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absolutely necessary to the fulfilment of the flattering prophecy.

It happened at this time that the king, who out of his royal
condescension would oftentimes visit his principal nobility upon
gracious terms, came to Macbeth's house, attended by his two sons,
Malcolm and Donalbain, and a numerous train of thanes and attendants,
the more to honour Macbeth for the triumphal success of his wars.

The castle of Macbeth was pleasantly situated, and the air about it was
sweet and wholesome, which appeared by the nests which the martlet, or
swallow, had built under all the jutting friezes and buttresses of the
building, wherever it found a place of advantage; for where those birds
most breed and haunt, the air is observed to be delicate. The king
entered well-pleased with the place, and not less so with the
attentions and respect of his honoured hostess, lady Macbeth, who had
the art of covering treacherous purposes with smiles; and could look
like the innocent flower, while she was indeed the serpent under it.

The king being tired with his journey, went early to bed, and in his
state-room two grooms of his chamber (as was the custom) slept beside
him. He had been unusually pleased with his reception, and had made
presents before he retired to his principal officers; and among the
rest, had sent a rich diamond to lady Macbeth, greeting her by the name
of his most kind hostess.

Now was the middle of night, when over half the world nature seems
dead, and wicked dreams abuse men's minds asleep, and none but the wolf
and the murderer is abroad. This was the time when lady Macbeth waked
to plot the murder of the king. She would not have undertaken a deed so
abhorrent to her sex, but that she feared her husband's nature, that it
was too full of the milk of human kindness, to do a contrived murder.
She knew him to be ambitious, but withal to be scrupulous, and not yet
prepared for that height of crime which commonly in the end accompanies
inordinate ambition. She had won him to consent to the murder, but she
doubted his resolution; and she feared that the natural tenderness of
his disposition (more humane than her own) would come between, and
defeat the purpose. So with her own hands armed with a dagger, she
approached the king's bed; having taken care to ply the grooms of his
chamber so with wine, that they slept intoxicated, and careless of
their charge. There lay Duncan in a sound sleep after the fatigues of
his journey, and as she viewed him earnestly, there was something in
his face, as he slept, which resembled her own father; and she had not
the courage to proceed.

She returned to confer with her husband. His resolution had begun to
stagger. He considered that there were strong reasons against the deed.
In the first place, he was not only a subject, but a near kinsman to
the king; and he had been his host and entertainer that day, whose
duty, by the laws of hospitality, it was to shut the door against his
murderers, not bear the knife himself. Then he considered how just and
merciful a king this Duncan had been, how clear of offence to his
subjects, how loving to his nobility, and in particular to him; that
such kings are the peculiar care of Heaven, and their subjects doubly
bound to revenge their deaths. Besides, by the favours of the king,
Macbeth stood high in the opinion of all sorts of men, and how would
those honours be stained by the reputation of so foul a murder!

In these conflicts of the mind lady Macbeth found her husband inclining
to the better part, and resolving to proceed no further. But she being
a woman not easily shaken from her evil purpose, began to pour in at
his ears words which infused a portion of her own spirit into his mind,
assigning reason upon reason why he should not shrink from what he had
undertaken, how easy the deed was; how soon it would be over; and how
the action of one short night would give to all their nights and days
to come sovereign sway and royalty! Then she threw contempt on his
change of purpose, and accused him of fickleness and cowardice; and
declared that she had given suck, and knew how tender it was to love
the babe 'that milked her; but she would, while it was smiling in her
face, have plucked it from her breast, and dashed its brains out, if
she had so sworn to do it, as he had sworn to perform that murder. Then
she added, how practicable it was to lay the guilt of the deed upon the
drunken sleepy grooms. And with the velour of her tongue she so
chastised his sluggish resolutions, that he once more summoned up
courage to the bloody business.

So, taking the dagger in his hand, he softly stole in the dark to the
room where Duncan lay; and as he went, he thought he saw another dagger
in the air, with the handle towards him, and on the blade and at the
point of it drops of blood; but when he tried to grasp at it, it was
nothing but air, a mere phantasm proceeding from his own hot and
oppressed brain and the business he had in hand.

