Graham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 online

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Vol. XXXVII. Sept, 1850. No. 3.

Table of Contents

Fiction, Literature and Articles

Shakspeare—Analysis of Macbeth
Pedro de Padilh (continued)
A Visit to Staten Island
Woodlawn: or the Other Side of the Medal
“What Can Woman Do?”
The Bride of the Battle
Doctrine of Form
Coquet _versus_ Coquette
The Genius of Byron
Rail and Rail Shooting
The Fine Arts
Mandan Indians
Review of New Books

Poetry, Music and Fashion

Lines in Memory of My Lost Child
The Wasted Heart
A Health to My Brother
On a Portrait of Cromwell
A Sea-Side Reverie
Audubon’s Blindness
On the Death of General Taylor
“Psyche Loves Me.”
To the Lost One
Outward Bound
He Comes Not
The Bright New Moon of Love
Le Follet

Transcriber’s Notes can be found at the end of this eBook.

* * * * *


Vol. XXXVII. PHILADELPHIA, September, 1850. No. 3.

* * * * *




The reader who has not considered the subject in Ulrici’s point of view,
will, perhaps, scarcely be prepared, at first sight, to believe that the
two plays of Macbeth and the Merchant of Venice, have the same
“ground-idea;” that both are, throughout, imbued with the same
sentiment, yet he will readily perceive the similarity of the leading
incidents of these plays. Shylock insists on the literal terms of his
bond, and “stands for judgment,” according to the strict law of Venice.
He is entitled to a pound of flesh; “the law allows it, and the court
awards it;” but his bond gives him no drop of blood, and neither more
nor less than just a pound. Thus the _letter of the law_, on which he
has so sternly insisted, serves in the end to defeat him. In like manner
Macbeth relies with fatal confidence on the predictions of the weird
sisters, that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth;” and that he
“shall never vanquished be till Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane.” The
predictions are more _literally_ fulfilled than he anticipated, and that
very strictness of interpretation makes them worthless.

Now it is from these incidents—both of the same import—that the
respective themes of these plays are drawn; hence those themes are
substantially the same, and may be thus expressed:

_The relation of form to substance—of the letter to the spirit—of the
real to the ideal._ But the different aspects in which this idea is
presented are multiform; as empty, superfluous words; ambiguities,
equivocations, irony, riddles, formality, prescription, superstition;
witches, ghosts, dreams, omens, etc., etc.

The reason and the propriety of the introduction of the witches in
Macbeth, has often been a subject of speculation. It may be remarked in
general, that Shakspeare always follows very closely the original story
on which his plot is founded. The question as to any given circumstance,
therefore, generally is rather why he has _retained_ than why he has
_introduced_ it. In the history of Macbeth, as he read it in the old
chronicles, he found the weird sisters, and also their _equivocal
predictions_; and it was upon these predictions as a “ground-idea,” (as
has already been observed,) that he constructed the play. The witches,
therefore, were not introduced for the sake of the play, but it might
rather be said the play was written for the sake of the witches.


The prevailing modification of the theme, in the early part of the play,
is “the ambiguity of appearances.” The 1st scene merely introduces the
witches, who are themselves _ambiguous_, and so is their language; “fair
is foul, and foul is fair.” They appear amidst thunder and lightning,
and a hurly-burly of empty words.

In the 2d Scene a bleeding soldier enters, and gives an account of the
battle, and of the achievements of Macbeth and Banquo. Mark how he
dwells on the _doubtful aspect_ of the fight:

“Doubtfully it stood;
As two spent swimmers that do cling together,
And choke their art.”

