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To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Enter Lady: Macbeth. Ladr. M. He has almost supp'd; Why have you
left the chamber?
Again, in Troilus and Cressida :
MALONE. 8 — I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition,] The spur of the occafion is a phrase used by lord Bacon. Steevens. So, in The Tragedy of Cæfar and Pompey, 1607:
" Why think you, lords, that 'tis ambition's spur,
MALONE. 9. And falls on the other.] Sir T. Hanmer has on this occasion added a word, and would read
And falls on the other side. Yet they who plead for the admission of this supplement, should consider, that the plural of it, but two lines before, had occurred.
I, also, who once attempted to justify the omission of this word, ought to have understood that Shakspeare could never mean to describe the agitation of Macbeth's mind, by the affittance of a halting verse.
The general image, though confusedly expressed, relates to a horse, who, overleaping himself, falls, and his rider under him. To complete the line we may therefore read
" And falls upon the other." Thus, in The Taming of a Shrew: “ How he left her with the horse upon her."
Macbeth, as I apprehend, is meant for the rider, his intent for his horse, and his ambition for his spur; but, unluckily, as the words are arranged, the Spur is said to over-leap itself. Such hazardous things are long-drawn metaphors in the hands of careless writers. STEEVENS.
2 Enter Lady-] The arguments by which lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shakspeare's · MacB. Hath he ask'd for me? Ladr. M.
Know you not, he has? MACB. We will proceed no further in this busi
ness : He hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon. LADY M.
Was the hope drunk, Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it Nept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale At what it did so freely? From this time,
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 house-breaker, 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 topick, 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 sophiftry 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 shown that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter ; that obligations, laid on us by a higher power, could not be over-ruled by obligations which we lay upon ourselves. JOHNSON.
Part of Lady Macbeth's argument is derived from the translation of Hector Boethius. See Dr. Farmer's note, p. 350. MALONE,
3 Was the hope drunk, &c.] The fame expression is found in K. John:
« O, where hath our intelligence been drunk,
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
Pr’ythee, peace :
What beast was it then, That made you break this enterprize to me? When you durft do it, then you were a man;
4 Would'At thou have that
And live a coward in thine own esteem ;] In this there seems to be no reasoning. I hould read :
Or live a coward in thine own esteem; Unless we choose rather :
- Would'A thou leave that. Johnson. Do you wish to obtain the crown, and yet would you remain such a coward in your own eyes all your life, as to suffer your paltry fears, which whisper, “ I dare not,” to control your noble ambition, which cries out, “ I would ?” Steevens.
s Like the poor cat i' the adage?] The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her feet :
“ Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas." Johnson. 6 Pr’ythee, peace: '&c.] A passage similar to this occurs in Measure for Measure, Act II. sc. ii: .
ir be that you are,
“ That is, a woman : if you're more, you're none." The old copy, instead of do more, reads no more; but the present reading is undoubtedly right. The correction (as Mr. Malone observes) was made by Mr. Rowe.
Steevens. The same sentiment occurs in Beaumont and Fletcher's Rollo:
“ My Rollo, tho’he dares as much as man,
MACB. If we should fail,
7 Did then adhere,] Thus the old copy. Dr. Warburton would read-cohere, not improperly, but without necessity. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mrs. Ford says of Falstaff, that his words and actions “ no more adhere and keep pace together, than” &c.
STEEVENS. So, in a Warning for fair Women, 1599:
- Neither time “ Nor place consorted to my mind.” MALONE. 8 I would, while it was smiling in my face,] Polyxo, in the fifth book of Statius's Thebais, has a similar sentiment of ferocity :
“ In gremio (licet amplexu lachrymisque moretur)
« Transadigam ferro " STEEVENS. I had I fo sworn,] The latter word is here used as a dif. syllable. The editor of the second folio, from his ignorance of our author's phraseology and metre, supposed the line defective, and reads—had I but so sworn; which has been followed by all the subsequent editors. MALONE.
My regulation of the metre renders it unnecessary to read sworn as a diffyllable, a pronunciation, of which I believe there is no example. STEEVENS.
2 We fail!] I am by no means sure that this punctuation is the true one.--" If we fail, we fail,”-is a colloquial phrase ftill in frequent use. Macbeth having casually employed the former part of this sentence, his wife designedly completes it. We fail, and
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
thereby know the extent of our misfortune. Yet our success is cer. tain, if you are refolute.
Lady Macbeth is unwilling to afford her husband time to state any reasons for his doubt, or to expatiate on the obvious consequences of miscarriage in his undertaking. Such an interval for reflection to act in, might have proved unfavourable to her purposes. She therefore cuts him short with the remaining part of a common saying, to which his own words had offered an apt though accidental introduction
This reply, at once cool and determined, is sufficiently characteristick of the speaker :-according to the old punctuation, she is represented as rejecting with contempt (of which she had already manifested enough) the very idea of failure. According to the mode of pointing now suggested, she admits a possibility of mis. carriage, but at the same instant shows herself not afraid of its result. Her answer therefore communicates no discouragement to her husband. We fail! is the hasty interruption of scornful impatience. We fai.—is the calm deduction of a mind which, having weighed all circumstances, is prepared, without loss of confidence in itself, for the worst that can happen. So Hotspur: “ If we fall in, good night:-or fink, or swim.”
Steevens, 3 But screw your courage to the sticking-place,] This is a metaphor from an engine formed by mechanical complication. The stickingplace is the stop which fufpends its powers, till they are discharged on their proper object; as in driving piles, &c. So, in Sir W. Davenant's Cruel Brother, 1630 :
“ -- There is an engine made,
" Will rive an oak.”
« Wrench up thy power to the highest." Perhaps indeed Shakspeare had a more familiar image in view, and took his metaphor from the screwing up the chords of string. ' inftruments to their proper degree of tension, when the peg remains fast in its ficking-place, i. e. in the place from which it is not to move. STEEVENS.
Mr. Steevens's last interpretation is, in my apprehenfion, the true one. Sir W. D'Avenant misunderstood this paisage. By the sticking