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the servant, had hardly breath to make up his message; to which the lady answers mentally, that he may well want breath, such a message would add hoarseness to the raven. That even the bird, whose harsh voice is accustomed to predict calamities, could not croak the entrance of Duncan but in a note of unwonted harshness. JOHNSON.
mortal thoughts,] This expression signifies not the thoughts of mortals, but murtherous, deadly, or destructive designs. JOHNSON.
-remorse ;] i. e. pity.
-401. -take my milk for gall,] Take away my milk, and put gall into the place. JOHNSON. Line 404. You wait on nature's mischief!] Nature's mischief is mischief done to nature, violation of nature's order committed by wickedness. JOHNSON.
Line 405. And pall thee-] i. e. wrap thyself in a pall. WARB, 408. To cry hold! hold!] On this passage there is a long
criticism in the Rambler. JOHNSON. Line 408. Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!] Shakspeare has supported the character of lady Macbeth by repeated efforts, and never omits an opportunity of adding a trait of ferocity, or a mark of the want of human feelings, to this monster of his own creation. The softer passions are more obliterated in her than in her husband, in proportion as her ambition is greater. She meets him here on his return from an expedition of danger with such a salutation as would have become one of his friends or vassals; a salutation apparently fitted rather to raise his thoughts to a level with her own purposes, than to testify her joy at his return, or manifest an attachment to his person: nor does any sentiment expressive of love or softness fall from her throughout the play. While Macbeth himself in the midst of the horrors of his guilt still retains a character less fiend-like than that of his queen, talks to her with a degree of tenderness, and pours his complaints and fears into her bosom, accompanied with terms of endearment.
Line 412. This ignorant present,] Ignorant has here the signification of unknowing; that is, I feel by anticipation those future hours, of which, according to the process of nature, the present time would be ignorant.
ACT I. SCENE VI.
Line 436. Unto our gentle senses.] Senses are nothing more than each man's sense. Gentle senses is very elegant, as it means placid, calm, composed, and intimates the peaceable delight of a fine day. JOHNSON.
-martlet,] This bird is in the old edition called JOHNSON. coigne of vantage,] Convenient corner. JOHNSON. -449. How you shall bid God-yield us-] To bid any one God-yeld him, i. e. God yield him, was the same as God reward him. WARBURTON.
I believe yield, or, as it is in the folio of 1623, eyld, is a corrupted contraction of shield. The wish implores not reward but protection. JOHNSON.
Line 457. We rest your hermits.] Hermits for beadsmen.
That is, we as hermits shall always pray for you. STEEVENS.
ACT I. SCENE VII.
Line 474. If the assassination, &c.] Of this soliloquy the meaning is not very clear; I have never found the readers of Shakspeare agreeing about it. I understand it thus,
"If that which I am about to do, when it is once done and executed, were done and ended without any following effects, it "would then be best to do it quickly; if the murder could termi"nate in itself, and restrain the regular course of consequences, "if its success could secure its surcease, it being once done success"fully, without detection, it could fix a period to all vengeance "and enquiry, so that this blow might be all that I have to do, " and this anxiety all that I have to suffer; if this could be my "condition, even here in this world, in this contracted period of "temporal existence, on this narrow bank in the ocean of eternity, "I would jump the life to come, I would venture upon the deed " without care of any future state. But this is one of those cases "in which judgment is pronounced and vengeance inflicted upon
us here in our present life. We teach others to do as we have "done, and are punished by our example.". JOHNSON.
-our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.] Our poet, apis matinæ more modoque, would stoop to borrow a sweet from any flower, however humble in its situation.
"The pricke of conscience (says Holinshed) caused him ever "to feare, lest he should be served of the same cup as he had "minister'd to his predecessor." STEEVENS. Line 489. Hath borne his faculties so meek,] Faculties, for office, exercise of power, &c. WARBURTON.
-or heaven's cherubin, hors'd
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,] Couriers of air are winds, air in motion. Sightless is invisible. JOHNSON. Line 497. That tears shall drown the wind.] Alluding to the remission of the wind in a shower. JOHNSON.