He represents fortune as smiling at first on Macdonwald’s cause; but
brave Macbeth, “disdaining fortune,” soon turned the tide of victory.
But another revulsion follows, “and from the spring whence comfort
seemed to come, discomfort flows.” The Norweyan lord suddenly renews the
assault, but victory at last falls on Macbeth and Banquo. Ross now
enters and describes the fight, dwelling in like manner on the
_uncertainty_ which attended it; and Duncan, declaring that the Thane of
Cawdor shall no more _deceive_ him, orders his execution. It is worthy
of remark also, that the view here presented of Macbeth’s character is
purely _formal_ or _sensual_. Physical strength and bull-dog courage are
alone spoken of. Swords “smoking with bloody execution,” “reeking
wounds,” and “heads fixed on battlements,” compose the staple of his

_Scene_ 3d—Enter the three witches. There is an idle repetition of
words. The offense of the sailor’s wife is visited upon her husband, who
is, however, to encounter only the _appearance_, not the _reality_ of
destruction. A certain _combination of numbers_ completes the charm.

Macbeth and Banquo now encounter the weird sisters on the heath.
Macbeth’s exclamations relate chiefly to the _ambiguity_ of their
_appearance_. He says, they “look not like the inhabitants of the earth,
and yet are on it.” They “_seem_ to understand me.”

They should be women,
And yet their beards forbid me to interpret
That they are so.

The witches then salute Macbeth in terms which are to him
_incomprehensible_. They call him Thane of Cawdor, which he is, but does
not know it. They also salute Banquo in ambiguous language: “Lesser than
Macbeth and greater.” “Not so happy, yet much happier,” etc., etc.

The witches now “melt into the wind;” upon which Banquo says,

The earth hath _bubbles_ as the water has,
And these are of them.

Ross and Angus now enter and salute Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, who,
finding the prediction of the witches verified in this particular, asks
Banquo whether he does not hope his children shall be kings. Banquo’s
answer points to the _ambiguity_ of appearances,

That trysted home,
Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,
Besides the Thane of Cawdor. But ’tis strange;
And oftentimes to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths;
Win us with honest trifles to betray us
In deepest consequence.

Macbeth falls into meditation on the subject; thinks this “supernatural
soliciting” cannot be ill, because it has already given him earnest of
success; cannot be good, because it breeds horrid suggestions in his
mind. The appearances are _ambiguous_ and bewilder him. Banquo,
observing his abstraction, remarks that new honors come upon him like
“strange garments,” wanting the _formality_ of use to make them sit

The next Scene, (the 4th) though a short one, contains several very
pointed references to the central idea. Malcolm reports to Duncan that
Cawdor, when led to execution, had frankly confessed his treasons;
whereupon Duncan says,

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face;
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

This reflection is commonplace enough in itself, but is rendered
eminently striking by his cordial reception of Macbeth the next moment;
he hails as his deliverer, and enthrones in his heart, the man who is
already meditating his destruction, and that very night murders him in
his sleep. Thus precept and example concur in teaching the _uncertainty
of appearances_. Again Duncan says:

My _plenteous joys_,
Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves
In _drops of sorrow_.

He then declares his intention to confer _appropriate_ honors on all
deservers, and renews his expressions of confidence in Macbeth.

The subject is now presented in a slightly different aspect. Whereas the
ambiguity of form or appearance has heretofore been insisted on, the
leading idea is now the agreement of form with substance; the
correspondence of appearances with the reality.

Macbeth writes to his wife, informing her of what has happened, that she
may not “lose the dues of rejoicing,” but be able to conform to their
new circumstances. Her reflections on the occasion abound with
illustrations of the theme. She fears his nature; it is too full of the
milk of human kindness to “catch the nearest way.” He cannot rid himself
of what she considers mere ceremonious scruples; “what he would highly
that he would holily;” whilst she thinks only of the end they aim at,
she apprehends that he will stand upon _the manner_ of reaching it. An
attendant now informs her of Duncan’s unexpected approach; and she falls
into a soliloquy which is singularly adapted to the theme. The “hoarse
raven;” the invocation to night; her wish to be unsexed, and that her
milk might be turned to gall, etc., etc. When Macbeth arrives, she says
to him:

Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men
May read strange matters; _To beguile the time_,
_Look like the time_; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under it.

