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It has been already mentioned, in the law against witches, that they are supposed to take up dead bodies to use in enchantments, which was confessed by the woman whom king James examined; and who had of a dead body, that was divided in one of their assemblies, two fingers for her share. It is observable, that Shakspeare, on this great occasion, which involves the fate of a king; multiplies all the circumstances of horror. The babe, whose finger is used, must be strangled in its birth; the grease must not only be human, but must have dropped from a gibbet, the gibbet of a murderer; and even the sow, whose blood is used, must have offended nature by devouring her own farrow. These are touches of judgment and genius.
"And now about the cauldron sing,
"Black spirits and white,
"Red spirits and grey,
"Mingle, mingle, mingle,
"You that mingle may."
And, in a former part:
"weird sisters, hand in hand,
"Thus do go about, about;
"Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
"And thrice again, to make up nine!"
These two passages I have brought together, because they both seem subject to the objection of too much levity for the solemnity of enchantment, and may both be shown, by one quotation from Camden's account of Ireland, to be founded upon a practice really observed by the uncivilised natives of that country: "When any one gets a fall, says the informer of Camden, he starts up, and turning three times to the right, digs a hole in the earth; for they imagine that there is a spirit in the ground, and if he falls sick in two or three days, they send one of their women that is skilled in that way to the place, where she says, I call thee from the east, west, north, and south, from the groves, the woods, the rivers, and the fens, from the fairies, red, black, white." There was likewise a book written before the time of Shakspeare, describing, amongst other properties, the colours of spirits.
Many other circumstances might be particularised, in which Shakspeare has shown his judgment and his knowledge. JOHNS. Line 11. Double, double toil and trouble;] As this was a
very extraordinary incantation, they were to double their pains
about it. Line 24.
-maw, and gulf,] The gulf is the swallow, the
-ravin'd salt-sea shark;] Ravin'd means glutted.
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse;] To sliver means to cut a piece, to divide.
Line 30. Nose of Turk, and Tartar's lips ;] These ingredients in all probability owed their introduction to the detestation in which the Saracens were held, on account of the holy wars.
Line 34. Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,] Chaudron, i. e. entrails.
STEEVENS. -yesty waves-] That is, foaming or frothy waves. JOHNSON.
63. Though castles topple-] Topple is used for tumble. STEEVENS.
-67. Of nature's germins-] Germins, i. e. seeds, from germe, French. Line 82.
deftly show.] i. e. dexterously, adroitly.
83. An apparition of an armed head rises.] The armed head represents symbolically Macbeth's head cut off and brought to Malcolm by Macduff. The bloody child is Macduff untimely ripp'd from his mother's womb. The child with a crown on his head, and a bough in his hand, is the royal Malcolm, who ordered his soldiers to hew them down a bough, and bear it before them to Dunsinane. This observation I have adopted from Mr. Upton. STEEV. Line 108. -the round
And top of sovereignty?] This round is that part of the crown that encircles the head. The top is the ornament that rises above it. Line 117. Who can impress the forest ;] i. e. who can command the forest to serve him like a soldier impress'd. JOHNSON.
Line 134. eight kings—] It is reported that Voltaire often laughs at the tragedy of Macbeth, for having a legion of ghosts in it. One should imagine he either had not learned English, or had forgot his Latin; for the spirits of Banquo's line are no more ghosts, than the representations of the Julian race in the Æneid; and
there is no ghost but Banquo's throughout the play. Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare. Mrs. MONTAGUE.
Line 136. Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls:] The expression of Macbeth, that the crown sears his eye-balls, is taken from the method formerly practised of destroying the sight of captives or competitors, by holding a burning bason before the eye, which dried up its humidity. JOHNSON.
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first:
A third is like the former :] As Macbeth expected to see a train of kings, and was only enquiring from what race they would proceed, he could not be surprised that the hair of the second was bound with gold like that of the first; he was offended only that the second resembled the first, as the first resembled Banquo, and therefore said,
-and thy air,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
This Dr. Warburton has followed.
