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Confronted him with self-comparisons,
Point against point rebellious, arm 'gainst arm,
Rosse. That now
Sweno, the Norways' king,' craves composition;
Confronted him with self-comparisons,] By him, in this verse, is meant Norway; as the plain construction of the English requires. And the assistance the thane of Cawdor had given Norway, was underhand; (which Rosse and Angus, indeed, had discovered, but was unknown to Macbeth;) Cawdor being in the court all this while, as appears from Angus's speech to Macbeth, when he meets him to salute him with the title, and insinuates his crime to be lining the rebel with hidden help and 'vantage.
with self-comparisons,] i. e. gave him as good as he brought, shew'd he was his equal. Warburton.
7 That now
Sweno, the Norway's king,] The present irregularity of metre induces me to believe, that-Sweno was only a marginal reference, injudiciously thrust into the text; and that the line originally stood thus:
That now the Norway's king craves composition.
Could it have been necessary for Rosse to tell Duncan the name of his old enemy, the king of Norway? Steevens.
Saint Colmes' inch,] Colmes is to be considered as a
Colmes-inch, now called Inchcomb, is a small island lying in the Firth of Edinburgh, with an abbey upon it, dedicated to St. Columb; called by Cambden Inch Colm, or The Isle of Columba. Some of the modern editors, without authority, read
Saint Colmes'-kill Isle:
but very erroneously; for Colmes' Inch, and Colm-kill, are two different islands; the former lying on the eastern coast, near the place where the Danes were defeated; the latter in the western seas, being the famous Iona, one of the Hebrides.
Holinshed thus relates the whole circumstance: "The Danes that escaped, and got once to their ships, obteined of Makbeth for a great summe of gold, that such of their friends as were slaine, might be buried in Saint Colmes' Inch. In memorie whereof many old sepultures are yet in the said Inch, there to be seene graven with the armes of the Danes." Inch, or Inshe, in the Irish and Erse languages, signifies an island. See Lhuyd's Archæologia. Steevens.
Dun. No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive Our bosom interest:-Go, pronounce his death,9 And with his former title greet Macbeth.
Rosse. I'll see it done.
Dun. What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches.
1 Witch. Where hast thou been, sister?
2 Witch. Killing swine.1
3 Witch. Sister, where thou ?2
1 Witch. A sailor's wife had chesnuts in her lap, And mounch'd, and mounch'd, and mounch'd:
Give me, quoth I:
Aroint thee, witch !3 the rump-fed ronyon1 cries.5
·pronounce his death,] The old copy, injuriously to me
- pronounce his present death. Steevens.
1 Killing swine.] So, in a Detection of damnable Driftes practized by three Witches, &c. arraigned at Chelmisforde in Essex, &c. 1579, bl. l. 12mo. " Item, also she came on a tyme to the house of one Robart Lathburie &c. who dislyking her dealyng, sent her home emptie; but presently after her departure, his bogges fell sicke and died, to the number of twentie." Steevens.
21 Witch. Where hast thou been, sister?
2 Witch. Killing swine,
3 Witch. Sister, where thou?] Thus the old copy; yet I cannot help supposing that these three speeches, collectively taken, were meant to form one verse, as follows:
1 Witch. Where hast been, sister?
3 Witch. If my supposition be well founded, there is as little reason for preserving the useless thou in the first line, as the repetition of sister, in the third. Steevens.
3 Aroint thee, uitch!] Aroint, or avaunt, be gone. Pope.
In one of the folio editions the reading is-Anoint thee, in a sense very consistent with the common account of witches, who are related to perform many supernatural acts, by the means of unguents, and particularly to fly through the air to the places where they meet at their hellish festivals. In this sense, anoint thee, witch, will mean, away, witch, to your infernal_assembly. This reading I was inclined to favour, because I had met with
Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master. o' the Tiger:
the word aroint in no other author; till looking into Hearne's Collections, I found it in a very old drawing, that he has published, in which St. Patrick is represented visiting hell, and putting the devils into great confusion by his presence, of whom one, that is driving the damned before him with a prong, has a label issuing out of his mouth with these words, OUT OUT ARONGT, of which the last is evidently the same with aroint, and used in the same sense as in this passage. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson's memory, on the present occasion, appears to have deceived him in more than a single instance. The subject of the above-mentioned drawing is ascertained by a label affixed to it in Gothie letters. Iesus Christus, resurgens a mortuis spoliat infernum. My predecessor, indeed, might have been misled by an uncouth abbreviation in the Sacred Name.
The words-Out out arongt, are addressed to our Redeemer by Satan, who, the better to enforce them, accompanies them with a blast of the horn he holds in his right hand. Tartareum intendit cornu. If the instrument he grasps in his left hand was meant for a prong, it is of singular make.
Satan is not "driving the damned before him;" nor is any other dæmon present to undertake that office. Redemption, not punishment, is the subject of the piece.
This story of Christ's exploit, in his descensus ad inferos (as Mr. Tyrwhitt has observed in a note on Chaucer, 3512,) is taken from the Gospel of Nicodemus, and was called by our ancestors the barrowinge of belle, under which title it was represented among the Chester Whitsun Playes, MS. Harl. 2013.
Rynt you witch, quoth Besse Locket to her mother, is a North Country proverb. The word is used again in King Lear:
"And aroint thee, witch, aroint thee."
