Page images

'Tis safer to be that which we destroy, Than, by destruction, dwell in doubtful joy.

Enter MACBETH. How now, my lord ? why do you keep alone, Of sorriest fancies! your companions making? Using those thoughts, which should indeed have died With them they think on? Things without remedy,? Should be without regard: what 's done, is done.

Macb. We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it; She 'll close, and be herself; whilst our poor malice Remains in danger of her former tooth. But let The frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,


For a few words. Madam, I will. All's spent, is a complete verse.

There is sufficient reason to suppose the metre of Shakspeare was originally uniform and regular. His frequent exactness in making one speaker complete the verse which another had left imperfect, is too evident to need exemplification. Sir T. Hanmer was aware of this, and occasionally struggled with such metrical difficulties as occurred; though for want of familiarity with ancient language, he often failed in the choice of words to be rejected or supplied. Steevens.

-sorriest foncies – ] i. e. worthless, ignoble, vile. So, in Otbello:

“ I have a salt and sorry rheum offends me.” Sorry, huwever, might signify sorrowful, melancholy, dismal. So, in The Comedy of Errors:

“ The place of death and sorry execution.” Again, in the play before us, (as Mr. M. Mason observes) Macbeth says,

-“ This is a sorry sight." Steevens.

Things without remedy,] The old copy-all remedy. But surely, as Sir T. Hanmer thinks, the word all is an inter. polation, hurtful to the metre, without improvement of the øense. The same thought occurs in King Richard II, Act II, Things past redress, are now with me past care.” Steevens.

scotch'd —) Mr. Theobald -Fol. scorchid. Fobnson. Scotch'd is the true reading. So, in Coriolanus, Act IV, sc. v: he scotch'd him and notch'd him like a carbonado."

Steevens, 4 But let

The frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,] The old copy reads thus, and I have followed it, rejecting the modern contraction, which was:


sc. iii:


Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams,
That shake us nightly: Better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our place, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy.. Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestick, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further!

Lady M. Come on;
Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial 'mong your guests to-night.

Macb. So shall I, love; and so, I pray, be you :
Let your remembrance? apply to Banquo;
Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue:
Unsafe the while, that we
Must lave our honours in these battering streams;

But let hoth worlds disjoint, and all things suffer.
The same idea occurs in Hamlet :

“ That borb the worlds 1 give to negligence.” Steevens.
5 W bom we, to gain our place, bave sent to peace,] The old


copy reads:

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Whom we, to gain our peace – For the judicious correction-place, we are indebted to the second folio. Steevens.

6 In restless ecstasy.] Ecstasy, for madness. Warburton. Ecstasy, in its general sense, signifies any violent emotion of the mind. Here it means the emotions of pain, agony. So, in Marlowe's Tumburlaine, P. I:

Griping our bowels with retorquèd thoughts,

“ And have no hope to end our extasies." Again, Milton, in his ode on The Nativity:

" In pensive trance, and anguish, and ecstatic fit.”
Thus also Chapman, in his version of the last lliad, where
he describes the distracting sorrow of Achilles :

Although he saw the morn
" Shew sea and shore his extasie." Steevens.

- remembrance -- ] is here employed as a quadrisyllable. So, in Twelfth Night:

“ And lasting in her sad remembrance". Steevens. 8 Present bim eminence,] i. e. do him the highest honours,


[ocr errors]


And make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disgnising what they are.
Lady M.

You must leave this.
Macb. O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife
Thou know'st, that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives.

Lady M. But in them nature's copy's not eterne.?

9 Unsafe the wbile, that are

Must lave our bonours in these flattering streams;
And make our faces vizards to our bearts,

Disguising wbut they are.] The sense of this passage (though clouded by metaphor, and perhaps by omission) appears to be as follows:- It is a sure sign that our royalty is unsafe, wben it must descend to flattery, and stoop to dissimulation.

And yet I cannot help supposing (from the hemistich, unsafe tbe while that we) some words to be wanting which originally rendered the sentiment less obscure. Shakspeare might have written

Unsafe the while it is for us, that we &c. By a different arrangement in the old copy, the present he. mistich, indeed, is avoided; but, in my opinion, to the disad. vantage of the other lines. See former editions. Steevens.

nature's copy's not eterne.] The copy, the lease, by which they hold their lives from nature, has its time of termination limited. Johnson.