In the next scene she practices that dissimulation which she has
reproached Macbeth for wanting. Her reception of Duncan is full of
ceremony and professions of duty.

The 7th Scene opens with the great soliloquy of Macbeth, “If it were
done, when ’tis done,” etc. He dwells on the _incongruity_ of his
killing Duncan, who is there in double trust; “First as I am his kinsman
and his subject; then as his host.” Duncan, too, “has borne his
faculties so meek;” has been “so clear in his great office;” “he has
honored me of late;” and “I have bought golden opinions from all sorts
of people.” He resolves at last that he will proceed no further in the
business. Lady Macbeth now enters to “chastise him with the valor of her
tongue.” In the course of the argument that ensues, Macbeth shows _his_
regard for _appearances_ by saying:

I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares do more is none.

whilst she shows _her_ respect for the strictness of the letter by
declaring that _had she so sworn_ as he has done to this, she would,
whilst her babe was smiling in her face, have “plucked her nipple from
his boneless gums,” and dashed his brains out. She then proposes to
drench the attendants with wine, and smear them with Duncan’s blood, so
that suspicion may fall on them; also, “we will make our griefs and
clamor roar upon his death.” And here the first act ends with these

Away and mock the time with fairest show;
False face must hide what the false heart doth know.


In the 2d Act the same idea of _correspondence_ is pursued, and the
propensity of the imagination to embody ideas which press upon the mind
is dwelt upon.

In the first scene Banquo, when ordering the light to be removed, says:
“Night’s candles are all out; there’s husbandry in Heaven.” This
imagery, no doubt, very naturally suggests itself; but herein lies the
peculiar art of these plays; there is seldom any thing forced or
strained in the narrative or sentiment, the events and reflections fall
in naturally and gracefully; and yet the same general idea is always
kept in the foreground.

Macbeth tells Banquo if he will co-operate with him it shall be to his
honor; the latter intimates his fear of losing the _substance_ by
grasping at the _shadow_; “So I lose none in seeking to augment it,”
etc. Then comes the fearful soliloquy of Macbeth on the air-drawn
dagger. So intensely does the bloody business “inform to his mind,” that
his very thoughts cast a shadow, and the object of his meditation stands
pictured before him. All the imagery of the speech also embodies the
central idea.

The next scene (the 2d) is full of horrible imaginings. So fearful are
the workings of Macbeth’s conscience, that, in spite of his guilt, we
pity as much as we abhor him; and all these exclamations of remorse and
horror allude so plainly to the theme that I need not dwell on them.
Lady Macbeth is seldom troubled with scruples, but takes “the nearest
way” to her purpose. Thus she says,

The sleeping and the dead,
Are but as pictures: ’tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil.

Yet even her stern nature, which bore down all real obstacles, yielded
to the merely formal circumstance that Duncan resembled her father as he
slept. This is, perhaps, the only amiable sentiment she utters, and it
is of a _superstitious_ character, however commendable.

The 3d Scene opens with the humorous soliloquy of the Porter, who
imagines himself porter of hell-gate, and gives each new comer an
_appropriate_ reception, but soon finds that the place is _too cold_ for
the purpose. His remarks on the effects of drink will not bear
quotation, but are as much to the main purpose as any other passage of
the play. When the murder of Duncan is announced, Lady Macbeth continues
her formal part by _fainting_. This scene and the next are much occupied
with accounts of omens and prodigies in connection with the murder of
Duncan. In a superstitious age men were prone to believe and to imagine
such things; and the relation of these events to the theme depends on
that _literal, unspiritual_ tendency of mind which has led mankind under
different circumstances to the making of graven images, to the worship
of stocks and stones, to the belief in dreams and omens, and to every
form of _superstition_.


