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an exaggerated cry of joy at the sight of my husband.
Throughout the following scene with Macbeth I
preserved a cold, dignified, and calm demeanor, and
I ignored the trivial scruples with which he received
my guilty suggestions, as totally unworthy of consid-
eration, confident that his weak and irresolute nature
must eventually succumb to my stronger one. I con-
ceived the plan of making use of by-play at the exit
of the two personages to impress the overwhelming
influence I exercised over him, silencing any further
remonstrances on his part, by drawing his left arm
round my waist. In this attitude I took his right
hand in mine, and placing the first finger on my lips
swore him thus to silence. Then I gradually and
gently pushed him behind the scenes, towards which
his back was now turned. All this was accomplished
with as much delicacy and so many magnetic looks,
that Macbeth had to own their fascination, and yield
to my will.


The hypocrisy and feigned humility of Lady Mac-
beth when she went out afterwards to meet King
Duncan, were excessive, and it was with most perfid-
ious, yet well chosen words, that she invited the
good old monarch to enter the Castle. In the sub-
sequent scene with her husband, there are two things
which it is necessary to delineate correctly and bring
out in the most striking colors. First, the contrast
between her wicked arts, when she energetically re-
bukes Macbeth for his cowardly fickleness in not
wishing to see himself in that place he recently so
much desired, because of a puerile awakening of con-
science, and second, the infernal skill with which she
tries to persuade him that the crime is easy, simple,
and natural, and impossible to be discovered. Vari-
ous are the terrible passages in this masterly scene ;
that, when she reproaches him for having left the
supper table so hastily that his absence might well
excite comments, and he replies by imploring her to
forget the evil scheme, and not make him guilty of
the basest ingratitude, she answers :

" Was the hope drunk

Wherein you dressed yourself ? Hath it slept since ?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely ? From this time,
Such I account my love. Art thou afraid
To be the same in thine own act and valor,
As thou art in desire ? Would'st thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem;
Letting I dare not, wait upon I would^
Like the poor cat i' the adage ? " *

*The proverb registered by Haywood in 1865, runs as fol-
lows : " The cat would have fish, but dare not wet her feet."


MACBETH : Prythee, peace,

I dare do all that may became a man,
Who dare do more is none."

Lady Macbeth (terrified lest her ambitions have
been raised only to be disappointed), cries in fiendish
tones :

" What beast was it then,
That made you break this enterprise to me ?
When you durst do it, then you were a man ;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time, nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both :
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck ; and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me :
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn, as you
Have done to this 1 "

Here the perplexity which is Macbeth's character-
istic induces him to ask his consort impatiently

"If we should fail? m
to which she replies in a scornful tone

" We fail !

But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail. Here Duncan is asleep,
(Whereto the rather shall his hard day's journey
Soundly invite him) his two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
That memory, the warder of the brain,
Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
A limbeck only : When in swinish sleep
Their drenched natures lie, as in a death,
What cannot you and I perform upon



The unguarded Duncan ? What not put upon
His spongy officers ; who shall bear the guilt of our great

The second Act may be dismissed in a few words,
as the situations in it are quite clear, and arise natu-
rally out of the progress of the action, and they offer
no difficulty in interpretation, although embracing the
dreadful vigils, and fearful agony of mind endured
by Lady Macbeth. It is easy to understand the
anxiety she felt to know the result of her well-laid
schemes for the murder of Duncan, her joy at its
completion, and the agitation into which the frenzy
and remorse of her miserable husband would be sure
to throw her. The repeated and incessant knocking
at the gate of the Castle, which began at this precise
moment, would be another source of alarm, because
Macbeth's state of utter prostration might draw sus-
picion upon him, and lead to the discovery of the
plans conceived in her mind with so much satanic

The situations in the third Act are of great import-
ance, and I therefore give a most minute and careful
analysis of them, in order to make apparent that I
had tried to seize the precise meaning intended by
the author. In this Act, which shows, more than any
other, the wonderful genius of Shakespeare, Lady
Macbeth can give much additional force, if not by
words, at any rate by her skilful by-play, and can in-
crease or diminish its many dramatic beauties. For
example, according to my interpretation, the entrance
of the assassin who comes to announce the murder
of Banquo, and the attempt on the life of his son


