The files listed here are a a small haphazard selection of the prefaces, introductions, pamphlets and articles which have been written over the years, by editors, commentators and critics, with the aim of helping readers to come to grips with the play. I expect to stop with the 1950s.
Charles Lamb, arranging his Specimens of English dramatic poets who lived about the time of Shakspeare (1808), made space for some excerpts from The Witch, the play by Thomas Middleton published at full length by Steevens (1793). Misled by Steevens, Lamb supposed that The Witch was earlier than Macbeth; so he thought that it needed to be said that Shakespeare’s witches were very different from Middleton’s. At the end of these excerpts, therefore, he attached a footnote emphasizing the difference. This paragraph was reprinted by Lamb in an edition of his collected works (1818 2:51–2); it had already gained extra currency through being quoted by William Hazlitt (1817:31–2); and it soon became impossible for anyone to speak about Shakespeare’s witches without mentioning this comment of Lamb’s.
The concluding volume of Schlegel’s Lectures on dramatic art and literature, published two years after the first two, included an appreciation of Shakespeare’s plays which excited much interest in England, as well as in other parts of Europe. This is what Schlegel had to say about Macbeth. (I transcribe the passage as it was first published. Collating it with the third edition, published at Leipzig in 1846, I find no significant difference, except that the footnote on pages 161–2 was spliced into the main text.)
An English translation, by the journalist John Black, was published in 1815. I am not going to post it here: it is available online, for anyone who wants to see it, but it is not altogether reliable. That is to be regretted, as Bradley said, ‘for Schlegel is well worth reading’ (1904:344n30). My German is not good enough for me to attempt to translate the passage myself. For instance, I would struggle to decide on the most suitable English equivalents for dumpf and wüst in the first line on page 155. (But I would doubt whether Black’s choices – ‘hollow’ and ‘dreary’ – were the right ones.)
In its translated shape, Schlegel’s book was reviewed by William Hazlitt in the Edinburgh Review for February 1816.
(Black’s translation reappeared in 1846, ‘revised, according to the last German edition, by the Rev. A. J. W. Morrison’, but the new version is not conspicuously better than the old one. In the passage which I have transcribed I could point to two manifest errors which were left uncorrected.)
This is the chapter about Macbeth in William Hazlitt’s Characters of Shakespear’s plays, first published in 1817. The second edition, one year later, is page for page the same; but there are some slight differences, and I have thought it worth marking them, even though most of them are probably accidental.
The book was reviewed by Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review for August 1817.
This is the mass of commentary which accreted around Shakespeare’s text between 1723 and 1803, as it was reproduced (with a few omissions and a few additions) by James Boswell. Much of it is useful; much of it is tiresome in the extreme. Once the editors start squabbling with one another, they soon leave the rest of us behind. The name which occurs most frequently – sometimes three or four times on a single page – is Steevens. Now, George Steevens had his good points; but he also had a twisted sense of humour, and it is hard to know how many of his comments are jokes at our expense. Then again, can he seriously have thought that we are duty-bound to read 400 plus lines reprinted (with many errors) from an edition of a fifteenth-century Scots verse chronicle which Shakespeare knew nothing about? It is of no concern to us whether the play is historically accurate or not. (Of course it is not: how could it be?) Macbeth is a tragedy, not a history. I think I may have said that before, but it cannot be said too often.
An essay by Thomas De Quincey – a ‘specimen of psychological criticism’, as he himself described it – first published anonymously in the London Magazine for October 1823 and reprinted (minus the last paragraph) in successive editions of his collected works – at Boston in 1851, at Edinburgh (posthumously) in 1863, and later.
Two versions of a long article by an essayist named George Fletcher (occ. 1836–47). The first is the version printed in the Westminster Review for March 1844, prompted by a recent instalment of Knight’s Cabinet Edition. The second is the version printed in his book, Studies of Shakespeare, which came out towards the end of 1847. Fletcher was eloquent in his admiration for Helen Faucit, who had played Lady Macbeth for the first time in London in April 1843. According to Theodore Martin (Helen Faucit’s husband), ‘he surpassed all the Shakespearian students of the day in thorough knowledge of his author, and in subtle analytic power’ but ‘died a very few years after the publication of his book’ (Martin 1900:92–3). Beyond that, I know almost nothing about him. (A man of this name – ‘George Fletcher, esq. of Croydon, eldest son of the late Rev. George Fletcher, of Beckenham, Kent’ – died at Cheltenham on 21 Oct. 1849, aged 65 (Gentleman’s Magazine, Dec. 1849, 666). I cannot say whether that is the same man or not.)