In the first scene of this act Macbeth dwells on the worthlessness of
the mere title which he has won, “To be thus is nothing, but to be
_safely_ thus.” Then, too, the succession was promised to the issue of
Banquo, leaving a barren sceptre in the hands of Macbeth. He resolves to
have the substantial prize for which he had “filed his mind,” and
therefore plans the destruction of Banquo and Fleance. In the
conversation with the murderers whom he engages for that purpose, the
theme is curiously illustrated. In reply to Macbeth’s question as to
their readiness to revenge an injury, they say, “We are men, my lord.”

_Macbeth._ Ay, in the catalogue, you go for men
As hounds, and grey-hounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves are clep’d
All by the name of dogs; the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The house-keeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

The _ambiguity_ of the general name is remedied by the _specific_
description. The name is _formal_, the description _substantial_.

In the next Scene (the 2d) both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth continue their
reflections on the insecurity of their usurped honors: “We have scotched
the snake, not killed it.” She exhorts him to “sleek o’er his rugged
look;” and he refuses to explain his purposes as to Banquo, bidding her
be innocent of the knowledge till she can applaud the deed; thus sparing
her conscience the _formal_ guilt of the murder. His invocation to night
and darkness, at the end of this scene, is very similar to that of Lady
Macbeth, on a similar occasion, before referred to.

In the 3d Scene the murderers, whilst waiting the approach of Banquo,
justify to themselves the deed they are about to commit, by pleading the
orders of Macbeth. The deed is his; they are the mere instruments of his
will. The allusion to the fading light; “the west yet glimmers with some
streaks of day,” seems to refer to the near approach of Banquo’s end; as
the extinguishment of the light does to the simultaneous extinguishment
of his life, immediately afterward.

The next is the Banquet Scene. It opens with _formal ceremony_. The
murderers then inform Macbeth that they have executed his will on
Banquo. Macbeth expresses surprise and regret at Banquo’s absence, but
in the midst of his hypocritical professions, his excited imagination
_embodies_ the description which has just been given him by the
murderers, and the ghost of Banquo, “with twenty trenched gashes on its
head,” rises and shakes its gory locks at him. The whole scene abounds
with illustrations of the theme. Macbeth endeavors to shelter himself
under the _letter of the law_, when he exclaims, “thou canst not say I
did it!” He thinks that after a man has been regularly murdered, he
should stay in his grave; he declares his readiness to encounter any
_substantial_ foe—the rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros, or the
Hyrcan tiger; it is the “horrible _shadow_” that blanches his cheek with
fear. After the guests have retired, he falls into a superstitious train
of reflection, in which he expresses his belief in augurs, etc. He
declares his intention to revisit the weird sisters; he is fast becoming
as formal and as reckless of consequences as his wife; he speaks of his
qualms of conscience as the “_initiate_ fear that wants hard use;” and,
as if he now passively allowed himself to be borne onward by the tide of
events, says he has strange things in his head, “which must be _acted_
e’er they may be _scanned_.”

Scene 5th. This is another witch scene. Hecate declares her intention to
raise up artificial sprites for the purpose of deluding Macbeth, and
drawing him on to his confusion, thus preparing the way for the
ambiguous predictions.

In the 6th Scene, the relation between the letter and the spirit is
exhibited in the _ironical_ speech of Lennox, and in the King of
England’s regard for the “dues of birth.”

Things have been strangely born; the gracious Duncan
Was pitied of Macbeth; marry, he was dead;
And the right valiant Banquo walked too late,
Whom you may say, if it please you, Fleance killed,
For Fleance fled. Men must not walk too late.
Who cannot want the thought, how monstrous
It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain,
To kill their gracious father? damned fact!
How it did grieve Macbeth! did he not straight,
In pious rage, the two delinquents tear,
That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?
Was not that nobly done? Ay, and wisely, too;
For ’twould have angered any heart alive
To hear the men deny it. etc. etc.


Scene 1st. Here we have the witches boiling their cauldron. It is
composed of various and contradictory materials;

Black spirits and white,
Red spirits and gray.