Line 146. That two-fold balls and treble sceptres carry:] This was intended as a compliment to king James the first, who first united the two islands and the three kingdoms under one head; whose house too was said to be descended from Banquo. WARB. Line 148. —the blood-bolter'd Banquo-] i, e. besmeared or begrimed with blood.
cheer we up his sprights,] i. e. his spirits. -175. Time, thou anticipat'st my dread exploits :] To anticipate is here to prevent, by taking away the opportunity. JOHNS.
ACT IV. SCENE II.
natural touch.] Natural sensibility. He is not
touched with natural affection.
-when we are traitors,
And do not know ourselves;] i. e. we think ourselves innocent, the government thinks us traitors; therefore we are ignorant of ourselves. This is the ironical argument. WARB. when we hold rumour
From what we fear,] To hold rumour signifies to be governed by the authority of rumour. WARBURTON.
Sirrah, your father's dead;] Sirrah was not formerly
used as a term of reproach, as at present.
Line 273. To do worse to you were fell cruelty,] To do worse is, to let her and her children be destroyed without warning,
ACT IV. SCENE III.
Line 299. Bestride our down-fal'n birthdom:] The allusion is to a man from whom something valuable is about to be taken by violence, and who, that he may defend it without incumbrance, lays it on the ground, and stands over it with his weapon in his hand. Our birthdom, or birth right, says he, lies on the ground; let us, like men who are to fight for what is dearest to them, not - abandon it, but stand over it and defend it. This is a strong picture of obstinate resolution. JOHNSON.
Line 318. A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge.] A good mind may recede from goodness in the execution of a royal commission. JOHNSON. Line 322. Though all things foul, &c.] The meaning perhaps is this:-My suspicions cannot injure you, if you be virtuous, by supposing that a traitor may put on your virtuous appearance. I do not say that your virtuous appearance proves you a traitor; for virtue must wear its proper form, though that form be often counterfeited by villany. JOHNSON. Line 328. Why in that rawness- -] Without previous provision, without due preparation, without maturity of counsel.
-Wear thou thy wrongs- -] That is, Poor
country, wear thou thy wrongs.
Line 339. Thy title is affeer'd!] i. e. confirmed.
-400. -foysons-] Plenty.
-and the chance, of goodness,
Be like our warranted quarrel!] i. e. And may success of that goodness, which is about to exert itself in my behalf, be such as may be equal to the justice of my quarrel.
-convinces- -] i. e. overpowers, subdues.
-494. A modern ecstacy:] Modern is foolish or trifling.
–should not latch them.] To latch
country dialect) signifies the same as to catch.
fee-grief,] A peculiar sorrow; a
(in the North
grief that hath
Line 531. a single owner. The expression is, at least to our ears, very harsh.
Line 545. Were, on the quarry of these murder'd deer,] Quarry is a term used both in hunting and falconry. In either of these diversions it means the death of the game. STEEVENS.
Line 560. He has no children.] It has been observed by an anonymous critick, that this is not said of Macbeth, who had children, but of Malcolm, who having none, supposes a father can be so easily comforted. JOHNSON. Line 564. At one fell swoop?] Swoop is the fall of a bird of prey upon his quarry.
Line 565. Dispute it like a man.] i. e. contend with your pre sent sorrow like a man. STEEVENS.
Line 591. Put on their instruments.] i. e. encourage, thrust forward us their instruments, against the tyrant.
ACT V. SCENE I.
Line 47. You mar all with this starting.] Alluding to Macbeth's terrors at the sight of Banquo's ghost.
Line 82. My mind she has mated,] Astonished, confounded.
ACT V. SCENE II,
Line 90. Excite the mortified man.] By the mortified man, is meant a religious; one who has subdued his passions, is dead to the world, has abandoned it, and all the affairs of it: an Ascetic. WARBURTON.
unrough youths,] i. e. unbearded youths.
-114. When all that is within him does condemn
Itself, for being there ?] That is, when all the facul
ties of the mind are employed in self-condemnation.
ACT V. SCENE III.
Line 124. Bring me no more reports; &c.] Tell me not any more of desertions-Let all my subjects leave me—. —I am safe till, &c.