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"The Witches' Habitation.
Enter DUCHESS, HECCAT, FIRESTONE.
Hec. What death is 't you desire for Almachildes?
Hec. Then I've fitted you.
Here lie the gifts of both; sudden and subtle;
Duch. In what time, pr'ythee?
Hec. Perhaps in a month's progress.
Out upon pictures, if they be so tedious;
Give me things with some life.
Duch. This must be done with speed, dispatched this night, If it may possibly.
Hec. I have it for you:
Here's that will do't. Stay but perfection's time,
And that's not five hours hence.
Duch. Can'st thou do this?
Hec. Can I?
Duch. I mean, so closely.
Hec. So closely do you mean too?
Duch. So artfully, so cunningly.
Worse and worse; doubts and incredulities,
Can you doubt me then, daughter?
That can make mountains tremble, miles of woods walk;
Whole earth's foundations bellow, and the spirits
Of the entomb'd to burst out from their marbles;
Nay, draw yon moon to my involv'd designs?
Fire. I know as well as can be when my mother's mad, and our great cat angry; for the one spits French then, and the other spits Latin.
Duch. I did not doubt you, mother.
Hec. No? what did you?
My power's so firm, it is not to be question'd.
Duch. Forgive what's past: and now I know th' offensiveness That vexes art, I'll shun the occasion ever.
Hec. Leave all to me and my five sisters, daughter.
It shall be conveyed in at howlet-time.
Take you no care. My spirits know their moments;
But they call in (I thank 'em), and they lose not by 't.
They shall have semina cum sanguine,
Their gorge cramm'd full, if they come once to our house:
[Exit DUCHESS. They ate up as
Fire. They fare but too well when they come hither. much t' other night as would have made me a good conscionable pudding. Hec. Give me some lizard's brain: quickly, Firestone! Where's grannam Stadlin, and all the rest o' th' sisters? Fire. All at hand, forsooth.
[The other Witches appear.
Hec. Give me marmaritin; some bear-breech. When?
And fetch three ounces of the red-hair'd girl
I kill'd last midnight.
Fire. Whereabout, sweet mother?
Hec. Hip; hip or flank. Where is the acopus?
Fire. You shall have acopus, forsooth.
Hec. Stir, stir about, whilst I begin the charm.
A CHARM SONG.
(The Witches going about the cauldron.)
Firedrake, Puckey, make it lucky;
Liard, Robin, you must bob in.
Round, around, around, about, about;
All ill come running in; all good keep out!
Here's the blood of a bat.
Put in that; oh, put in that.
Put in again.
The juice of toad; the oil of adder.
Those will make the younker madder.
Nay, here's three ounces of the red-hair'd wench.
So, so, enough: into the vessel with it.
There; 't hath the true perfection. I'm so light
But is a tune, methinks.
Fire. A tune! 'Tis to the tune of damnation then, I warrant you, and that song hath a villanous burthen.
Come, my sweet sisters; let the air strike our tune
Whilst we show reverence to yon peeping moon.
[The Witches dance and then exeunt.”
I will conclude this account with Mr. Lamb's observations on the distinctive characters of these extraordinary and formidable personages, as they are described by Middleton or Shakspeare:
Though some resemblance may be traced between the Charms in Macbeth and the Incantations in this play, which is supposed to have preceded it, this coincidence will not detract much from the originality of Shakspeare. His witches are distinguished from the witches of Middleton by essential differences. These are creatures to whom man or woman, plotting some dire mischief, might resort for occasional consultation. Those originate deeds of blood, and begin bad impulses to men. From the mo. ment that their eyes first meet Macbeth's, he is spell-bound. That meeting sways his destiny. He can never break the fascination. These Witches can hurt the body; those have power over the soul. Hecate, in Middleton, has a son, a low buffoon: the Hags of Shakspeare have neither child of their own, nor seem to be descended from any parent. They are foul anomalies, of whom we know not whence they sprung, nor whether they have beginning or ending. As they are without human passions, so they seem to be without human relations. They come with thunder and lightning, and vanish to airy music. This is all we know of them. Except Hecate, they have no names, which heightens their mysteriousness. The names, and some of the properties which Middleton has given to his Hags, excite smiles. The Weird Sisters are serious things. Their presence cannot co-exist with mirth. But in a lesser degree, the Witches of Middleton are fine creations. Their power too is, in some measure, over the mind. They raise jars, jealousies, strifes, like a thick scurf o'er life.'"*
*Lamb's 'Specimens of English Dramatic Poets.' Vol. I. p. 187. Moxon, London.
On Marston, Chapman, Decker, and Webster.
THE writers of whom I have already treated may be said to have been "no mean men;" those of whom I have yet to speak are certainly no whit inferior. Would that I could do them anything like justice! It is not difficult to give at least their seeming due to great and well-known names; for the sentiments of the reader meet the descriptions of the critic more than half way, and clothe what is perhaps vague and extravagant praise with a substantial form and distinct meaning. But in attempting to extol the merits of an obscure work of genius, our words are either lost in empty air, or are "blown stifling back" upon the mouth that utters them. The greater those merits are, and the truer the praise, the more suspicious and disproportionate does it almost necessarily appear; for it has no relation to any image previously existing in the public mind, and therefore looks like an imposition fabricated out of nothing. In this case, the only way that I know of is, to make these old writers (as much as can be) vouchers for their own pretensions, which they are well able to make good. I shall in the present lecture give some account of Marston and Chapman, and afterwards of Decker and Webster.
Marston is a writer of great merit, who rose to tragedy from the ground of comedy, and whose forte was not sympathy, either with the stronger or softer emotions, but an impatient scorn and bitter indignation against the vices and follies of men, which vented itself either in comic irony or in lofty invective. He was properly a satirist. He was not a favourite with his contemporaries, nor they with him. He was first on terms of great intimacy, and afterwards at open war, with Ben Jonson; and he is most unfairly criticized in The Return from Parnassus, under the name of Monsieur Kinsayder, as a mere libeller and buffoon. Writers in their life-time do all they can to degrade and vilify
one another, and expect posterity to have a very tender care of their reputations! The writers of this age, in general, cannot however be reproached with this infirmity. The number of plays that they wrote in conjunction is a proof of the contrary; and a circumstance no less curious, as to the division of intellectual labour, than the cordial union of sentiment it implied. Unlike most poets, the love of their art surmounted their hatred of one another. Genius was not become a vile and vulgar pretence, and they respected in others what they knew to be true inspiration in themselves. They courted the applause of the multitude, but came to one another for judgment and assistance. When we see these writers working together on the same admirable productions, year after year, as was the case with Beaumont and Fletcher, Middleton and Rowley, with Chapman, Decker, and Jonson, it reminds one of Ariosto's eloquent apostrophe to the Spirit of Ancient Chivalry, when he has seated his rival knights, Renaldo and Ferraw, on the same horse:
"Oh ancient knights of true and noble heart,
Marston's Antonio and Mellida is a tragedy of considerable force and pathos; but in the most critical parts, the author frequently breaks off or flags without any apparent reason but want of interest in his subject; and farther, the best and most affecting situations and bursts of feeling are too evidently imitations of Shakspeare. Thus the unexpected meeting between Andrugio and Lucio, in the beginning of the third act, is a direct counterpart of that between Lear and Kent, only much weakened: and the interview between Antonio and Mellida has a strong resemblance to the still more affecting one between Lear and Cordelia, and is most wantonly disfigured by the sudden introduction
* Sir John Harrington's translation.