« ZurückWeiter »
Lord. He did
Sent he to Macduff?
and with an absolute 'Sir, not I,'
The cloudy messenger turns me his back
And hums, as who should say 'You'll rue the time
And that well might
Advise him to a caution, to hold what distance
or this (IV. iii. 118 f.):
Macduff, this noble passion,
Child of integrity, hath from my soul
Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts
I put myself to thy direction, and
I pass to another point. In the last illustration the reader will observe not only that 'overflows' abound, but that they follow one another in an unbroken series of nine lines. So long a series could not, probably, be found outside Macbeth and the last plays. A series of two or three is not uncommon; but a series of more than three is rare in the early plays, and far from common in the plays of the second period (König).
I thought it might be useful for our present purpose, to count the series of four and upwards in the four tragedies, in the parts of Timon attributed by Mr. Fleay to Shakespeare, and in Coriolanus, a play of the last period. I have not excluded rhymed lines in the two places where they occur, and perhaps I may say that my idea of an 'overflow' is more exacting than König's. The reader will understand the following table at once if I say that, according to it, Othello contains three passages where a series of four successive overflowing
lines occurs, and two passages where a series of five such lines
(The figures for Macbeth and Timon in the last column must be borne in mind. I observed nothing in the non-Shakespeare part of Timon that would come into the table, but I did not make a careful search. I felt some doubt as to two of the four series in Othello and again in Hamlet, and also whether the ten-series in Coriolanus should not be put in column 7).
III. The light and weak ending test.
We have just seen that in some cases a doubt is felt whether there is an 'overflow' or not. The fact is that the 'overflow'
has many degrees of intensity.
If we take, for example, the
passage last quoted, and if with König we consider the line
The taints and blames I laid upon myself
to be run-on (as I do not), we shall at least consider the overflow to be much less distinct than those in the lines
but God above
Deal between thee and me! for even now
I put myself to thy direction, and
And of these four lines the third runs on into its successor at much the greatest speed.
'Above,' 'now,' 'abjure,' are not light or weak endings: 'and' is a weak ending. Prof. Ingram gave the name weak ending to certain words on which it is scarcely possible to dwell at all, and which, therefore, precipitate the line which they close into the following. Light endings are certain words which have the same effect in a slighter degree. For example, and, from, in, of, are weak endings; am, are, I, he, are light endings. The test founded on this distinction is, within its limits, the most satisfactory of all, partly because the work of its author
can be absolutely trusted. The result of its application is briefly as follows. Until quite a late date light and weak endings occur in Shakespeare's works in such small numbers as hardly to be worth consideration. But in the well-defined group of last plays the numbers both of light and of weak endings increase greatly, and, on the whole, the increase apparently is progressive (I say apparently, because the order in which the last plays are generally placed depends to some extent on the test itself). I give Prof. Ingram's table of these plays, premising that in Pericles, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Henry VIII. he uses only those parts of the plays which are attributed by certain authorities to Shakespeare (New Shakspere Soc. Trans., 1874).
Now, let us turn to our four tragedies (with Timon). again we have one doubtful play, and I give the figures for the whole of Timon, and again for the parts of Timon assigned to Shakespeare by Mr. Fleay, both as they appear in his amended text and as they appear in the Globe (perhaps the better text).
Now here the figures for the first three plays tell us practically nothing. The tendency to a freer use of these endings is not
1 The number of light endings, however, in Julius Caesar (10) and All's Well (12) is worth notice.
visible. As to Timon, the number of weak endings, I think, tells us little, for probably only two or three are Shakespeare's; but the rise in the number of light endings is so marked as to be significant. And most significant is this rise in the case of Macbeth, which, like Shakespeare's part of Timon, is much shorter than the preceding plays. It strongly confirms the impression that in Macbeth we have the transition to Shakespeare's last style, and that the play is the latest of the five tragedies.1
WHEN WAS THE MURDER QF DUNCAN FIRST PLOTTED?
A good many readers probably think that, when Macbeth first met the Witches, he was perfectly innocent; but a much larger number would say that he had already harboured a vaguely guilty ambition, though he had not faced the idea of murder. And I think there can be no doubt that this is the obvious and natural interpretation of the scene. Only it is almost necessary to go rather further, and to suppose that his guilty ambition, whatever its precise form, was known to his wife and shared by her. Otherwise, surely, she would not, on reading his letter, so instantaneously assume that the King must be murdered in their castle; nor would Macbeth, as soon as he meets her, be aware (as he evidently is) that this thought is in her mind.
But there is a famous passage in Macbeth which, closely considered, seems to require us to go further still, and to suppose that, at some time before the action of the play begins, the husband and wife had explicitly discussed the idea of murdering Duncan at some favourable opportunity, and had agreed to execute this idea. Attention seems to have been first drawn to this passage by Koester in vol. 1. of the Jahrbücher d. deutschen Shakespeare-gesellschaft, and on it is based the interpretation of the play in Werder's very able Vorlesungen über Macbeth.
1 The Editors of the Cambridge Shakespeare might appeal in support of their view, that parts of Act v. are not Shakespeare's, to the fact that the last of the light endings occurs at IV. iii. 165.
The passage occurs in 1. vii., where Lady Macbeth is urging her husband to the deed:
I dare do all that may become a man ;
What beast was't, then,
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
Here Lady Macbeth asserts (1) that Macbeth proposed the murder to her: (2) that he did so at a time when there was no opportunity to attack Duncan, no adherence' of 'time' and 'place': (3) that he declared he would make an opportunity, and swore to carry out the murder.
Now it is possible that Macbeth's 'swearing' might have occurred in an interview off the stage between scenes v. and vi., or scenes vi. and vii.; and, if in that interview Lady Macbeth had with difficulty worked her husband up to a resolution, her irritation at his relapse, in sc. vii., would be very natural. But, as for Macbeth's first proposal of murder, it certainly does not occur in our play, nor could it possibly occur in any interview off the stage; for when Macbeth and his wife first meet, 'time' and 'place' do adhere; 'they have made themselves.' The conclusion would seem to be, either that the proposal of the murder, and probably the oath, occurred in a scene at the very beginning of the play, which scene has been lost or cut out; or else that Macbeth proposed, and swore to execute, the murder at some time prior to the action of the play. The first of these hypotheses is most improbable, and we seem driven to
'The 'swearing' might of course, on this view, occur off the stage within the play; but there is no occasion to suppose this if we are obliged to put the proposal outside the play.