Oil on canvas, approximately 38.5 x 48.5 inches. Garrick Club, London.
This purports to depict the last time Mrs. Pritchard performed on stage; she retired in 1768 and died a few months later. Hannah Pritchard (1711-1768) joined David Garrick's Drury Lane company in 1747 and played opposite Garrick for the next twenty years. She was acclaimed the best Lady Macbeth of her day.
In Act II, Scene ii, the conscience-stricken Macbeth joins Lady Macbeth after murdering Duncan, but he cannot bear to go further and incriminate the grooms attending the King. He says, "I have done the deed. . . . This is a sorry sight." "Why," she asks, "did you bring the daggers from the place? / They must lie there: go carry them and smear / The sleeping grooms with blood." He answers, "I'll go no more. / I am afraid to think what I have done; / Look on't it again I dare not." His wife mocks him for his lack of resolve and takes the daggers from him:
Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.
In A General View of the Stage (1759), Thomas Wilkes gives us a first-hand account of Garrick's interpretation of Macbeth. In Book IV, Chapter II, "Of Garrick's different Excellencies," he observes:
There is not any character in Tragedy so seldom hit off by the Actor as Macbeth, perhaps there are few more difficult; and in the hands of Garrick it acquires an inconceivable ease. It is curious to observe in him the progress of guilt from the intention to the act. How his ambition kindles at the distant prospect of a crown, when the witches prophecy! and with what reluctance he yields, upon the diabolical persuasions of his wife, to the perpetration of the murder! How finely does he shew his resolution staggered, upon the supposed view of the air-drawn dagger, until he is rouzed to action by the signal, viz. the ringing of the closet bell!
It is impossible for description to convey an adequate idea of the horror of his looks, when he returns from having murdered Duncan with the bloody daggers, and hands stained in gore. How does his voice chill the blood when he tells you, "I have done the deed!" and then looking on his hands, "this is a sorry sight!" How expressive is his manner and countenance during Lenox's knocking at the door, of the anguish and confusion that possess him; and his answer, "'twas a rough night," shews as much self-condemnation, as much fear of discovery, as much endeavour to conquer inquietude and assume ease, as ever was infused into, or intended for, the character. What force, what uncontroulable spirit does he discover in his distresses, when he cries out,They have tied me a stake--I cannot fly;
But bear-like I must fight my course.
In short, he alone, methinks, performs the character (248-9).
Wilkes does not comment specifically on Hannah Pritchard's performance as Lady Macbeth, but he evaluates her strengths and weaknesses in various other roles:
Mrs. Pritchard is an Actress of extensive abilities, both in Tragedy and Comedy. She fills the stage well, her appearance is commanding, and her middle voice clear, intelligible and melodious. It is not so well when she endeavours to raise to the expression of rage or horror; nor yet in pity or tenderness do we feel it efficacious; yet her manner and meaning sufficiently compensate for this defect. No woman supports better the dignity of Tragedy (284).