Getting rid of this fear, he entered the king's room, whom he
despatched with one stroke of his dagger. Just as he had done the
murder, one of the grooms, who slept in the chamber, laughed in his
sleep, and the other cried: 'Murder,' which woke them both, but they
said a short prayer; one of them said: 'God bless us!' and the other
answered 'Amen'; and addressed themselves to sleep again. Macbeth, who
stood listening to them, tried to say 'Amen,' when the fellow said 'God
bless us!' but, though he had most need of a blessing, the word stuck
in his throat, and he could not pronounce it.

Again he thought he heard a voice which cried: 'Sleep no more: Macbeth
cloth murder sleep, the innocent sleep, that nourishes life.' Still it
cried: 'Sleep no more,' to all the house. 'Glamis hath murdered sleep,
and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.'

With such horrible imaginations Macbeth returned to his listening wife,
who began to think he had failed of his purpose, and that the deed was
somehow frustrated. He came in so distracted a state, that she
reproached him with his want of firmness, and sent him to wash his
hands of the blood which stained them, while she took his dagger, with
purpose to stain the cheeks of the grooms with blood, to make it seem
their guilt.

Morning came, and with it the discovery of the murder, which could not
be concealed; and though Macbeth and his lady made great show of grief,
and the proofs against the grooms (the dagger being produced against
them and their faces smeared with blood) were sufficiently strong, yet
the entire suspicion fell upon Macbeth, whose inducements to such a
deed were so much more forcible than such poor silly grooms could be
supposed to have; and Duncan's two sons fled. Malcolm, the eldest,
sought for refuge in the English court; and the youngest, Donalbain,
made his escape to Ireland.

The king's sons, who should have succeeded him, having thus vacated the
throne, Macbeth as next heir was crowned king, and thus the prediction
of the weird sisters was literally accomplished.

Though placed so high, Macbeth and his queen could not forget the
prophecy of the weird sisters, that, though Macbeth should be king, yet
not his children, but the children of Banquo, should be kings after
him. The thought of this, and that they had defiled their hands with
blood, and done so great crimes, only to place the posterity of Banquo
upon the throne, so rankled within them, that they determined to put to
death both Banquo and his son, to make void the predictions of the
weird sisters, which in their own case had been so remarkably brought
to pass.

For this purpose they made a great supper, to which they invited all
the chief thanes; and, among the rest, with marks of particular
respect, Banquo and his son Fleance were invited. The way by which
Banquo was to pass to the palace at night was beset by murderers
appointed by Macbeth, who stabbed Banquo; but in the scuffle Fleance
escaped. From that Fleance descended a race of monarchs who afterwards
filled the Scottish throne, ending with James the Sixth of Scotland and
the First of England, under whom the two crowns of England and Scotland
were united.

At supper, the queen, whose manners were in the highest degree affable
and royal, played the hostess with a gracefulness and attention which
conciliated every one present, and Macbeth discoursed freely with his
thanes and nobles, saying, that all that was honourable in the country
was under his roof, if he had but his good friend Banquo present, whom
yet he hoped he should rather have to chide for neglect, than to lament
for any mischance. Just at these words the ghost of Banquo, whom he had
caused to be murdered, entered the room and placed himself on the chair
which Macbeth was about to occupy. Though Macbeth was a bold man, and
one that could have faced the devil without trembling, at this horrible
sight his cheeks turned white with fear, and he stood quite unmanned
with his eyes fixed upon the ghost. His queen and all the nobles, who
saw nothing, but perceived him gazing (as they thought) upon an empty
chair, took it for a fit of distraction; and she reproached him,
whispering that it was but the same fancy which made him see the dagger
in the air, when he was about to kill Duncan. But Macbeth continued to
see the ghost, and gave no heed to all they could say, while he
addressed it with distracted words, yet so significant, that his queen,
fearing the dreadful secret would be disclosed, in great haste
dismissed the guests, excusing the infirmity of Macbeth as a disorder
he was often troubled with.

To such dreadful fancies Macbeth was subject. His queen and he had
their sleeps afflicted with terrible dreams, and the blood of Banquo
troubled them not more than the escape of Fleance, whom now they looked
upon as father to a line of kings who should keep their posterity out
of the throne. With these miserable thoughts they found no peace, and
Macbeth determined once more to seek out the weird sisters, and know
from them the worst.

