights the most awful — on the British heath, when the elements discharge their fury on the houseless and distraught Lear, who bares himself to the deluge and bids the storm rage on, while the fool and the madman shiver and chatter beside him.
Here in the Highlands of Scotland the season is again summer, but summer tempered by mountain breezes, and liable to sudden and violent changes of weather, now fair, now foul. “ This castle hath a pleasant seat.” The air is “ delicate ” and “ smells wooingly,” recommending itself “ nimbly and sweetly ” to the “ gentle senses “ of Duncan as he makes his “ fatal entrance ” under the battlements. But now it is night, the deepest part of the night,“ when o’er the one-half world nature seems dead.” It is the short, swift night of hyperborean summers. The festivities are over in the hall, though they will be prolonged in the servants’ quarters till the second cockcrow. Duncan is in his bed, wrapped in the “ innocent sleep ’’ of an unburdened soul, the secure sleep of one who is here “ in double trust,” in the safe-keeping of the kinsman who is both his subject and his host. There are no sounds yet of approaching tempest, but the darkness has become intense. The moon went down at twelve, or later, and the stars are hidden. “There’s husbandry in heaven; their candles are all out.” Something is about to happen which Nature is taking note of and preparing to accord with; and Banquo, who has been in attendance on the king, and who, as he crosses the court, pauses to observe the signs of the hour, is dimly conscious of a presentiment, and prays to be saved from the recurrence of the “ cursed thoughts,” the recollection of the weird sisters and their enticements, which had infested his previous night’s sleep. He meets Macbeth, confides to him the diamond which Duncan, in requital of his entertainment, has sent to Lady Macbeth, receives from him an intimation that has a veiled but fateful drift, and leaves him with exchange of wishes for “ good repose.”
And so throughout the scene commonplace details become significant and ominous, as if the ordinary course of things had been drawn into the vortex, — as is also the case in every great crisis of real life, through that absorption of the mind, alike of the actors and the spectators, which tends to connect and assimilate with the main movement all that is merely incidental. At such times, every sound, every pause, every interval of silence, is charged with a mysterious meaning. Macbeth still lingers on the stage, his fevered brain prefiguring in the air-drawn dagger the instrument he is to use, when the stroke of a bell, the concerted signal from his wife, warns him that the hour for action is come. Then, when he has left the scene, and Lady Macbeth enters, the shriek of the owl is heard, startling even her constant mind, announcing, as it were, that the deed is being watched. It is accomplished ; and the murderer — he who in a moment has cast himself into a gulf from which there can be no return — staggers back, trembling, overwhelmed with horror and fear, pressing his bloodstained hands upon his eyes to shut out that dreadful spectacle which will nevermore be absent from his inward vision, speaking in hoarse, disjointed whispers, hearing the reverberations of the voice that has already denounced his crime and proclaimed his doom ; —
Shall sleep no more ; Macbeth shall sleep no more.' ”
But now another sound breaks in, responsive to and confirmatory of that sentence, — the “ knocking,” which, repeated at ever shorter intervals and in louder tones, keeps the hearers in a constant state of startled expectation. Whence comes it ? What means it ? It is merely the knocking of Macduff at the gate of “ the south entry,” who comes, as commanded by the king, to “ call timely on him.” “ Wake Duncan with thy Knocking ! would thou couldst!" But it is not alone Macduff and his companion, Lennox, who come. It is also the Day, coming to discover what the accomplice Night has hidden, and to report that the powers of the air have been privy to the act, and have raged and desolated in concert with it. The suspense, however, is prolonged by the gabble of the porter, which has been thought by some critics out of keeping with the character of the scene, but which seems intended rather to throw it into stronger relief, through the junction and contrast of what is vulgar and trivial with what is extraordinary and appalling ; marking the common obliviousness of those moral earthquakes to which human existence is subject, the common insensibility to their premonitory signs. And when Macbeth returns, and, after directing Macduff to the door leading to the king’s chamber, fixes his gaze upon it, and hears from Lennox, with little comprehension of its meaning, the account of the storm and the havoc it has wrought, this last short interval of suspense, with the two streams of consciousness and unconsciousness flowing side by side, strains expectation to its highest pitch. Then suddenly the alarm is given ; the castle bell peals out its summons ; the frightened guests pour in; and the scene, which had begun in low, half-smothered tones, rises in swift crescendo to a tremendous fortissimo. This sternness and boldness render the ethical motive which is incorporated in every great tragedy, without which tragedy is invertebrate and ephemeral, especially prominent in Macbeth. We are never for an instant beguiled away from the contemplation of that spectacle which inspires the same kind of awe, but in a far greater degree, as a shipwreck or some similar catastrophe ; that, namely, of the temptation, surrender, and perdition of a soul. What gives to the spectacle its heroic proportions lies in the nature of the seduction and in the character of those who yield to it. It is the “ golden round ” of sovereignty that is offered; it is the aspiring spirit that impels. The sphere of enterprise is the highest, the peril the greatest, the qualities demanded are not those of ignoble minds.
