On Macbeth

Calvinists object to stage-plays. Yet all stage-plays are forced to be Calvinistic. They are forced, by the very nature of art, to damn or save a man from the beginning. That is why the old Greek plays about fatality succeeded. Such dramas were popular in spite of everything that could be unpopular, and everything that could be undramatic — in spite of masks and monologues and a shallow stage and an absence of incident. They suited the drama because they were full of destiny. And yet I still think that the greatest drama of all is that in which the throne of destiny is shaken for an instant. I think the greatest drama in the world is “Macbeth.”

I think “Macbeth” the one supreme drama because it is the one Christian drama; and I will accept the accusation of prejudice. But I mean by Christian (in this matter) the strong sense of spiritual liberty and of sin; the idea that the best man can be as bad as he chooses. You may call Othello a victim of chance. You may call Hamlet a victim of temperament. You cannot call Macbeth anything but a victim of Macbeth. The evil spirits tempt him, but they never force him; they never even frighten him, for he is a very brave man.

I have often wondered that no one has made so obvious a parallel as that between the murders of Macbeth and the marriages of Henry VIII. Both Henry and Macbeth were originally brave, good-humoured men, better rather than worse than their neighbours. Both Henry and Macbeth hesitated over their first crime — the first stabbing and the first divorce. Both found out the fate which is in evil — for Macbeth went on murdering and poor Henry went on marrying. There is only one fault in the parallel. Unfortunately for history, Henry VIII was not deposed.

— The Illustrated London News, 16 March 1912.

Published in: on August 27, 2014 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  

On George Eliot

It [the Victorian age] was always saying solidly that things were “enough”; and proving by that sharpness (as of the shutting of a door) that they were not enough. It took, I will not say its pleasures, but even its emancipations, sadly. Definitions seem to escape this way and that in the attempt to locate it as an idea. But every one will understand me if I call it George Eliot.

— The Victorian Age in Literature (1913).
Published in: on August 20, 2014 at 11:26 am  Leave a Comment  

“Not good enough for us”

Certain things are bad so far as they go, such as pain, and no one, not even a lunatic, calls a tooth-ache good in itself; but a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not. It is only not so good as other knives to which men have grown accustomed. A knife is never bad except on such rare occasions as that in which it is neatly and scientifically planted in the middle of one’s back. The coarsest and bluntest knife which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us; what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we call a bad civilization is a good civilization not good enough for us. We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black.

— The Defendant (1901).

Published in: on August 6, 2014 at 10:13 pm  Comments (3)