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Hautboys and torches. Enter, and pass over the page,
a fewer,' and divers servants with dishes and service, Then enter MACBETH.
MACB. If it were done, 4 when'tis done, then 'twere
well It were done quickly: If the assassinations
3 Enter a fewer,] I have restored this stage-direction from the old copy. The office of a fewer was to place the dishes in order at a feast. His chief mark of distinction was a towel round his arm. So, in Ben Jonson's Silent Woman; “- clap me a clean towel about you, like a fewer.” Again: “ See, fir Amorous has his towel on already. [He enters like a fewer."] STEEVENS.
4 If it were done, &c.] A sentiment parallel to this occurs in The Proceedings against Garnet in the Powder Plot. “ It would have been commendable, when it had been done, though not before."
FARMER. 5. If the asasination &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 terminate in itself, and restrain the regular course of consequences, if its success could secure its surcease, if, being once done fuccessfully, 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 these cases in which judgement 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 own example."
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
We are told by Dryden, that “ Ben Jonson in reading some bombaft speeches in Macbeth, which are not to be understood, used to say that it was horrour.”—Perhaps the present pasiage was one of those thus depreciated. Any person but this envious detractor would have dwelt with pleasure on the transcendent beauties of this sublime tragedy, which, after Othello, is perhaps our author's greatest work ; and would have been more apt to have been thrown“ into strong shudders” and blood-freezing “ agues,” by its interesting and highwrought scenes, than to have been offended by any imaginary hardness of its language; for such, it appears from the context, is what he meant by horrour. That there are difficult passages in this tragedy, cannot be denied; but that there are « fome bombal} speeches in it, which are not to be understood," as Dryden afferts, . will not very readily be granted to him. From this assertion how. ever, and the verbal alterations made by him and Sir W. D’Ave. pant in some of our author's plays, I think it clearly appears that Dryden and the other poets of the time of Charles II. were not very deeply skilled in the language of their predecessors, and that Shakspeare was not so well understood fifty years after his death, as he is at this day. MALONE. 6 Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success;] I think the reasoning requires that we should read :
With its success furcease. JOHNSON. A trammel is a net in which either birds or fishes are caught. So, in The Isle of Gulls, 1633 :
“ Each tree and shrub wears trammels of thy hair.” Surcease is cessation, stop. So, in The Valiant Welchmon, 1615:
“ Surcease brave brother: Fortune hath crown'd our
brows.” His is used instead of its, in many places. Steevens.
The personal pronouns are so frequently used by Shakspeare, instead of the impersonal, that no amendment would be neceilary in this passage, even if it were certain that the pronoun his rcfers to allalination, which seems to be the opinion of Johnion and Sreevens ; but I think it more probable that it refers to Duncan; and that by his furcenfe Macbeth means Duncan's death, which was the object of his contemplation. M. Mason.
His certainly may refer to allclination, (as Dr. Johnson by his proposed alteration seems to have thought it did,) for Shakspeare very frequently uses his for its. But in this place perhaps his refers to Duncan; and the meaning may be, If the assassination, at the
С с 2
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
same time that it puts an end to the life of Duncan, could procure me unalloyed happiness, promotion to the crown unmolested by the compunctious visitings of conscience, &c. To cease often fignifies in these plays, to die. So, in All's Well that ends Well:
" Or, ere they meet, in me, O nature, cease.". I think, however, it is more probable that his is used for its, and that it relates to asassination. MALONE.
7 hoal of time, ] This is Theobald's emendation, undoubtedly right. The old edition has school, and Dr. Warburton shelve.
JOHNSON, By the foal of time our author means the shallow ford of life, between us and the abyss of eternity. Steevens. 8 Wi'd jump the life to come.] So, in Cymbeline, AC V. fc. iv: “ - or jump the after-enquiry on your own peril."
STEEVENS. • « We'd jump the life to come," certainly means, We'd hazard or
run the risk of what might happen in a future state of being. So, in Antony and Cleopatra :
“ Our fortune lies
« Upon this jump." Again, in Coriolanus :
“ and wish
“ That's fure of death without it.”
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
Toplague the inventor :] So, in Bellenden's translation of Hector Boethius : “ He [Macbeth] was led be wod furyis, as ye nature of all tyrannis is, quhilks conqueslis landis or kingdomes be wrangus titil, ay full of hevy thocht and dredour, and trailing ilk man to do ficlik crueltes to hym, as he did afore to othir.” Malone.
2 - This even-handed justice --] Mr, M. Mason observes that we might more advantageously read
Thus even-handed justice, &c. Steevens. The old reading I believe to be the true one, because Shakspeare has very frequently used this mode of expression. So, a little
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
lower :" Besides, this Duncan,” &c. Again, in K. Henry IV. P.I:
• That this fame child of honour and renown,
MALONE. 3 Commends the ingredients -] Thus in a subsequent scene of this play:
« I wish your horses swift, and sure of foot,
" And so I do commend you to their backs." This verb has many shades of meaning. It seems here to fig. nify-offers, or recommends. Steevens. 4 — 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, left he should be served of the same cup as he had minister'd to his predecessor.” Steevens.
s Hath borne his faculties fo meek,] Faculties, for office, exercise of power, &c. WARBURTON.
“ Duncan (says Holinshed) was soft and gentle of nature."And again : “ Macbeth spoke much against the king's softness, and overmuch Nackness in punishing offenders.” Steevens.
6 The deep damnation -] So, in A dolfull Discourse of a Lord and a Ladie, by Churchyard, 1593 :
“ - in ftate
« Of deepe damnation stood.” I should not have thought this little coincidence worth noting, had I not found it in a poem which it should seem, from other passages, that Shakspeare had read and remembered. STEEVENS,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
6 or heaven's cherubin, hors'd
Upon the fightless couriers of the air,] Courier is only runner. Couriers of air are winds, air in motion, Sightless is invisible.
JOHNSON, Again, in this play:
• Wherever in your fightless substances,” &c. Again, in Heywood's Brazen Age, 1613:
“ The flames of hell and Pluto's fightless fires." Again :
“ Hath any fightless and infernal fire
“ Laid hold upon my flesh ?” Again, in Warner's Albion's England, 1602, B. II. c. xi :
" The scouring winds that sighiless in the founding air do
fly." STEEVENS. So, in K. Henry V:
“ Borne with the invikble and creeping wind." Again, in our author's Gift Sonnet:
“ Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind." Again, in the Prologue to K. Henry IV. P. II:
“ I, from the orient to the drooping welt,
" Making the wind my post-horse." The thought of the cherubin (as has been somewhere observed) seems to have been borrowed from the eighteenth Psalm : “ He rode upon the cherubins and did fly; he came flying upon the wings of the wind." Again, in the Book of fob, ch. xxx. V. 22 : “ Thou causeft me to ride upon the wind." MALONE.
7 That tears Mall drown the wind.] Alluding to the remission of the wind in a shower. JOHNSON. So, in King Henry VI. P. III:
“For raging wind blows up incessant showers;
“ And, when the rage allays, the rain begins.” Again, in our author's Venus and Adonis : « Even as the wind is hulh'd before it raineih."
STLEVENS. Again, in The Rape of Lucrece:
- This windy tempeít, till it blow up rain