He sought them in a cave upon the heath, where they, who knew by
foresight of his coming, were engaged in preparing their dreadful
charms, by which they conjured up infernal spirits to reveal to them
futurity. Their horrid ingredients were toads, bats, and serpents, the
eye of a newt, and the tongue of a dog, the leg of a lizard, and the
wing of the night-owl, the scale of a dragon, the tooth of a wolf, the
maw of the ravenous salt-sea shark, the mummy of a witch, the root of
the poisonous hemlock (this to have effect must be digged in the dark),
the gall of a goat, and the liver of a Jew, with slips of the yew tree
that roots itself in graves, and the finger of a dead child: all these
were set on to boil in a great kettle, or cauldron, which, as fast as
it grew too hot, was cooled with a baboon's blood: to these they poured
in the blood of a sow that had eaten her young, and they threw into the
flame the grease that had sweaten from a murderer's gibbet. By these
charms they bound the infernal spirits to answer their questions.

It was demanded of Macbeth, whether he would have his doubts resolved
by them, or by their masters, the spirits. He, nothing daunted by the
dreadful ceremonies which he saw, boldly answered: 'Where are they? let
me see them.' And they called the spirits, which were three. And the
first arose in the likeness of an armed head, and he called Macbeth by
name, and bid him beware of the thane of Fife; for which caution
Macbeth thanked him; for Macbeth had entertained a jealousy of Macduff,
the thane of Fife.

And the second spirit arose in the likeness of a bloody child, and he
called Macbeth by name, and bid him have no fear, but laugh to scorn
the power of man, for none of woman born should have power to hurt him;
and he advised him to be bloody, bold, and resolute. 'Then live,
Macduff! cried the king; 'what need I fear of thee? but yet I will make
assurance doubly sure. Thou shalt not live; that I may tell
pale-hearted Fear it lies, and sleep in spite of thunder.'

That spirit being dismissed, a third arose in the form of a child
crowned, with a tree in his hand. He called Macbeth by name, and
comforted him against conspiracies, saying, that he should never be
vanquished, until the wood of Birnam to Dunsinane Hill should come
against him. 'Sweet bodements! good!' cried Macbeth; 'who can unfix the
forest, and move it from its earth-bound roots? I see I shall live the
usual period of man's life, and not be cut off by a violent death. But
my heart throbs to know one thing. Tell me, if your art can tell so
much, if Banquo's issue shall ever reign in this kingdom?' Here the
cauldron sank into the ground, and a noise of music was heard, and
eight shadows, like kings, passed by Macbeth, and Banquo last, who bore
a glass which showed the figures of many more, and Banquo all bloody
smiled upon Macbeth, and pointed to them; by which Macbeth knew that
these were the posterity of Banquo, who should reign after him in
Scotland; and the witches, with a sound of soft music, and with
dancing, making a show of duty and welcome to Macbeth, vanished. And
from this time the thoughts of Macbeth were all bloody and dreadful.

The first thing he heard when he got out of the witches' cave, was that
Macduff, thane of Fife, had fled to England, to join the army which was
forming against him under Malcolm, the eldest son of the late king,
with intent to displace Macbeth, and set Malcolm, the right heir, upon
the throne. Macbeth, stung with rage, set upon the castle of Macduff,
and put his wife and children, whom the thane had left behind, to the
sword, and extended the slaughter to all who claimed the least
relationship to Macduff.

These and such-like deeds alienated the minds of all his chief nobility
from him. Such as could, fled to join with Malcolm and Macduff, who
were now approaching with a powerful army, which they had raised in
England; and the rest secretly wished success to their arms, though for
fear of Macbeth they could take no active part. His recruits went on
slowly. Everybody hated the tyrant; nobody loved or honoured him; but
all suspected him, and he began to envy the condition of Duncan, whom
he had murdered, who slept soundly in his grave, against whom treason
had done its worst: steel nor poison, domestic malice nor foreign
levies, could hurt him any longer.