The other chief scenes in the play — the banquet scene, the caldron scene, above all the marvelous sleep-walking scene — are characterized by the same close and concentrated application of skill on the production of strong effects. One might have expected, therefore, that Macbeth would prove the most popular of Shakespeare’s tragedies, both with actors and with audiences, and especially in these later times, when there is a complete divorce between the drama and literature properly so called ; when plays are not only written exclusively for representation, but have no vitality apart from that. Such has not, however, been the case. Except on rare occasions, Macbeth, despite its apparent supremacy as an “ acting play,” has less attraction than Lear, Othello, and above all Hamlet. Nor is the reason far to seek. Of the two elements which Aristotle’s definition requires in tragedy, it has but one. It works by terror alone, and does not touch the springs of pity. It has no bursts and swells of pathos, no outpours of tenderness, no sweet dews of hapless love. Lacking these, it lacks charm. The characters on whom the interest is concentrated are not the innocent sufferers, but the guilty workers of woe, and, if not outcasts from our sympathy in the woe they thereby bring upon themselves, they are far from making any demands upon our affection. Macbeth stands alone among Shakespeare’s great productions as a picture of crime and retribution unrelieved by any softer features, — like some awful Alpine peak, girdled with glaciers, abysses, and seething mists, with no glimpses of green vales or flower-bespangled pastures.
The common tendency to treat the characters of Shakespeare’s personages as subjects for analysis proceeds not only from their surpassing interest, but from the conditions under which he, in common with all dramatists, unfolds his conceptions. The dramatist cannot, like the novelist, give us the biography of his persons, the history of their mental and moral development; he presents them at the crisis of their fate, swerved from the regular tenor of their lives, subjected to tests that convulse their whole nature, and bring up from abysmal depths unsuspected deposits. The dramatist cannot stop to explain and elucidate; he must trust to the suggestiveness of the action, and to the possession by his public of an intuitive faculty responsive to that by which his conceptions have been evolved. In Macbeth this is especially the case. Here all the light is concentrated upon the dramatic situation, which looms up at the outset and holds us absorbed to the end, with no intervals of repose and retrospection, no by-play, no mingling of relations and diversity of discourse, such as in Hamlet, Othello, and Lear widen the point of view ; presenting the characters at different angles, familiarizing us with their aspect and demeanor under ordinary circumstances, and giving a clue to their antecedents. Instead of such side-lights as these, we have only casual hints, such as Lady Macbeth’s description of her husband’s nature as “ full o’ the milk of human kindness,” — a description which appears to some critics so inconsistent with the traits which he exhibits in the play that they coolly decide that the lady was blissfully ignorant of her husband’s real character; which is, of course, the same thing as saying that Shakespeare was under a like misapprehension in regard to it. But it is in fact through her perfect knowledge of his character that she is able to control and fix his infirm and wavering will. To reject such testimony as this is to forego our only means of deep insight and discriminative judgment. For these persons have no intimates or confidants, are surrounded by no group of dispassionate observers ; they are morally isolated, and are seen by others only in a glare that obliterates all distinction and blending of hues. It is only by the revelations of their privacy that the general impression can be modified and corrected.
