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?1 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.
1See Cunliffe, The Influence of Seneca on Elizabethan Tragedy. The most famous of these parallels is that between 'Will all great Neptune's Ocean', etc., and the following passages:
Quis eluet me Tanais? aut quae barbaris|
Maeotis undis Pontico incumbens mari?
Non ipse toto magnus Oceano pater
Tantum expiarit sceleris. (Hipp. 715.)
Quis Tanais, aut quis Nilus, aut quis Persica
Violentus unda Tigris, aut Rhenus ferox,
Tagusve Ibera turbidus gaza fluens,
Abluere dextram poterit? Arctoum licet
Maeotis in me gelida transfundat mare,
Et tota Tethys per meas currat manus,
Haerebit altum facinus. (Herc. Furens, 1323.)
(The reader will remember Othello's 'Pontic sea' with its 'violent pace.') Medea's incantation in Ovid's Metamorphoses, vii. 197 ff., which certainly suggested Prospero's speech, Tempest, V. i. 33 ff., should be compared with Seneca, Herc. Oet., 462 ff., 'Artibus magicis,' etc. It is of course highly probable that Shakespeare read some Seneca at school. I may add that in the Hippolytus, beside the passage quoted above, there are others which might have furnished him with suggestions. Cf. for instance Hipp., 30 ff., with the lines about the Spartan hounds in Midsummer Night's Dream, IV. i. 117 ff., and Hippolytus's speech, beginning 483, with the Duke's speech in As You Like It, II. i.