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Apart from his story Banquo's character is not very interesting, nor is it, I think, perfectly individual. And this holds good of the rest of the minor characters. They are sketched lightly, and are seldom developed further than the strict purposes of the action required. From this point of view they are inferior to several of the less important figures in each of the other three tragedies. The scene in which Lady Macduff and her child appear, and the passage where their slaughter is reported to Macduff, have much dramatic value, but in neither case is the effect due to any great extent to the special characters of the persons concerned. Neither they, nor Duncan, nor Malcolm, nor even Banquo himself, have been imagined intensely, and therefore they do not produce that sense of unique personality which Shakespeare could convey in a much smaller number of lines than he gives to most of them. And this is of course even more the case with persons like Ross, Angus, and Lennox, though each of these has distinguishable features. I doubt if any other great play of Shakespeare's contains so many speeches which a student of the play, if they were quoted to him, would be puzzled to assign to the speakers. Let the reader turn, for instance, to the second scene of the Fifth Act, and ask himself why the names of the persons should not be interchanged in all the ways mathematically possible. Can he find, again, any signs of character by which to distinguish the speeches of Ross and Angus in Act I. scenes ii. and iii., or to determine that Malcolm must have spoken I. iv. 2-11? Most of this writing, we may almost say, is simply Shakespeare's writing, not that of Shakespeare become another person. And can anything like the same proportion of such writing be found in Hamlet, Othello, or King Lear?
Is it possible to guess the reason of this characteristic of Macbeth? I cannot believe it is due to the presence of a second hand. The writing, mangled by the printer and perhaps by 'the players,' seems to be sometimes obviously Shakespeare's, sometimes sufficiently Shakespearean to repel any attack not based on external evidence. It may be, as the shortness of the play has suggested to some, that Shakespeare was hurried, and, throwing all his weight on the principal characters, did not exert himself in dealing with the rest. But there is another possibility which may be worth considering. Macbeth is distinguished by its simplicity,--by grandeur in simplicity, no doubt, but still by simplicity. The two great figures indeed can hardly be called simple, except in comparison with such characters as Hamlet and Iago; but in almost every other respect the tragedy has this quality. Its plot is quite plain. It has very little intermixture of humour. It has little pathos except of the sternest kind. The style, for Shakespeare, has not much variety, being generally kept at a higher pitch than in the other three tragedies; and there is much less than usual of the interchange of verse and prose. All this makes for simplicity of effect. And, this being so, is it not possible that Shakespeare instinctively felt, or consciously feared, that to give much individuality or attraction to the subordinate figures would diminish this effect, and so, like a good artist, sacrificed a part to the whole? And was he wrong? He has certainly avoided the overloading which distresses us in King Lear, and has produced a tragedy utterly unlike it, not much less great as a dramatic poem, and as a drama superior.
I would add, though without much confidence, another suggestion. The simplicity of Macbeth is one of the reasons why many readers feel that, in spite of its being intensely 'romantic,' it is less unlike a classical tragedy than Hamlet or Othello or King Lear. And it is possible that this effect is, in a sense, the result of design. I do not mean that Shakespeare intended to imitate a classical tragedy; I mean only that he may have seen in the bloody story of Macbeth a subject suitable for treatment in a manner somewhat nearer to that of Seneca, or of the English Senecan plays familiar to him in his youth, than was the manner of his own mature tragedies. The Witches doubtless are 'romantic,' but so is the witch-craft in Seneca's Medea and Hercules Oetaeus; indeed it is difficult to read the account of Medea's preparations (670-739) without being reminded of the incantations in Macbeth. Banquo's Ghost again is 'romantic,' but so are Seneca's ghosts. For the swelling of the style in some of the great passages--however immeasurably superior these may be to anything in Seneca--and certainly for the turgid bombast which occasionally appears in Macbeth, and which seems to have horrified Jonson, Shakespeare might easily have found a model in Seneca. Did he not think that this was the high Roman manner? Does not the Sergeant's speech, as Coleridge observed, recall the style of the 'passionate speech' of the Player in Hamlet,--a speech, be it observed, on a Roman subject? And is it entirely an accident that parallels between Seneca and Shakespeare seem to be more frequent in Macbeth than in any other of his undoubtedly genuine works except perhaps Richard III., a tragedy unquestionably influenced either by Seneca or by English Senecan plays? If there is anything in these suggestions, and if we suppose that Shakespeare meant to give to his play a certain classical tinge, he might naturally carry out this idea in respect to the characters, as well as in other respects, by concentrating almost the whole interest on the important figures and leaving the others comparatively shadowy.
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