Fleance to Macbeth, and which causes him to experi-
ence two such great but varying emotions, would not
escape the vigilant eyes of Lady Macbeth. There-
fore, at the sight of the assassin, who presents
himself on the threshold, she alone perceives him
speaking in subdued tones to her husband, notes the
repressed movements, and keeps him constantly in
view. For she fears some imprudence on the part of
Macbeth, remembering that he had told her shortly
before, that a great thing would soon happen, which
would amaze her.

I considered that in this scene Lady Macbeth would
be terribly afraid lest the guests should observe this
strange colloquy, in such a place, and at such a
moment, and might conceive grave suspicions which
would defeat all their projects. Hence I found it
necessary and opportune to engage in a kind of double
by-play, that is to say, with an air of the greatest
courtesy to take part in the conversation of the guests,
and the toasts they drank to me, remaining, however,
always upon their seats, while at intervals I cast
furtive and timorous glances towards the group made
by my husband and the murderer.

At last, in order to make Macbeth aware of the
danger he ran of betraying himself by some impru-
dence, I said in a clear voice, and with much ostenta-
tion of gayety :

" My lord,

You do not give the cheer, the feast is cold
That is not often touched, while 'tis a making,
'Tis given with welcome ; to feed were best at home
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony.
Meeting were bare without it."


With the same by-play, but in a yet more distinct
tone of voice, in which an accent of reproof mingled
with my half serious, half facetious words, I gave
another warning

" My worthy lord,
Our noble friends do lack you,"

in such a way, however, that I made Macbeth alone
understand, by the power of my significant glances,
what this second appeal really meant.

This was apparently justified by my insinuations
that he was wanting in courtesy to his guests, and
was neglecting them. Afterwards, I experienced the
greatest agitation and dismay at the discovery of Mac-
beth's incomprehensible and frightful visions, seeing
him on the point of revealing all the secret of our
crimes. Evidently, in this situation, every expression
used by Lady Macbeth, and every effort made by her
to hide the hallucinations of her husband, and bring
him back to himself by the most bitter although sub-
dued reproofs, required the closest study, for it is
essential to remember that an appearance of gayety
must be preserved upon the countenance whenever it
is turned towards the guests, in order to excuse the
strange demeanor of the husband on the ground of
an ancient malady.

At last, when the increasing frenzy of Macbeth
rendered vain every effort to restrain him, his wife
was obliged to dismiss her guests in an agony of fear,
in order to remain alone with him, and put an end to
a situation which had become both impossible and



From the moment of their departure I dated the
commencement of the mental prostration of their un-
happy hostess, which ended at last in total derange-
ment. In order to justify this, I found it necessary
to imagine some by-play which should convey an idea
of her depression and discouragement, possessed as
I was by the sad conviction that it was in vain to
fight against destiny, which had become adverse with
lightning-like rapidity. I let it be seen how remorse
had begun to torment me.

At the close of the Act, at the moment of disap-
pearing, I showed that I experienced a feeling of pity
for Macbeth, rendered by my means the most miser-
able of men, and in saying to him,

" You lack the season of all natures sleep."

I took his left hand in my right, leaned against his
shoulder, and then, with my head now bent towards
the ground in an attitude of sorrowful meditation,
now raised to heaven with an expression of dismay,
now turning towards my husband with a look full of
vivid remorse that agitated my soul, I drew him
gently towards our room, in the same way that one
would lead an exhausted maniac. Then, when we
reached the limits of the scene, I made Macbeth, who
was terrified by a fold of his mantle getting between
his feet, have another fearful paroxysm. With a sud-
den rush he passed to the other side. Frightened,
yet forcing myself to master my own terror, I could
not help, in spite of my efforts, letting the public see
I was shaken, but with a gentle violence, I succeeded



in pushing Macbeth behind the scenes, endeavoring
to calm him by affectionate means.