Fterne for eternal is often used by Chaueer. So, in The Knight's Tale, Mr. Tyrwhitt's edit. v. 1305:

O cruel goddes, that governe
“ This world with binding of your word eterne,
" And writen in the table of athamant

“Your parlement and your eterne grant." Steevens. Dr. Johnson's interpretation is supported by a subsequent passage in this play:

- and our high-plac'd Macbeth
“ Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath

« To time and mortal custom. Again, by our author's 13th Sonnet:

“ So should that beauty which you hold in lease,

“ Find no determination.” Malone. I once thought that by “ Nature's copy" &c. our author meant (to use a Scriptural phrase) man, as formed after the Deity, though not, like him, immortal. So, in K. Henry VIII

- how shall man,

The image of his maker, hope to thrive by 't?" Or, as Milton expresses the same idea, Comus, v. 69:

the human countenance, “Th’express resemblance of the gods But, (as Mr. M. Mason observes) in support of Dr. Johnson's explanation, we find that Macbeth, in his next speech but one,


[ocr errors]

Macb. There's comfort yet; they are assailable; Then be thou jocund: Ere the bat hath flown His cloister'd fight;2 ere, to black Hecate's summons, The shard-borne beetle,3 with his drowsy hums,


alluding to the intended murder of Banquo and Fleance, says:

“ Cancel, and tear to pieces, that great bond

“ That keeps me pale.” Mr. M. Mason, however, adds, that by “nature's copy," Shakspeare might only mean—the human form divine. Steevens.

The allusion is to an estate for lives held by copy of court-roll. It is clear, from numberless allusions of the same kind, that Shakspeare had been an attorney's clerk. Ritson.

the bat bath flown His cloister'd flight;] The bats wheeling round the dim cloisters of Queen's College, Cambridge, have frequently impressed on me the singular propriety of this original epithet.

Steevens. Bats are often seen flying round cloisters, in the dusk of the evening, for a considerable length of time. Malore.

3 The shard-borne beetle,] i. e. the beetle hatched in clefts of wood So, in Antony and Cleopatra:

" They are his shards, and he their beetle.Warburton. The shard-borne beetle is the beetle borne along the air by its shards or scaly wings. From a passage in Gower, De Confessione Amantis, it appears that shards signified scales :

" She sigh, her thought, a dragon tho,

"" Whose scherdes shynen as the sonne.” L. VI, fol. 138. and hence the upper or outward wings of the beetle were called shards, they being of a scaly substance. To have an outward pair of wings of a scaly hardness, serving as integuments to a filmy pair beneath them, is the characteristick of the beetle kind. Ben Jonson, in his Sad Shepherd, says

• The scaly beetles with their habergeons,

“ That make a humming murmur as they fly." In Cymbeline, Shakspeare applies this epithet again to the beetle :

we find

“ The sharded beetle in a safer hold

“ Than is the full-wing'd eagle.” Here there is a manifest opposition intended between the wings and fight of the insect and the bird. The beetle, wbose sharded wings can but just raise him above the ground, is often in a state of greater security than the vast-winged eagle, that can soar to any beigbt.

As Shakspeare is here describing the beetle in the act of fiying, (for he never makes his humning noise but when he flies) it

Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done

is more natural to suppose the epithet should allude to the peculiarity of his wings, than to the circumstance of his origin, or his place of habitation, both of which are common to him with several other creatures of the insect kind.

Such another description of the beetle occurs in Chapman's Eugenia, 4to. 1614:

The beetle
there did raise
“With his Irate wings his most unwieldie paise;
“ And with his knollike bumming gave the dor
of a

f death to men It is almost needless to say, that the word irate, in the second line, must be a corruption.

The quotation from Antony and Cleopatra, seems to make against Dr. Warburton's explanation.

The meaning of Ænobarbus, in that passage, is evidently as follows: Lepidus, says he, is the beetle of the triumvirate, a dull, blind creature, that would but crawl on the earth, if Octavius and Antony, bis more active colleagues in power, did not serve him for shards or wings to raise him a little above the ground.

What idea is afforded, if we say that Octavius and Antony are two clefts in the old wood in which Lepidus was hatihed?

Steevens. The shard-born beetle is the beetle born in dung. Aristotle and Pliny mention beetles that breed in dung. Poets as well as natural historians have made the same observation. See Dray. ton's Ideas, 31: “ I scorn all earthly dung-bred scarabies.” So, Ben Jonson, Whalley's edit Vol. J, p. 59:

“ But men of thy condition feed on sloth,

“ As doth the beetle on the dung she breeds in." That sbard signifies dung, is well known in the North of Staffordshire, where cowsbard is the word generally used for cowdung. So, in A petite Palace of Pettie bis Pleasure, p. 165; “ The humble bee taketh no scorn to loge on a cowe's foule sbard.” Again, in Bacon's Natural History exp. 775: “ Turf and peat, and cow sbeards, are cheap fuels, and last long.'

Sbarded beetle, in Cymbeline, means the beetle lodged in dung: and there the humble earthly abode of the beetle is opposed to the lofty eyry of the eagle in “ the cedar, whose top branch overpeer'd Jove's spreading tree,” as the poet observes, in The Third Part of King Henry VI, Act V, sc. ii. Tollet.

The sbard-born beetle is, perhaps, the beetle born among shards, i. e. (not cow's dung, for that is only a secondary or metonymical signification of the word, and not even so, generally, but) pieces of broken pots, tiles, and such-like things, which are frequently thrown together in corners as rubbish, and under which these beetles may usually breed, or (what is the same) may have been supposed so to do.

« PreviousContinue »