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MACBETH.] In order to make a true eftimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it is always neceflary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries. A poet who fhould now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief events by the affiftance of fupernatural agents, would be cenfured as tranfgreffing the bounds of probability, be banished from the theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales inftead of tragedies; but a furvey of the notions that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove that Shakspeare was in no danger of fuch cenfures, fince he only turned the fyftem that was then univerfally admitted, to his advantage, and was far from overburdening the credulity of his audience.
The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not firicly the fame, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in moft, by the learned them felves. The phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more grofs; but it cannot be fhown, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been fufficient to drive them out of the world. The time in which this kind of credulity was at its height, feems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Chriftians imputed all their defeats to enchantments or diabolical oppofition, as they ascribed their success to the affiftance of their military faints; and the learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Suppl. to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the fift accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by thofe who returned from their caftern expeditions. But there is always fome diftance between the birth and maturity of folly as of wickedness: this opinion had long exifted, though perhaps the application of it had in no foregoing age been fo frequent, nor the reception fo general. Olympiodorus, in Photius's extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who prac tifed this kind of military magic, and having promised wpisóπà!Täv κατὰ βαρβάρων ἐνεργεῖν, to perform great things against the Barbarians without foldiers, was, at the inftance of the empress Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. The emprefs fhowed fome kindnefs in her anger, by cutting him off at a time fo convenient for his reputation.
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St. Chryfoftom's book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments not exceeded by any romance of the middle age: he supposes a fpe&ator overlooking a field of battle attended by one that points out all the various objects of horror, the engines of deftru&tion, and the arts of laughter. Δεικνύτο δὲ ἔτι παρὰ τοῖς εναντίοις καὶ πετομένες ἵππες διὰ τινος μαγγανείας, καὶ ὁπλίτας δι' αέρος φερομένες, καὶ πάσην γοητείας δύναμιν καὶ ἰδέαν. Let him then proceed to show him in the opposite armies horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magis,
Whether St. Chryfoftom believed that fuch performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his defcription, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that fuch notions were in his time received, and that therefore they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age, the wars with the Saracens however gave occafion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a great diftance.
The Reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually increafing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft ftill continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose convidion is fill commemorated in an annual fermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of king James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumflances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival iu England, not only examined in perfon a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illufions of evil fpirits, the compacs of witches, the ceremonies ufed by them, the manner of detecting them, and the juftice of punishing them, in his dialogues of Dæmonologie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his fucceffion, reprinted at London, and as the ready way to gain king James's favour was to flatter his fpeculations, the fyftem of Damonologie was immediately adopted by all who defired either to gain preferment or not to lose it. Thus the doârine of witchcraft was very powerfully inculcated; and as the greatest part of mankind have no other reafon for their opinions than that they are in fathion, it cannot be doubted but this perfuafion made a rapid progress, fince vanity and credulity co-operated in its favour. The infection foon reached the parliament, who, in the firft year of king James, made a law, by which it was enacted, chap. xii. That "if any person shall use any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked fpirit; 2. or fhall confult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose; 3 or take up any dead man, woman, or child, out of the grave, or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead perfon, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, forcery, charm, or enchantment; 4. or fhall use, practise, or exercise any fort of witchcraft, forcery, charm, or enchantment; 5. whereby any perfon fhall be deftroyed, killed, wasted, confumed, pined, or lamed in any part of the body; 6. That every such person being convicted shall suffer death." This law was repealed in our own time.
Thus, in the time of Shakspeare, was the doctrine of witchcraft at once established by law and by the fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, to doubt it; and as prodigies are
always feen in proportion as they are expected, witches were every day difcovered, and multiplied so faft in some places, that bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where their number was greater than that of the houses. The jefuits and fectaries took advantage of this univerfal error, and endeavoured to promote the intereft of their parties by pretended cures of perfons afflicted by evil fpirits; but they were detected and expofed by the clergy of the established church.
Upon this general infatuation Shakspeare might be easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has followed with great exactness such hiftories as were then thought true; nor can it be doubted that the scenes of enchantment, however they may now be ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience thought awful and affecting. JOHNSON.
In the concluding paragraph of Dr. Johnson's admirable introduction to this play, he seems apprehenfive that the fame of Shakfpeare's magic may be endangered by modern ridicule. I fhall not hefitate, however, to predi& its fecurity, till our national tafte is wholly corrupted, and we no longer deferve the first of all dramatic enjoyments; for such, in my opinion at least, is the tragedy of Macbeth. STEEVENS.