This by-play, which was in strict accordance with
the spirit of the scene, always produced an immense
effect upon my audience.

Lady Macbeth has only one short scene in the
fifth Act, but it is one of Shakespeare's most magnifi-
cent conceptions, and tries the powers of an actress
to the uttermost. This woman, this colossus of
physical and moral force, who, by a word, had the
power of conceiving and bringing into execution plots
hatched with such infernal power that only an assem-
bly of demons could have succeeded with them
behold her ! reduced to the ghost of her former self
by the effects of that remorse which gnawed like a
vulture at her heart, her reason disturbed until she
became so unconscious of herself as to reveal her
tremendous secret in her sleep. Sleep, did I say?
It is rather a fever which mounts to her brain, which
makes her drowsy, and only the physical suffering
overmastering her spirit with the record of the evil of
which it is the cause, controls and regulates her move-
ments, and turns all her ideas astray. This is proved
by her attendant's words to the Doctor :

" Since his Majesty went into the field, I have seen her rise
from her bed, thrown her nightgown upon her, unlock her
closet, take forth paper, fold it, write upon it, read it, after-
wards seal it, and again return to bed ; yet all this while in a
most fast sleep."

It cost me long and most anxious study to represent
this artificial and duplex manifestation, melting the
effects one into the other without falling into exagger-


ation at every change of manner, voice, or expression
of my face. I came upon the scene looking like an
automaton, and dragging my feet after me as though
they were weighted with lead ; mechanically I placed
my lamp upon the table, taking care that all my
movements should be slow and deliberate, and thus
indicate the numbness of my nerve power. My eyes
were wide open, but fixed and glassy. They looked,
and yet they saw nothing. I breathed hard and with
difficulty. My whole appearance, in fact, showed a
state of extreme nervous agitation produced by the
disorganization of my brain. I endeavored by these
distinct and visible effects to make the change in
Lady Macbeth patent to all eyes, and to show that
she was suffering from a mental rather than a physical
malady, which had a terrible yet all-sufficient cause.

When I had placed the light upon the table I ad-
vanced to the front of the stage. I made as if I had
discovered blood still upon my hands, and, in trying
to wash it off, I used the attitude of one who holds
a quantity of water in the hollow of his hand there-
with to cleanse them. I was very careful in this
movement, and repeated it in several places with
slight variations. After this action I said :

" Yet here's a spot ! Out damned spot, I say ! "
Then listening intently

" One, two why then 'tis time to do it."

And I continued, as though replying to some imagin-
ary speaker

<4 Hell is murky ! Fie, my Lord, fie ! a soldier, and afraid !
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our
power to account."


Here, reverting to the real cause of my delirium, I
cried :

" Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so
much blood in him ! "

and, while I spoke, I made a movement with my
hands as though I was struck at seeing the blood
with which it seemed to me they were still stained.
Then my delirium returned upon me

" The Thane of Fife had a wife ! Where is she now ? "

I began, but my attention was once more attracted to
my hands, and with an expression, half of anger, half
of sorrow, I cried :

" What ! will these hands ne'er be clean ? "

rubbing them as I spoke with convulsive energy.

Then, still in my delirium, and in a sharp, angry
tone, I feigned to be whispering into the ear of Mac-

" No more o' that, my Lord, no more o' that ! You mar all
with this starting."

But once again my original idea possessed me. I
slightly sniffed my hands, and pretending to recognize
the smell of blood upon them, broke forth in my

" Here's the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of
Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! "

These exclamations were wrung from me as though
a grasp of iron were laid upon my heart which would
hardly allow me utterance, and I remained with my
head thrown back, breathing with difficulty, as if
overcome by a profound lethargy.