Much later, Helen Faucit gave a copy of Fletcher’s book to Henry Irving, and he, later still, passed it on to Ellen Terry (Laurence Irving, Henry Irving: the actor and his world (London, 1951), 499).
This is the preface written by W. G. Clark and W. A. Wright for their separate edition of Macbeth, published in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1869. To the publishers’ way of thinking, this was one of A SERIES OF ENGLISH CLASSICS ‘Designed to meet the needs of Students in English Literature’. It was their decision, I take it, to omit the Porter’s speech about the effects of drink. (‘It is especially hoped that this Series may prove useful to Ladies’ Schools and Middle Class Schools.’) The editors seem to have had a different readership in mind, one which could be expected to take a scholarly interest in the ontogeny of the text. Among other things, they seized this opportunity to develop two ideas: first, that ‘there are parts of Macbeth which Shakespeare did not write’; second, that ‘the style of these seems to us to resemble that of Middleton’ (ix). (The first statement I take to be partly true: some of the lines and passages stigmatized by Clark and Wright seem spurious to me as well. The second statement is gratuitous, and I cannot see why they would have wanted to make the suggestion, nor why anyone would want to consider it.)
Two versions of a paper by John Wesley Hales (1836–1914) read at a meeting of the New Shakspere Society on 22 May 1874. The first file is the version published at the time, in the Society’s Transactions (where it is followed by a transcript of the ensuing discussion). The second file is the version published ten years later, in a collection of Hales’s articles called Notes and essays on Shakespeare (1884). The text is mostly just the same as before, but there are some slight alterations, and there is also one significant addition (a quotation from All’s well that ends well on p. 288).
Edward Dowden (1843–1913) was appointed professor of English literature in the University of Dublin at the age of 24. This was his first book (the first of many), published eight years later, and these were his thoughts about Macbeth.
A revised edition – it calls itself the ‘third edition’ (since the book had already been reprinted once) but is properly the first impression of a second edition – appeared in 1877, with an extra preface and an index. Only a few alterations were made in the pages relating to Macbeth; the only one worth mentioning is that ‘Seyton’s’ was corrected to ‘Siward’s’ on page 256.
In its revised shape the book was frequently reprinted, without any further changes, as far as I am aware. I have seen a copy of the ‘thirteenth edition’ dated 1906; the British Library has a copy of an undated ‘twentieth edition’.
Frederick Gard Fleay (1831–1909) – he pronounced his name ‘flay’, not ‘flea’ – was one of the first people who tried to develop quantitative methods for detecting shifts over time in the style of Shakespeare’s verse. He wrote much about Shakespeare, and about Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
His thoughts concerning Macbeth were first written up in 1874, in a paper for the New Shakspere Society read (in his absence) at one of its meetings (where his ideas were not at all favourably received) and printed in its Transactions. A revised version of the same paper became one of the chapters in his Shakespeare manual, published two years later, and I reproduce that chapter here, just as a sample of his work.
Fleay was and is a difficult person to deal with. He was in the habit of jumping to a wrong conclusion and then aggressively defending it – until he changed his mind and jumped to some other conclusion, perhaps just as wrong as the first one. There are times when he seems to be on the verge of madness. Nevertheless, I make no secret of the fact that I agree with some of what he said. I think he had a good ear.
As well as his big book, Dowden wrote a short introduction to Shakespeare for a series of ‘Literature Primers’ edited by J. R. Green. It came out in August 1877. This is what Dowden said there about Macbeth.This book too was frequently reprinted: it was kept in print for more than forty years. (I have seen a copy dated 1922.)
This is a pamphlet written by a twenty-something Toronto high-school teacher – Melanchthon Fennessy Libby (1864–1921) – published in Toronto in 1893. Most people, I imagine, if they have taken any interest in Libby’s ideas, have thought it sufficient to look at the excerpts quoted by Furness (1903), rather than trying to track down a copy of the original pamphlet. But here I reproduce the entire text, transcribed from a copy digitized (aptly enough) by the University of Toronto. (I have marked a few anomalous readings which happened to catch my eye, but they are not of any significance. Some are sure to be the printers’ fault.) According to Libby, one minor character in Macbeth, the Thane of Ross, is not a minor character at all. He is an Iago-like figure, ‘an ambitious intriguer, … a coward, spy, and murderer’. Starting from that point, Libby develops new interpretations of several strands in the plot. (Did you realize, for instance, that the Thane of Cawdor is an innocent man, ‘traduced and ruined’ by Ross? You didn’t? No, nor did I.) In the opinion of competent critics (and in mine), this is all utterly insane. It would better have been forgotten. Unhappily Roman Polanski and Kenneth Tynan allowed their conception of the play to be warped by Libby’s eccentricity; and the distortion has now been deliberately made worse in Joel Coen’s version. I feel very sad about that.