Let us for a moment, if it be possible, look at these domestic scenes in obliviousness of their deadly purport, imagine ourselves spectators with no knowledge of the secret aim. How close is the bond between the husband and the wife ! How firmly they are knit together by mutual trust and dependence, by complete community of interests, and by the fullest and freest interchange of sentiments ! And the contrast between them makes the alliance all the more admirable, supplying characteristics in which they are separately wanting, He is of a highly nervous and susceptible temperament, appreciative of the force of resistant motives and conflicting ends, and hence subject to fits and starts of resolution and reluctance, to all the fluctuations of opposing impulses. She is eminently firm, consistent, and practical; disdainful of obstacles, fertile in expedients, blinded to all other considerations by the singleness with which her heart is set upon its object, — not un-feminine, but ultra-feminine in this particular trait. Macbeth’s impressible imagination has been nurtured by the visions that rise amid the mountain mists, and his mind has retained all the beliefs and terrors of a time when his senses would have cooled to hear a night-shriek, and his fell of hair would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir as life were in it. His ears are open to “ supernatural solicitings,” his eyes to spectral apparitions. He is akin to the Highland “ seers,” the possessors of the “ second sight.” Not the less is he the valiant soldier, the intrepid captain, foremost in achievement and renown. And Lady Macbeth, though she upbraids his fickleness of purpose and treats his visions as the mere coinage of his brain, is none the less his devoted helpmeet, who shares, incites, and fortifies his hopes, and inspires him with admiration of her undaunted courage and her ability in counsel and device. She is the experienced châtelaine, who knows well how to rule her household and manage its affairs; equal to sudden and great occasions, nor neglectful of the smallest offices; shining forth as the “ most kind hostess ” of the sovereign by a reception which fills him with “ measureless content; ” not omitting, when “ great news ” has thrown her into unwonted excitement, to order that the spent messenger shall have proper “ tending.”
Such is the aspect in which this couple appear to us while we are not yet cognizant of their secret thoughts and acts, while we share the ignorance of the world around them, which holds them worthy of its highest esteem and admiration. Then suddenly the veil is withdrawn, and they become the objects of our abhorrence, traitors and assassins, destroyers of the life which they beyond all others were bound to shelter and defend. Is this, then, the unmasking of abnormally depraved natures, the culmination of a career of guilt and hypocrisy leaping suddenly into detection ? Or is it the result of a moral cataclysm, sweeping away the protective barriers of conscience and humanity, and leaving the soul helpless against the assaults of temptation? Strictly speaking, it is neither the one nor the other. What has taken place is the development of a germ fostered originally in unconsciousness of its poisonous properties, nurtured in the same soil with fair and beneficent things, entangled with these, and at last choking them.
The passion which has grown with Macbeth’s growth and strengthened with his strength, which is rooted in the capacities of his intellect and the conscious sense of merit, which is sunned and stimulated by the sympathy that is dearest to him, and by the quick rewards of achievement that beckon him ever onward and upward, is a desire, a craving, for distinction, for eminence. It is not the cynical greed for power and success which has no need of approbation or applause. Far otherwise ; what he most longs for is honor, — not mere “ mouth honor,” not the breath of reverence, “ which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not,” but honor associated with “ love, obedience, troops of friends,” the “ golden opinions ” to be won “from all sorts of people ” by great and noble exploits. It cannot be that his own instincts are at variance with the instincts to which he appeals, that he who aspires to a place in all hearts is himself heartless. But in that fiery struggle, in which all the incentives to crime — vaulting ambition, unforeseen opportunity, a wellconcocted plan — are confronted, and for a time repelled, by his clear perception of the atrocity of the act, and his vivid anticipation of the direful effect when
Striding’ the blast, or heaven’s cberubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,” —
in this critical moment he is unarmed, powerless ; his conscience has been too long tampered with and weakened to make resistance effectual ; he is overborne by the taunting reminder that he is already committed to the enterprise ; that he has hoped, plotted, and pledged himself, and cannot now retire except with the self-disdain of the convicted coward.