Malcolm II. king of Scotland, had two daughters. The eldeft was married to Crynin, the father of Duncan, Thane of the Ifles, and western parts of Scotland; and on the death of Malcolm, without male iffue, Duncan fucceeded to the throne. Malcolm's fecond daughter was married to Sinel, Thane of Glamis, the father of Macbeth. Duncan, who married the daughter of Siward, Earl of Northumberland, was murdered by his coufin german, Macbeth, in the caftle of Inverness, according to Buchanan, in the year 1040; according to Hedor Boethius, in 1045. Boethius, whofe history of Scotland was firft printed in feventeen books, at Paris, in 1526, thus defcribes the event which forms the bafis of the tragedy before
“Makbeth, be persuasion of his wyfe, gaderit his friendis to ane counfall at Invernes, quhare kyng Duncane happennit to be for ye tyme. And because he fand fufficient opportunitie, be fupport of Banquho and otheris his friendis, he flew kyng Duncane, the vii zeir of his regne." After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth "come with ane gret power to Scone, and tuk the crowne." Chroniclis of Scotland, tranflated by John Bellenden, folio, 1541. Macbeth was
+ In Nafhe's Lenten Stuff, 1599, it is faid, that no less than fix hundred witches were executed at one time:"it is evident by the confeffion of the fix hundred Scotch witches executed in Scotland at Bartholomew tide was twelve month, that in Yarmouth road they were all together in a plump on Christmas eve was two years, when the great flood was; and there ftirred up fuch tornadoes and furicanoes of tempefts, as will be spoken of there whilft any winds or forms and tempefts chafe and puff in the lower region." REED.
himfelf flain by Macduff in the year 1061, according to Boethius; according to Buchanan, in 1057; at which time King Edward the Confeffor poffeffed the throne of England. Holinfhed copied the hiftory of Boethius, and on Holinfhed's relation Shakspeare formed his play.
In the reign of Duncan, Banquo having been plundered by the people of Lochaber of fome of the king's revenues, which he had collected, and being dangeroully wounded in the affray, the perfons concerned in this outrage were fummoned to appear at a certain day. But they flew the fergeant at arms who fummoned them, and chose one MACDOWALD as their captain. Macdowald speedily collected a confiderable body of forces from Ireland and the Western Ifles, and in one action gained a victory over the king's army. In this battle Malcolm, a Scottifh nobleman, who was (fays Boethius) "Lieutenant to Duncan in Lochaber, ' was flain. Afterwards Macbeth and Banquo were appointed to the command of the army; and Macdowald being obliged to take refuge in a castle in Lochaber, first flew his wife and children, and then himself. Macbeth on entering the caftle finding his dead body, ordered his head to be cut off, and carried to the king, at the caftle of Bertha, and his body to be hung on a high tree.
At a fubfequent period, in the laft year of Duncan's reign, Sueno king of Norway, landed a powerful army in Fife, for the purpose of invading Scotland. Duncan immediately affembled an army to oppose him, and gave the command of two divifions of it to Macbeth and Banquo, putting himself at the head of a third. Sueno was fuccefsful in one battle, but in a second was routed; and after a great flaughter of his troops he escaped with ten perfons only, and fled back to Norway. Though there was an interval of time between the rebellion of Macdowald and the invafion of Sueno, our author has woven these two actions together, and immediately after Sueno's defeat the prefent play commences.
It is remarkable that Buchanan has pointed out Macbeth's hiftory as a fubject for the ftage. Multa hic fabulofe quidam noftrorum affingunt; fed, quia theatris aut Milefiis fabulis funt aptiora quam hiftoriæ, ea omitto. RERUM SCOT. HIST. L. VII. But there was no tranflation of Buchanan's work till after our author's death.
This tragedy was written, I believe, in the year 1606. See the notes at the end; and An attempt to afcertain the order of Shakspeare's plays, Vol. II. MALONE.
Fleance, Son to Banquo.
Siward, Earl of Northumberland, General of the
Young Siward, his Son.
Seyton, an Officer attending on Macbeth.
An Englifh Doctor. A Scotch Doctor.
A Soldier. A Porter. An old Man.
Gentlewoman attending on Lady Macbeth.
Lords, Gentlemen, Officers, Soldiers, Murderers,
The Ghost of Banquo, and feveral other Apparitions.
SCENE, in the end of the fourth act, lies in England; through the rest of the play, in Scotland; and, chiefly, at Macbeth's castle.
Lady Macbeth.] Her name was Gruach. See Lord Hailes's Annals of Scotland, II. 332. RITSON.