During the short dialogue between the lady-in-
waiting and the doctor, I feigned that I was trans-
ported in my delirium to the scene of the murder of
. Duncan, and, as though the cause of my change of
expression might be the sight of the King's apart-
ment, I advanced cautiously, with my body bent for-
ward towards the right-hand side of the stage, where,
as I imagined, the assassination had taken place. I
fancied I heard the hasty steps of my husband, and
I stood in an attitude of expectation, and with strain-
ing eyes, apparently waiting his arrival to assure me
that the dreadful deed was accomplished. Then,
with a cry of joy, as though I saw him approach to
announce the complete fulfilment of our plans, I ex-
claimed, in violent agitation :

" Wash your hands ! Put on your nightgown. Look not so
pale. I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried, he cannot come
out of his grave."

Throughout this scene I was careful not to forget
that I was a woman speaking in her disturbed sleep,
therefore, between each sentence I uttered, I drew
my breath in long, half-stifled gasps, and when I came
to the words

"To bed, to bed ! there's knocking at the gate. Come, come,
come ! Give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone.
To bed, to bed, to bed ! "

I changed to a more coaxing and persuasive tone of
voice, as though I would obtain ready compliance.
Then, terrified by the knocking I fancied I heard at
the castle gate, and fearful of a surprise, I showed a
violent emotion, a sudden dismay. I imagined it


was necessary to conceal ourselves promptly in our
apartment, and turned towards it, inviting Macbeth to
accompany me, speaking the last two words, " Come,
come ! " in imperative and furious tones ; after which,
feigning to seize his hand, I showed that I would
place him in safety in spite of himself, and urging
him on with great difficulty I disappeared from the
view of the audience, saying in a choking voice :

"To bed, to bed, to bed!"

Here I end my analysis of a character which is one
of the most remarkable that has ever been conceived
by a human mind, and the study of which is rendered
all the more difficult by the singular situations in which
the imagination of the poet places Lady Macbeth.

But, as I am assured in my own mind that I have
done the best that in me lay, to enter into the true
character of this strange personage, I confide this
analysis of my interpretation of it to the judgment of
the critics, who, it seems to me, should at least
appreciate the labor and study I have brought to
bear upon it.



IT is a task of the greatest difficulty to give any
adequate idea of the real personality of Queen Eliza-
beth of England upon the stage, for in her regal dig-
nity, haughtiness, transcendent abilities, great powers
of dissimulation, consummate hypocrisy, and love of
absolute authority were strangely combined with the
weaknesses and frivolities of a woman who could con-
descend at times to actual vulgarity. Such a character
would tax the powers of any actress, but more espe-
cially of one whose wide-spread fame had led the
critics to expect great things from her.

Thus when, in 1854, I thought of adding to my
repertoire the part of Queen Elizabeth in the drama
of that name by my illustrious and much-lamented
countryman, Paolo Giacometti, I felt that, as a pre-
liminary step, it was necessary for me to devote all
my powers to an exhaustive study of such historical
notices of her as might serve to elucidate the char-
acter and disposition of this celebrated Queen.

The result of my investigations was to convince
me that, although as a political personage and a
Sovereign, Elizabeth was endowed with such great
and eminent qualities as to render her famous
throughout the civilized world, and especially en-
deared her to her own subjects, yet, as a woman, her



undoubted cruelty and hypocrisy, her violent pre-
judices, and her unreasonable fits of passion, all duly
authenticated by history, might well render her an
object of aversion rather than admiration. Indeed,
her character is so little in accord with the spirit of
the present day that the reader will easily understand
how utterly repugnant it was to my feelings to at-
tempt the representation of such a rare and unique
personality as that of Queen Elizabeth.

Now it has always been a necessity of my nature
that a new part should not only contain some notable
difficulties to be overcome, but should also be one
with which I could feel myself in complete sympathy.
I was therefore strongly tempted to renounce my
project of assaying the rble of the English Queen,
and my reluctance grew in proportion as I became
acquainted with her many acts of cruelty, especially
in relation to Mary Stuart. But my manager, who
was then director of the Royal Theatrical Company,
in the services of the King of Sardinia, waxed elo-
quent as he enumerated the many inconveniences
which would result from my refusal. For, while I
had been occupied with my researches, the prepara-
tions for putting the drama upon the stage had been
pushed on apace. Everything was therefore ready,
and the public were expecting the new play.