And she who with those terrible lashings drives him over the precipice when he is shrinking back appalled, — shall we say with some critics that she is utterly fiendlike, that “ Shakespeare never meant her for anything better than a character of superb depravity ” ? Before a legal tribunal the evidence in support of this view would seem overwhelming, and the circumstances pleaded in extenuation, such as her unselfish devotion to her husband, would have very little weight. When we recall her apparent utter insensibility to the enormity of the crime, the cool deliberation with which she plans its details, the unrelenting sternness with which she urges and enforces its accomplishment, the unflinching nerve with which she snatches the bloody daggers from Macbeth’s feeble grasp and imbrues them afresh in the dead man’s gore in order to smear the faces of the sleeping grooms, declaring that “ the sleeping and the dead are but as pictures,” we seem to be present at a scene so terrible and ghastly that devils themselves might have quailed at the sight. And yet no reader, it is certain, looks at Lady Macbeth with unmixed and absolute detestation and loathing, or places her in the same category, I do not say with Regan and Goneril, who are monsters, but with that perfect incarnation of the fiendlike intellect and temperament, Iago ; or even with that figure from the ancient tragedy which seems to suggest a more appropriate comparison. Clytemnestra. In both cases the contrast overbears the resemblance. In Clytemnestra the cruelty of the murderess is mixed with the degradation of the adulteress, and, though she asserts the palliative motive of vengeance for a great wrong, the effect — one can hardly tell why — is rather to deepen than to mitigate the impression of her ferocity. In Iago we have the true diabolic malignity, that loves evil, revels in it, finds it the proper element for the masterly exercise of craft and astuteness. His hatred of Othello has no explicable cause save the instinctive oppugnancy of the guileful for the guileless nature. Ehy was such cunning given to him except to set snares for simplicity and honesty ? Not Othello only, every truthful and trusting soul is his natural prey ; and despite our admiration for his dexterity as a display of pure art, “ art for art’s sake,” we consign him without the least reluctance to the infliction of the promised tortures.
This is not our feeling towards Lady Macbeth. She does not inspire us with hatred ; she does not quench every sentiment of commiseration. It is not, however, her devotion to her husband’s interests, which are identified with her own, nor her remembrance of the babes that had fed at her bosom and smiled in her face, — which is evoked only to illustrate the steely hardness of her determination, — nor the single shuddering recoil with which she notes the gray-haired sleeper’s likeness to her father, that suffices to modify our judgment. It is the exhibition of that state of direful exaltation into which she has worked herself by the exercise of a massive will crushing every rebellious impulse, — it is this that throws upon her the full clear light which it is the office of art to shed over human character and action. She prepares herself for that consummation which “ fate and metaphysical aid ” now Offer to the long-waiting hope and resolute heart, as if for the performance of a solemn sacrifice to the infernal deities. She invokes the “ spirits that tend on mortal thoughts ” to equip her for the task, to unsex her, to make thick her blood, to stop up the access and passage to remorse, that no compunctious visitings of nature may shake her fell purpose, to fill her from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty. The impious prayer is heard ; the consecration is perfected; her perceptions are sealed to all impressions that might divert her from the object or unfit her for its accomplishment ; she passes through the ordeal with the steady nerve and self-command with which she is wont to perform the commonest duties. She is the same as before, but in a transformed condition. Every characteristic is projected in gigantic proportions on a screen that rises behind the illuminating flames of hell. She is in a moral trance, in a sleep not less, but more profound than that in which she will appear to us again, years hence, — for the last time, — when she will rehearse every act of the present, but not with the deadened perceptions of the present; no longer thinking that a little water clears us of this deed, but knowing that all the perfumes of Arabia cannot sweeten this little hand.
It is somewhat singular that Macbeth and his wife have each found apologists, who seek to extenuate the criminality of the one at the expense of the other. Each in turn has been depicted as devoid of remorse, as in fact incapable of this sentiment. Such a view, as regards either of them, seems to proceed from a lack of definiteness in the conception of the term. The remorse which is the starting-point of repentance and atonement is not theirs, cannot be theirs; expiation, reparation, is impossible ; penitence were unavailing, But if remorse be the gnawing consciousness of guilt, it is apparent as the mental condition of both. The effort to stifle the voice of conscience would alone testify to its existence, — the voice that speaks so loudly in Lady Macbeth’s declaration that
After these ways; so, it will make us mad; ”
and in Macbeth’s confession that he has put rancors in the vessel of his peace, and given his eternal jewel to the common enemy of man. It, surely, and not the mere apprehension of earthly vengeance, is the source of those terrible dreams that shake them nightly, that torture of the mind on which they lie in restless ecstasy. The wild impulse to harden the mind by the commission of fresh crimes is the very delirium of remorse. It is remorse, with all its attendant horrors, which is the punishment, the retribution, that overtakes this wretched pair and drags them to their final doom. For it is a remorse in which there lurks no hope, no germ, of redemption. It is the remorse of the damned.
John Foster Kirk.