And so truth and falsehood are mingled in the promises to Macbeth which
immediately follow; and which are kept literally to the ear, but broken
fatally to the hope.

In the 2d Scene, the falsehood or ambiguity of _appearances_ is
illustrated in Lady Macduff’s complaint of her husband’s desertion,
which she attributes to fear and want of love; whilst Ross exhorts her
to confide in his fidelity and wisdom, though she may not be able to
understand his present conduct:

As for your husband,
He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
The fits o’ the season.

Of her son, she says, “Father’d he is, and yet he’s fatherless;” and
immediately after tells him that his father’s dead; and, according to
her understanding of the matter, so he was; not _literally_ but
_substantially_, as their guardian and protector. The boy denies it,
because he does not see the appropriate _effect_. “If he were dead,
you’d weep for him; if you would not, it were a good sign that I should
quickly have a new father.” Whatever may be the merit of this dialogue
between Lady Macduff and her son, in other respects it serves at least
to illustrate the theme. The same idea of ambiguity is now applied to
the relation between cause and effect, when a messenger enters, warns
her of the near approach of danger, and urges her to fly. Her first
exclamation is, “I have done no harm.” But she immediately adds,

I remember now
I am in this earthly world, where to do harm
Is often laudable; to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly.

The first part of the next scene (the 3d) is wholly occupied with the
idea of _ambiguous appearances_. Macduff arrives at the court of
England, and tenders his services to Malcolm, who, fearing that he is an
emissary of Macbeth, mistrusts him. He plays off false appearances upon
Macduff by slandering himself, thus bringing out Macduff’s true
disposition. A doctor now enters and introduces the idea of _causeless
effect_, telling how the king, with a mere touch, has healed the “evil.”
Ross, having just arrived from Scotland, describes the dreadful state of
the country, dwelling chiefly on the circumstance that the people have
become so _used_ to horrors, that they have almost ceased to note them.
He tells Macduff that his wife and children are “well,” purposely using
an ambiguous phrase, which Macduff understands literally, though Ross
means that they are at peace in their graves. When at length he comes to
reveal the truth, he begs Macduff not to confound the _relator_ with the
_author_ of the mischief. “Let not your ears despise my tongue forever,”
etc. Then tells him that his wife and children have been savagely
slaughtered; whereupon Macduff pulls his hat upon his brows, and Malcolm
begs him to “give sorrow words”—distinguishing justly between the
clamorous _show_ of grief and its silent _reality_. The _substance_ of
Ross’s words have struck Macduff, but in the agony of the moment he
cannot comprehend their _detail_. “My wife killed, too;” “Did you say
all?” He has not caught the _form_ of the expression though its _spirit_
has pierced his soul. There are few passages in Shakspeare more
affecting than this, or in which the “ground-idea” is more steadily kept
in view.

O, I could play the woman with mine eyes,
And braggart with my tongue,

exclaims Macduff; but he refrains from all _show_ of grief, and all
_profession_ of courage, and prays Heaven only to bring the fiend of
Scotland and himself “front to front.”


In the first scene of this act the _apparent_ and the _real_ are
inexplicably mingled together. Lady Macbeth “receives, at once, the
benefit of sleep, and does the effects of watching,” which the doctor
pronounces “a great perturbation in nature.” Her eyes are open, but
their _sense_ is shut; and she _seems_ to wash her hands. Though she is
now under the dominion of an awakened conscience, the _formality_ of her
nature still displays itself. “Fie, my lord, fie!” she exclaims, “a
soldier, and afeard? _What need we fear who knows it, when none can call
our power to account?_” The Doctor, however, is cautious about drawing
conclusions even from _such_ appearances, and remarks that he has known
those which have walked in their sleep, who have died holily in their
beds. The reader will readily perceive other illustrations of the theme
in this scene, in which for the first time Lady Macbeth appears stripped

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Online LibraryVariousGraham's Magazine, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, September 1850 → online text (page 1 of 16)