Edmund Kerchever Chambers (1866–1954), at the age of 27, produced an edition of Macbeth for a series called ‘The Warwick Shakespeare’. The text was based on that in the ‘Globe’ edition (i.e. the one-volume edition by Clark and Wright first published in 1864); I have not looked closely at it. The publishers supposed that their ‘Warwick’ editions were ‘likely to be used by young students’; so the porter’s ‘And drink, sir’ speech had to be silently omitted. Despite the editor’s relative youth, this edition was well-received; it certainly has many good points. I reproduce the introduction and the appendices, in separate files.
John Matthews Manly (1865–1940), during the time when he was working at Brown University, produced an edition of Macbeth for a series called ‘Longmans’ English Classics’. This is the introduction that he wrote for that edition. It says some interesting things.
Israel Gollancz (1863–1930), while he was a lecturer at University College, London, undertook an edition of Shakespeare’s works which was published in 40 small volumes (37 for the plays, 3 for the poems). It was called ‘The Temple Shakespeare’ (1894–6). (‘This edition is by far the most attractive of any small edition which has hitherto come our way. It is exquisitely printed, the title-pages and type are charming, and the little etchings that preface the volumes are very admirable’ (Graphic, 5 Dec. 1896).) There was nothing original about the text, which was taken, with permission, from the ‘Cambridge Shakespeare’ (1891–3). Macbeth was the 31st volume to appear: it was published in June 1896 (and frequently reissued: the ‘thirteenth edition, June 1904’, is the latest that I have seen). The people who subscribed to a publication like this were thinking more of displaying it than of reading it; but anyone who looked inside this volume would have found a short preface covering the points which Gollancz thought they ought to be made aware of.
Charles Harold Herford (1853–1931), while he was working at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, produced a ten-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare. It was published in 1899. Macbeth is in volume 9. This is the introduction that Herford wrote for it, quite short but to the point.
Andrew Cecil Bradley (1851–1935), during his five-year stint as Oxford’s professor of poetry (1901–6), wrote up some of the lectures that he had given over the previous twenty odd years, at Liverpool and Glasgow as well as Oxford, and turned them into a book, Shakespearean tragedy, first published in 1904. It proved to be, as it deserved to be, immensely influential. This is Bradley’s chapter about Macbeth. The second file contains the relevant notes – ‘many of [which] will be of interest only to scholars’ – put at the back of the book.
The second edition of the book (1905) is a new setting, page for page and very nearly line for line the same as the first. Some small additions or alterations occur, but (as far as Macbeth is concerned) they are so few and so slight that they hardly seem worth mentioning. Generally speaking, anyone who thinks of quoting from the first edition should remember to make sure that Bradley did not change his mind.
I add a reference to one other piece of Bradley’s, not because it says anything much about Macbeth, but because I enjoyed reading it – the chapter on ‘Shakespeare’s theatre and audience’ in A. C. Bradley, Oxford lectures on poetry (London, 1909), 361–93.
A list of the separate editions of Macbeth (and some related items) compiled by William Jaggard in 1911.
The original ‘Arden Shakespeare’ edition of Macbeth was published in 1912. Henry Cuningham is named as the editor on the title-page, but in fact he was not responsible for the text, only for the introduction and the annotation. This file is a transcript of the introduction as it appeared in the second edition. (I have not yet got hold of a copy of the first edition. The second edition was published in 1917. It was probably just a reprint of the first edition; but I cannot state that for a fact.)
Cuningham had edited two earlier volumes for the ‘Arden Shakespeare’, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1905) and The Comedy of Errors (1907). Beyond that, I hardly know anything about him.
Half a lifetime after producing his edition of Macbeth (1893), E. K. Chambers allowed himself a few pages in this book to sum up his thoughts about the play. He had kept abreast of the other editions and the secondary literature published during that period. I do not see that he had changed his mind about anything.
A juvenile piece of work, first published as a pamphlet in 1933, and reprinted ‘substantially as written’ in 1946, with some distancing remarks in the preface (xi). It seems pretty vacuous to me, more appreciative of its own cleverness than of Shakespeare or Macbeth. It certainly says some rather silly things. (It suggests, for example, that the audience is not expected to see any difference between the doctor encountered in England in scene 22 and the doctor encountered in Scotland in scenes 23 and 25. ‘We are not meant to think of two Doctors in the play (Dr. A of Harley Street and Dr. B of Edinburgh) but simply, in each case, of “a Doctor”’ (32n1). How is it helpful to say that? Does it make any sort of sense?)
The ‘sprightly title’ was F. R. Leavis’s idea of a joke.