It is a fact which is highly interesting in itself, and one which strongly impeaches the candour of the majority of Shakspere’s commentators, that the impenetrable obscurity which must have pervaded the whole of this passage should never have been made the subject of remark. As far as we can remember, not a word has been said upon the matter in any one of the many superfluously explanatory editions of our dramatist’s productions. Censures have been repeatedly lavished upon minor cases of obscurity, none upon this. In the former case the fault has been felt to be Shakspere’s, for it has usually existed in the expression; but in the latter the language is unexceptional, and the avowal of obscurity might imply the possibility of misapprehension or stupidity upon the part of the avower.
Probably the only considerable obstacle likely to act against the general adoption of those views will be the doubt, whether so important a feature of this consummate tragedy can have been left by Shakspere so obscurely expressed as to be capable of remaining totally unperceived during upwards of two centuries, within which period the genius of a Coleridge and of a Schlegel has been applied to its interpretation. Should this objection be brought forward, we reply, in the first place, that the objector is ‘begging’ his question in assuming that the feature under examination has remained totally unperceived. Coleridge by way of comment upon these words of Banquo,
“Good sir, why do you stand, and
seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?”
writes thus: “The general idea is all that can be required of a poet—not a scholastic logical consistency in all the parts, so as to meet metaphysical objectors. * * * * * * * * How strictly true to nature it is, that Banquo, and not Macbeth himself, directs our notice to the effects produced in Macbeth’s mind, rendered temptible by previous dalliance with ambitious thoughts.” Here Coleridge denies the necessity of “logical consistency, so as to meet metaphysical objectors,” although he has, throughout his criticisms upon Shakspere, endeavored, and nearly always with success, to prove the existence of that consistency; and so strongly has he felt the want of it here, that he has, in order to satisfy himself, assumed that “previous dalliance with ambitious thoughts,” whose existence it has been our object to prove.
But, putting Coleridge’s imperfect perception of the truth out of the question, surely nothing can be easier than to believe that for the belief in which we have so many precedents. How many beauties, lost upon Dryden, were perceived by Johnson; How many, hidden to Johnson and his cotemporaries, have been brought to light by Schlegel and by Coleridge.
She sat alway thro’ the long day
Spinning the weary thread away;
And ever said in undertone:
“Come, that I be no more alone.”