While these things were acting, the queen, who had been the sole
partner in his wickedness, in whose bosom he could sometimes seek a
momentary repose from those terrible dreams which afflicted them both
nightly, died, it is supposed, by her own hands, unable to bear the
remorse of guilt, and public hate; by which event he was left alone,
without a soul to love or care for him, or a friend to whom he could
confide his wicked purposes.

He grew careless of life, and wished for death, but the near approach
of Malcolm's army roused in him what remained of his ancient courage,
and he determined to die (as he expressed it) 'with armour on his
back.' Besides this, the hollow promises of the witches had filled him
with a false confidence, and he remembered the sayings of the spirits,
that none of woman born was to hurt him, and that he was never to be
vanquished till Birnam wood should come to Dunsinane, which he thought
could never be. So he shut himself up in his castle, whose impregnable
strength was such as defied a siege: here he sullenly waited the
approach of Malcolm. When, upon a day, there came a messenger to him,
pale and shaking with fear, almost unable to report that which he had
seen; for he averred, that as he stood upon his watch on the hill, he
looked towards Birnam, and to his thinking the wood began to move!
'Liar and slave!' cried Macbeth: 'if thou speakest false, thou shalt
hang alive upon the next tree, till famine end thee. If thy tale be
true, I care not if thou cost as much by me': for Macbeth now began to
faint in resolution, and to doubt the equivocal speeches of the
spirits. He was not to fear till Birnam wood should come to Dunsinane;
and now a wood did move! 'However,' said he, 'if this which he avouches
be true, let us arm and out. There is no flying hence, nor staying
here. I begin to be weary of the sun, and wish my life at an end.' With
these desperate speeches he sallied forth upon the besiegers, who had
now come up to the castle.

The strange appearance which had given the messenger an idea of a wood
moving is easily solved. When the besieging army marched through the
wood of Birnam, Malcolm, like a skilful general, instructed his
soldiers to hew down every one a bough and bear it before him, by way
of concealing the true numbers of his host. This marching of the
soldiers with boughs had at a distance the appearance which had
frightened the messenger. Thus were the words of the spirit brought to
pass, in a sense different from that in which Macbeth had understood
them, and one great hold of his confidence was gone.

And now a severe skirmishing took place, in which Macbeth, though
feebly supported by those who called themselves his friends, but in
reality hated the tyrant and inclined to the party of Malcolm and
Macduff, yet fought with the extreme of rage and velour, cutting to
pieces all who were opposed to him, till he came to where Macduff was
fighting. Seeing Macduff, and remembering the caution of the spirit who
had counselled him to avoid Macduff, above all men, he would have
turned, but Macduff, who had been seeking him through the whole fight,
opposed his turning, and a fierce contest ensued; Macduff giving him
many foul reproaches for the murder of his wife and children. Macbeth,
whose soul was charged enough with blood of that family already, would
still have declined the combat: but Macduff still urged him to it,
calling him tyrant, murderer, hell-hound, and villain.

Then Macbeth remembered the words of the spirit, how none of woman born
should hurt him; and smiling confidently he said to Macduff: 'Thou
losest thy labour, Macduff. As easily thou mayest impress the air with
thy sword, as make me vulnerable. I bear a charmed life, which must not
yield to one of woman born.'

'Despair thy charm,' said Macduff, 'and let that lying spirit whom thou
hast served, tell thee, that Macduff was never born of woman, never as
the ordinary manner of men is to be born, but was untimely taken from
his mother.'

'Accursed be the tongue which tells me so,' said the trembling Macbeth,
who felt his last hold of confidence give way; 'and let never man in
future believe the lying equivocations of witches and juggling spirits,
who deceive us in words which have double senses, and while they keep
their promise literally, disappoint our hopes with a different meaning.
I will not fight with thee.'

'Then live!' said the scornful Macduff; 'we will have a show of thee,
as men show monsters, and a painted board, on which shall be written:
'Here men may see the tyrant!''

'Never,' said Macbeth, whose courage returned with despair; 'I will not
live to kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, and to be baited
with the curses of the rabble. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
and thou opposed to me, who west never born of woman, yet will I try
the last.' With these frantic words he threw himself upon Macduff, who,
after a severe struggle, in the end overcame him, and cutting off his
head, made a present of it to the young and lawful king, Malcolm; who
took upon him the government which, by the machinations of the usurper,
he had so long been deprived of, and ascended the throne of Duncan the
Meek, amid the acclamations of the nobles and the people.


