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I doubt if the second and third of these arguments, taken alone, would justify a very serious suspicion of interpolation; but the fact, mentioned under (1), that the play has here been meddled with, trebles their weight. And it gives some weight to the further fact that these passages resemble one another, and differ from the bulk of the other Witch passages, in being iambic in rhythm. (It must, however, be remembered that, supposing Shakespeare did mean to introduce Hecate, he might naturally use a special rhythm for the parts where she appeared.)
The same rhythm appears in a third passage which has been doubted: IV. i. 125-132. But this is not quite on a level with the other two; for (1), though it is possible to suppose the Witches, as well as the Apparitions, to vanish at 124, and Macbeth's speech to run straight on to 133, the cut is not so clean as in the other cases; (2) it is not at all clear that Hecate (the most suspicious element) is supposed to be present. The original stage-direction at 133 is merely 'The Witches Dance, and vanish'; and even if Hecate had been present before, she might have vanished at 43, as Dyce makes her do.
HAS MACBETH BEEN ABRIDGED?
Macbeth is a very short play, the shortest of all Shakespeare's except the Comedy of Errors. It contains only 1993 lines, while King Lear contains 3298, Othello 3324, and Hamlet 3924. The next shortest of the tragedies is Julius Caesar, which has 2440 lines. (The figures are Mr. Fleay's. I may remark that for our present purpose we want the number of the lines in the first Folio, not those in modern composite texts.)
Is there any reason to think that the play has been shortened? I will briefly consider this question, so far as it can be considered apart from the wider one whether Shakespeare's play was rehandled by Middleton or some one else.
That the play, as we have it, is slightly shorter than the play Shakespeare wrote seems not improbable. (1) We have no Quarto of Macbeth; and generally, where we have a Quarto or
Quartos of a play, we find them longer than the Folio text (2) There are perhaps a few signs of omission in our text (over and above the plentiful signs of corruption). I will give one example (1. iv. 33-43). Macbeth and Banquo, returning from their victories, enter the presence of Duncan (14), who receives them with compliments and thanks, which they acknowledge. He then speaks as follows:
My plenteous joys,
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
Here the transition to the naming of Malcolm, for which there has been no preparation, is extremely sudden; and the matter, considering its importance, is disposed of very briefly. But the abruptness and brevity of the sentence in which Duncan invites himself to Macbeth's castle are still more striking. For not a word has yet been said on the subject; nor is it possible to suppose that Duncan had conveyed his intention by message, for in that case Macbeth would of course have informed his wife of it in his letter (written in the interval between scenes iii. and iv.). It is difficult not to suspect some omission or curtailment here. On the other hand Shakespeare may have determined to sacrifice everything possible to the effect of rapidity in the First Act; and he may also have wished, by the suddenness and brevity of Duncan's self-invitation, to startle both Macbeth and the audience, and to make the latter feel that Fate is hurrying the King and the murderer to their doom.
And that any extensive omissions have been made seems not likely. (1) There is no internal evidence of the omission of anything essential to the plot. (2) Forman, who saw the play in 1610, mentions nothing which we do not find in our play; for his statement that Macbeth was made Duke of Northumberland is obviously due to a confused recollection of Malcolm's
being made Duke of Cumberland. (3) Whereabouts could such omissions occur? Only in the first part, for the rest is full enough. And surely anyone who wanted to cut the play down would have operated, say, on Macbeth's talk with Banquo's murderers, or on III. vi., or on the very long dialogue of Malcolm and Macduff, instead of reducing the most exciting part of the drama. We might indeed suppose that Shakespeare himself originally wrote the first part more at length, and made the murder of Duncan come in the Third Act, and then himself reduced his matter so as to bring the murder back to its present place, perceiving in a flash of genius the extraordinary effect that might thus be produced. But, even if this idea suited those who believe in a rehandling of the play, what probability is there in it?
