Notes to "Macbeth"


"Shakspere" was an acceptable variant spelling of the Bard's name in the nineteenth century; it was not standardized until the beginning of the twentieth century. Shakespeare himself spelled his own name six different ways.

Paper ... here taken
Patmore alludes to "Macbeth: -- Shakespearean Criticism and Acting," the opening article of the March 1844 Westminster Review, written by George Fletcher, author of Studies of Shakespeare in the Plays of King John, Cymbeline, Macbeth, As You Like It, Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet (Longman, 1847). Ostensibly a review of the new Knight's Cabinet Edition of Macbeth, Fletcher's essay begins with what Patmore concludes: that Macbeth is an evil character who has already considered regicide before the weird sisters suggest the idea in Act I. (Patmore's essay differs by ascribing the origin of the idea to Lady Macbeth.) Patmore's surmise that the Westminster Review article "made no general impression at the time" is questionable, considering that the editor of Westminster Review deemed it successful enough to print a sequel, "Shakespearian Criticism and Acting," by the same author in the September 1845 Westminster Review. For another discussion of Macbeth that reaches many of the same conclusions as Patmore's, see "Dies Boreales, No. V. -- Christopher Under Canvass" in the November 1849 issue of Blackwood's Magazine.

A. Schlegel
Augustus Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767-1845), translator of Shakespeare's plays into German. His renowned Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, translated into English in 1846, was a major influence on Coleridge's Shakespearean criticism. Patmore's citation is incorrect: Schlegel's discussion of Macbeth comes on pp. 407-11 of the original 1846 English edition (the work is not divided into volumes) and vol. 2, p. 256 of the first German edition of Lectures [Click here to read Schlegel's discussion of Macbeth]

narrative of Holinshed
Shakespeare's primary source for Macbeth was a three-volume work entitled The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande ... faithfully gathered & set forth by Raphaell Holinshed," first published in 1577. [Click here to read pp. 170-1 of Volume 2 of Holinshed's Chronicles which relates the tale of Macbeth's encounter with the witches.]

postponement of comment
As William Michael Rossetti observed in his preface to the 1901 facsimile edition of The Germ, Patmore's commentary on the letter's contents is not postponed but nonexistent.

Coleridge's "Notes on Macbeth," first published in 1836 in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge, was first delivered as a lecture at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London on January 14, 1819. The 1836 version includes this passage:

"In Macbeth, the poet's object was to raise the mind at once to the high tragic tone, that the audience might be ready for the precipitate consummation of guilt in the early part of the play. The true reason for the first appearance of the Witches is to strike the key-note of the character of the whole drama, as is proved by their re-appearance in the third scene, after such an order of the king's as establishes their supernatural power of imagination. I say information, -- for so it only is as to Glamis and Cawdor; the 'king hereafter' was still contingent, -- still in Macbeth's moral will; although, if he should yield to the temptation, and thus forfeit his free agency, the link of cause and effect more physico would then commence. I need not say, that the general idea is all that can be required from the poet, -- not a scholastic logical consistency in all the parts so as to meet metaphysical objectors. But O! how truly Shakspearian is the opening of Macbeth's character given in the unpossessedness of Banquo's mind, wholly present to the present object, -- and unsullied, unscarified mirror! -- And how strictly true to nature it is, that Banquo, and not Macbeth himself, directs our notice to the effect produced on Macbeth's mind, rendered temptible by previous dalliance of the fancy with ambitious thoughts:

     Good Sir, why do you start; and seem to fear
     Things that do sound so fair?

[Henry Nelson Coleridge, ed. The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. London: William Pickering, 1836. New York: AMS, 1967: 238-9.]