Line 501. Enter Lady.] The arguments by which lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shakspeare's knowledge of human nature. She urges the excellence and dignity of courage, a glittering idea which has dazzled mankind from age to age, and animated sometimes the housebreaker, and sometimes the conqueror; but this sophism Macbeth has for ever destroyed, by distinguishing true from false fortitude, in a line and a half; of which it may almost be said, that they ought to bestow immortality on the author, though all his other productions had been lost:
I dare do all that may become a man,
Who dares do more, is none.
This topic, which has been always employed with too much. success, is used in this scene with peculiar propriety, to a soldier by a woman. Courage is the distinguishing virtue of a soldier, and the reproach of cowardice cannot be borne by any man from a woman, without great impatience.
She then urges the oaths by which he had bound himself to murder Duncan, another art of sophistry by which men have sometimes deluded their consciences, and persuaded themselves that what would be criminal in others is virtuous in them: this argument Shakspeare, whose plan obliged him to make Macbeth. yield, has not confuted, though he might easily have shewn that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter: that obli
gations laid on us by a higher power, could not be over-ruled by obligations which we lay upon ourselves. JOHNSON.
Line 520. Like the poor cat i the adage.] The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her foot.
Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas.
Line 544. Will I with wine and wassel so convince, &c.] To convince is in Shakspeare to overpower or subdue, as in this play, -Their malady convinces
The great assay of art.
Wassel or wassail is a word still in use in the midland counties, and signifies what is sometimes called Lambs Wool, i. e. roasted apples in strong beer, with sugar and spice. STEEVENS. Line 547. A limbeck only:] That is, shall be only a vessel to emit fumes or vapours. JOHNSON. Line 551.
who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell?] Quell is murder, manquellers being in the old language the term for which murderers is now used. JOHNSON.
ACT II. SCENE I.
The place is not mark'd in the old edition, nor is it easy to say where this encounter can be. It is not in the hall, as the editors have all supposed it, for Banquo sees the sky; it is not far from the bedchamber, as the conversation shews: it must be in the inner court of the castle, which Banquo might properly cross in his way to bed. JOHNSON. -There's husbandry in heaven,] Husbandry, i. e.
Line 6. thrift, frugality.
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts, that nature
Gives way to in repose!] It is apparent from what Banquo says afterwards, that he had been solicited in a dream to do something in consequence of the prophecy of the witches, that his waking senses were shock'd at; and Shakspeare has here finely contrasted his character with that of Macbeth. Banquo is praying against being tempted to encourage thoughts of guilt even in his sleep; while Macbeth is hurrying into temptation, and revolving in his mind every scheme, however flagitious, that may assist him
to complete his purpose. The one is unwilling to sleep, lest the same phantoms should assail his resolution again, while the other is depriving himself of rest through impatience to commit the murder. STEEVENS.
Line 33. If you shall cleave to my consent, when 'tis,] Macbeth expresses his thought with affected obscurity; he does not mention the royalty, though he apparently has it in his mind, If you shall cleave to my consent, if you shall concur with me when I determine to accept the crown, when 'tis, when that happens which the prediction promises, it shall make honour for you. JOHNSON.
Line 59. And on thy blade, and dudgeon, gouts of blood,] Though dudgeon does sometimes signify a dagger, it more properly means the haft or handle of a dagger, and is used for that particular sort of a handle which has some ornament carved on the top of it. STEEVENS.
Line 59. 62.
-gouts of blood,] Or drops, French. POPE. -Now o'er the one half world
Nature seems dead,] That is, over our hemisphere all action and motion seem to have ceased. This image, which is perhaps the most striking that poetry can produce, has been adopted by Dryden in his Conquest of Mexico:
All things are hush'd as Nature's self lay dead,
And sleeping flow'rs beneath the night dews sweat.
These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, that the contrast between them and this passage of Shakspeare may be more accurately observed.
Night is described by two great poets, but one describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation. In the night of Dryden, all the disturbers of the world are laid asleep; in that of Shakspeare, nothing but sorcery, lust, and murder, is awake. He that reads Dryden, finds himself lull'd with serenity, and disposed to solitude and contemplation. He that peruses Shakspeare, looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone. One is the night of a lover, the other, of a murderer. JOHNSON.
-Line 67. —thus with his stealthy pace,