Thus it seems most likely that the play always was an extremely short one. Can we, then, at all account for its shortness? It is possible, in the first place, that it was not composed originally for the public stage, but for some private, perhaps royal, occasion, when time was limited. And the presence of the passage about touching for the evil (Iv. iii. 140 ff.) supports this idea. We must remember, secondly, that some of the scenes would take longer to perform than ordinary scenes of mere dialogue and action; e.g. the Witch-scenes, and the Battle-scenes in the last Act, for a broad-sword combat was an occasion for an exhibition of skill. (And, lastly, Shakespeare may well have felt that a play constructed and written like Macbeth, a play in which a kind of fever-heat is felt almost from beginning to end, and which offers very little relief by means of humorous or pathetic scenes, ought to be short, and would be unbearable if it lasted so long as Hamlet or even King Lear. And in fact I do not think that, in reading, we feel Macbeth to be short: certainly we are astonished when we hear that it is about half as long as Hamlet. Perhaps in the Shakespearean theatre too it appeared to occupy a longer time than the clock recorded.
1 These two considerations should also be borne in mind in regard to the exceptional shortness of the Midsummer Night's Dream and the Tempest. Both contain scenes which, even on the Elizabethan stage, would take an unusual time to perform. And it has been supposed of each that it was composed to grace some wedding.
the date oF MACBETH. METRICAL TESTS.
Dr. Forman saw Macbeth performed at the Globe in 1610. The question is how much earlier its composition or first appearance is to be put.
It is agreed that the date is not earlier than that of the accession of James I. in 1603. The style and versification would make an earlier date almost impossible. And we have the allusions to 'two-fold balls and treble sceptres' and to the descent of Scottish kings from Banquo; the undramatic description of touching for the King's Evil (James performed this ceremony); and the dramatic use of witchcraft, a matter on which James considered himself an authority.
Some of these references would have their fullest effect early in James's reign. And on this ground, and on account both of resemblances in the characters of Hamlet and Macbeth, and of the use of the supernatural in the two plays, it has been held that Macbeth was the tragedy that came next after Hamlet, or, at any rate, next after Othello.
These arguments seem to me to have no force when set against those that point to a later date (about 1606) and place Macbeth after King Lear. And, as I have already observed, the probability is that it also comes after Shakespeare's part of Timon, and immediately before Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus.
I will first refer briefly to some of the older arguments in favour of this later date, and then more at length to those based on versification.
(1) In 11. iii. 4-5, 'Here's a farmer that hang'd himself on the expectation of plenty,' Malone found a reference to the exceptionally low price of wheat in 1606.
(2) In the reference in the same speech to the equivocator who could swear in both scales and committed treason enough for God's sake, he found an allusion to the trial of the Jesuit Garnet, in the spring of 1606, for complicity in the Gunpowder
'The fact that King Lear was performed at Court on December 26, 1606, is of course very far from showing that it had never been performed before.
Treason and Plot. Garnet protested on his soul and salvation that he had not held a certain conversation, then was obliged to confess that he had, and thereupon 'fell into a large discourse defending equivocation.' This argument, which I have barely sketched, seems to me much weightier than the first; and its weight is increased by the further references to perjury and treason pointed out on p. 397.
(3) Halliwell observed what appears to be an allusion to Macbeth in the comedy of the Puritan, 4to, 1607: 'we'll ha' the ghost i' th' white sheet sit at upper end o' th' table'; and Malone had referred to a less striking parallel in Caesar and Pompey, also pub. 1607:
Why, think you, lords, that 'tis ambition's spur
He also found a significance in the references in Macbeth to the genius of Mark Antony being rebuked by Caesar, and to the insane root that takes the reason prisoner, as showing that Shakespeare, while writing Macbeth, was reading Plutarch's Lives, with a view to his next play Antony and Cleopatra (S.R. 1608).
(4) To these last arguments, which by themselves would be of little weight, I may add another, of which the same may be said. Marston's reminiscences of Shakespeare are only too obvious. In his Dutch Courtezan, 1605, I have noticed passages which recall Othello and King Lear, but nothing that even faintly recalls Macbeth. But in reading Sophonisba, 1606, I was several times reminded of Macbeth (as well as, more decidedly, of Othello). I note the parallels for what they are worth.
With Sophonisba, Act 1. Sc. ii. :
Upon whose tops the Roman eagles stretch'd
Their large spread wings, which fann'd the evening aire
cf. Macbeth 1. ii. 49:
Where the Norweyan banners flout the sky
And fan our people cold.
Cf. Sophonisba, a page later: 'yet doubtful stood the fight,' with Macbeth, I. ii. 7, 'Doubtful it stood' ['Doubtful long it