Under these circumstances, I felt I must endeavor
to evercome my own personal reluctance, and so,
although the character of Elizabeth was so uncon-
genial to me as to take from me all desire to interpret
it, I resolved to make an extra effort to enter into
the spirit of the part. And I had my reward, for I


believe I shall not err in saying that the public have
always regarded this as one of the most elaborate
and complete studies in my repertoire.

From the moment of my first appearance upon the
stage in this character, I endeavored, by my bearing,
gestures, and tone of voice, to convey to my audi-
ence that they were in the presence of a woman who
was familiar with the management of difficult affairs
of State, who had perfect confidence in her own
judgment, and who was accustomed to have her decis-
ion received as final. In addition to this, I repre-
sented the Queen as a well-read and well-educated
woman, perfectly aware of her own abilities and her
unusual degree of culture, and especially proud of her
extensive acquaintance with foreign languages, as is
evident from her reply to the Polish Ambassador,
who, when he was addressing her in the Latin
tongue, made sundry indiscretions under the belief
that the Queen would not understand him, and who
was overwhelmed with amazement when she answered
him in the same language. She afterwards boasted
to her courtiers with ill-concealed pride : " I, even
brushed up my old Latin for him." (Historical.)

I was also careful to show the audience by my
manner at this early portion of the play that Eliza-
beth, in spite of the real inclination she then felt for
the Earl of Essex, was determined by her scornful
and haughty demeanor to place every one around
her on a level far beneath her own, when she had
grounds for believing that one of her subjects had
dared to raise his ambition so high as to aspire to
her hand.


In the first Act the scene is remarkable in which
Giacometti, with one of those inspirations usual to
him, imagined a very difficult contrast of action and
at the same time a trait characteristic of this great
Queen, offering besides an opportunity to the actress
to give proof of her power.

Elizabeth is engaged in dictating two letters at the
same time in alternate sentences, employing for the
one the services of her secretary Davison, and
for the other those of young Francis Bacon. The
former is couched in a tone of deep irritation, and is
addressed to the Earl of Leicester, who has written
to inform her of the ovation he had received in
Flanders, carrying his audacity so far as to ask her
permission to accept the crown which has been
offered him by Counts Egmont, Horn, and Flessing,
in the name of the Low Countries. The Earl's com-
munication has been made in terms much more
befitting one monarch addressing another than a
subject entreating a favor from his sovereign, and
has roused Elizabeth's deep resentment.

The second missive is to Judge Popham, and has
its origin in the following circumstances : Although
Bacon was well aware that Elizabeth objected very
strongly to Shakespeare's latest play of Henry VIII.,
in which not only the Queen's father and mother,
but herself also, as an infant, are brought upon ths
stage, yet he had nevertheless, in order to extort
her consent to its representation, ventured to en-
treat the Queen on bended knee to permit him to
read some passages to her. With a very ill-grace
she finally consented, and Bacon, animated by all the


enthusiasm which an author might feel in reading his
own work (and indeed there are people who believe
that this drama was his) proceeded to declaim certain
lines which foretold the grandeur, prosperity, and
long life of Elizabeth, the poet also lauding to the
skies the magnanimity and surpassing glory of the
"Virgin Queen. "

Bacon's stratagem fully succeeded. Hearing her-
self thus extolled, Elizabeth seized a pen and with
her own hand wrote at the foot of the manuscript
that it was her good pleasure for the drama of Henry
VIII. to be represented within fifteen days at Wind-
sor in the Court Theatre. But, hearing from Bacon
that it was impossible to give effect so speedily to the
Queen's wishes, Shakespeare himself being then in
prison for debt, Elizabeth at once dictated to Bacon
the letter to Judge Popham telling the latter that she
had consented to the play being acted, and by way
of reprimanding him for his want of acuteness in for-
bidding a piece which sang her own praises so loudly,

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Online LibraryAdelaide RistoriStudies and memoirs ; an autobiography → online text (page 17 of 21)