Bertram, count of Rousillon, had newly come to his title and estate, by
the death of his father. The king of France loved the father of
Bertram, and when he heard of his death, he sent for his son to come
immediately to his royal court in Paris, intending, for the friendship
he bore the late count, to grace young Bertram with his especial favour
and protection.

Bertram was living with his mother, the widowed countess, when Lafeu,
an old lord of the French court, came to conduct him to the king. The
king of France was an absolute monarch, and the invitation to court was
in the form of a royal mandate, or positive command, which no subject,
of what high dignity soever, might disobey; therefore though the
countess, in parting with this dear son, seemed a second time to bury
her husband, whose loss she had so lately mourned, yet she dared not to
keep him a single day, but gave instant orders for his departure.
Lafeu, who came to fetch him, tried to comfort the countess for the
loss of her late lord, and her son's sudden absence; and he said, in a
courtier's flattering manner, that the king was so kind a prince, she
would find in his majesty a husband, and that he would be a father to
her son; meaning only, that the good king would befriend the fortunes
of Bertram. Lafeu told the countess that the king had fallen into a sad
malady, which was pronounced by his physicians to be incurable. The
lady expressed great sorrow on hearing this account of the king's ill
health, and said, she wished the father of Helena (a young gentlewoman
who was present in attendance upon her) were living, for that she
doubted not he could have cured his majesty of his disease. And she
told Lafeu something of the history of Helena, saying she was the only
daughter of the famous physician Gerard de Narbon, and that he had
recommended his daughter to her care when he was dying, so that since
his death she had taken Helena under her protection; then the countess
praised the virtuous disposition and excellent qualities of Helena,
saying she inherited these virtues from her worthy father. While she
was speaking, Helena wept in sad and mournful silence, which made the
countess gently reprove her for too much grieving for her father's

Bertram now bade his mother farewell. The countess parted with this
dear son with tears and many blessings, and commended him to the care
of Lafeu, saying: 'Good my lord, advise him, for he is an unseasoned

Bertram's last words were spoken to Helena, but they were words of mere
civility, wishing her happiness; and he concluded his short farewell to
her with saying: 'Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make
much of her.'

Helena had long loved Bertram, and when she wept in sad mournful
silence, the tears she shed were not for Gerard de Narbon. Helena loved
her father, but in the present feeling of a deeper love, the object of
which she was about to lose, she had forgotten the very form and
features of her dead father, her imagination presenting no image to her
mind but Bertram's.

Helena had long loved Bertram, yet she always remembered that he was
the count of Rousillon, descended from the most ancient family in
France. She of humble birth. Her parents of no note at all. His
ancestors all noble. And therefore she looked up to the high-born
Bertram as to her master and to her dear lord, and dared not form any
wish but to live his servant, and so living to die his vassal. So great
the distance seemed to her between his height of dignity and her lowly
fortunes, that she would day: 'It were all one that I should love a
bright particular star, and think to wed it, Bertram is so far above

Bertram's absence filled her eyes with tears and her heart with sorrow;
for though she loved without hope, yet it was a pretty comfort to her
to see him every hour, and Helena would sit and look upon his dark eye,
his arched brow, and the curls of his fine hair, till she seemed to
draw his portrait on the tablet of her heart, that heart too capable of
retaining the memory of every line in the features of that loved face.

Gerard de Narbon, when he died, left her no other portion than some
prescriptions of rare and well-proved virtue, which by deep study and
long experience in medicine he had collected as sovereign and almost
infallible remedies. Among the rest, there was one set down as an
approved medicine for the disease under which Lafeu said the king at
that time languished: and when Helena heard of the king's complaint,
she, who till now had been so humble and so hopeless, formed an
ambitious project in her mind to go herself to Paris, and undertake the
cure of the king. But though Helena was the possessor of this choice
prescription, it was unlikely, as the king as well as his physicians
was of opinion that his disease was incurable, that they would give
credit to a poor unlearned virgin, if she should offer to perform a

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Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 11 of 23)