Anoint is the reading of the folio 1664, a book of no authority. Steevens..
the rump-fed ronyon -] The chief cooks in noblemen's families, colleges, religious houses, hospitals, &c. anciently claimed the emoluments or kitchen fees of kidneys, fat, trotters, rumps, &c. which they sold to the poor. The weird sister in this scene, as an insult on the poverty of the woman who had called her witch, reproaches her poor abject state, as not being able to procure better provision than offals, which are considered as the refuse of the tables of others. Colepeper.
So, in The Ordinance for the Government of Prince Edward, 1474, the following fees are allowed:-"mutton's heades, the rumpes of every beefe," &c. Again, in The Ordinances of the Household of George Duke of Clarence: " the hinder shankes of the mutton, with the rumpe, to be feable."
Again, in Ben Jonson's Staple of News, old Penny-boy says to the cook :
* See Ectypa Varia &c. Studio et cura Thomæ Hearne, &c. 1737. Steevens.
But in a sieve I'll thither sail,6
And, like a rat without a tail,7
"And then remember meat for my two dogs;
Again, in Wit at several Weapons, by Beaumont and Fletcher:
"With kidneys, rumps, and cues of single beer." In The Book of Haukynge, &c. (commonly called The Book of St. Albans) bl. 1. no date, among the proper terms used in kepyng of baukes, it is said: "The hauke tyreth upon rumps." Steevens. 5 ronyon cries.] i. e. scabby or mangy woman. Fr. rogneux, royne, scurf. Thus Chaucer, in The Romaunt of the Rose, p. 551:
"Withouten bleine, or scabbe, or roine." Shakspeare uses the substantive again in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and the adjective-roynish, in As you Like it. Steevens. 6 in a sieve I'll thither sail,] Reginald Scott, in his Dis. covery of Witchcraft, 1584, says it was believed that witches "could sail in an egg shell, a cockle or muscle shell, through and under the tempestuous seas. 99 Again, says Sir W. D'Avenant, in his Albovine, 1629:
"He sits like a witch sailing in a sieve."
Again, in Newes from Scotland: Declaring the damnable Life of Doctor Fian a notable Sorcerer, who was burned at Edinbrough in Fanuarie last, 1591; which Doctor was Register to the Devill, that sundrie Times preached at North Baricke Kirke, to a Number of notorious Witches. With the true Examination of the said Doctor and Witches, as they uttered them in the presence of the Scottish King Discovering how they pretended to bewitch and drowne bis Majestie in the Sea comming from Denmarke, with other such wonderful Matters as the like hath not bin beard at anie Time. Published according to the Scottish Copie. Printed for William Wright: " - and that all they together went to sea, each one in a riddle or cive, and went in the same very substantially with flaggons of wine, making merrie and drinking by the way in the same riddles or cives," &c. Dr. Farmer found the title of this scarce pamphlet in an interleaved copy of Maunsell's Catalogue, &c. 1595, with additions by Archbishop Harsenet and Thomas Baker the Antiquarian. It is almost needless to mention that I have since met with the pamphlet itself. Steevens.
7 And, like a rat without a tail,] It should be remembered, (as it was the belief of the times,) that though a witch could assume the form of any animal she pleased, the tail would still be wanting.
The reason given by some of the old writers, for such a deficiency, is, that though the hands and feet, by an easy change,
I'll do, I'll do, and I 'll do.8
2 Witch. I'll give thee a wind.9 1 Witch. Thou art kind.
3 Witch. And I another.
1 Witch. I myself have all the other; And the very ports they blow,1
All the quarters that they know
might be converted into the four paws of a beast, there was still
no part about a woman which corresponded with the length of tail common to almost all our four-footed creatures.
I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do.
I' the shipman's card.-
Show me, show me.
Thus do go about, about ;- -] As I cannot help supposing this scene to have been uniformly metrical when our author wrote it, in its present state I suspect it to be clogged with interpolations or mutilated by omissions.
Want of corresponding rhymes to the foregoing lines induce me to hint at vacuities which cannot be supplied, and intrusions which (on the bare authority of conjecture) must not be expelled.
Were even the condition of modern transcripts for the stage understood by the public, the frequent accidents by which a poet's meaning is depraved, and his measure vitiated, would need no illustration. Steevens.
9 I'll give thee a wind.] This free gift of a wind is to be considered as an act of sisterly friendship, for witches were supposed to sell them. So, in Summer's last Will and Testament, 1600: in Ireland and Denmark both,
"Witches for gold will sell a man a wind,
"Which in the corner of a napkin wrap'd,
"Shall blow him safe unto what coast he will."
Drayton, in his Moon-calf, says the same. It may be hoped, however, that the conduct of our witches did not resemble that of one of their relations, as described in an Appendix to the old translation of Marco Paolo, 1579: "- they demanded that he should give them a winde; and he shewed, setting his handes behinde, from whence the wind should come," &c. Steevens.
1 And the very ports they blow,] As the word very is here of no other use than to fill up the verse, it is likely that Shakspeare wrote various, which might be easily mistaken for very, being either negligently read, hastily pronounced, or imperfectly heard. Johnson.
The very ports are the exact ports. Very is used here (as in a thousand instances which might be brought) to express the declaration more emphatically.
Instead of ports, however, I had formerly read points; but erroneously. In ancient language, to blow sometimes means to blow upon. So, in Dumain's Ode in Love's Labour's Lost: