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"had in great trust, had tolde, that he should neuer "be slain with man borne of any woman, nor vanquished "till the wood of Bernane came to the castell of "Dunsinane." p. 244. And the scene between Malcolm and Macduff in the fourth act is almost literally taken from the Chronicle.
12 Sinel's death,] The father of Macbeth. POPE.
As thick as tale,
Can post with post;
which perhaps is not amiss, meaning that the news came as thick as a tale can travel with the post. Or we may read, perhaps yet better,
As thick as tale,
Came post with post ;
That is, posts arrived as fast as they could be counted.
Is smother'd in surmise; and nothing is,
But what is not.] All powers of action are oppressed and crushed by one overwhelming image in the mind, and nothing is present to me, but that which is really future. Of things now about me I have no perception, being intent wholly on that which has yet no existence.
But I have spoke
With one that saw him die :] The behaviour of the Thane of Cawdor corresponds in almost every circumstance with that of the unfortunate earl of Essex, as related by Stowe, p. 793. His asking the queen's
forgiveness, his confession, repentance, and concern about behaving with propriety on the scaffold, are minutely described by that historian. Such an allusion could not fail of having the desired effect on an audience, many of whom were eye witnesses to the severity of that justice which deprived the age of one of its greatest ornaments, and Southampton, Shakspeare's patron, of his dearest friend.
16 The raven himself is hoarse,] Dr. Warburton reads,
The raven himself's not hoarse,
Yet I think the present words may stand. The messenger, says the servant, had hardly breath to make up his message; to which the lady answers mentally, that he may well want breath, such a message would add hoarseness to the raven. That even the bird, whose harsh voice is accustomed to predict calamities, could not croak the entrance of Duncan but in a note of unwonted harshness.
Hold fast the mortal sword.
17 -mortal thoughts,] This expression signifies not the thoughts of mortals, but murtherous, deadly, or destructive designs. So in act 5.
And in another place,
With twenty mortal murthers. 18 -nature's mischief!] Nature's mischief is mischief done to nature, violation of nature's order committed by wickedness. JOHNSON.
19 To cry, Hold! hold!] On this passage there is a long criticism in the Rambler.
To cry, Hold! hold!
The thought is taken from the old military laws, which inflicted capital punishment upon "whosoever shall "strike stroke at his adversary, either in heat or "otherwise, if a third do cry hold, to the intent to
part them; except that they did fight a combat in 66 a place inclosed: and then no man shall be so "hardy as to bid hold, but the general." P. 264 of Mr. Bellay's Instructions for the Wars, translated in 1589.
20 Great Glamis ! worthy Cawdor !] Shakspeare has supported the character of lady Macbeth by repeated efforts, and never omits any opportunity of adding a trait of ferocity, or a mark of the want of human feelings, to this monster of his own creation. The softer passions are more obliterated in her than in her husband, in proportion as her ambition is greater. She meets him here on his return from an expedition of danger with such a salutation as would have become one of his friends or vassals; a salutation apparently fitted rather to raise his thoughts to a level with her own purposes, than to testify her joy at his return, or manifest an attachment to his person: nor does any sentiment expressive of love or softness fall from her throughout the play. While Macbeth himself in the midst of the horrors of his guilt still retains a character less fiend-like than that of his queen, talks to her with a degree of tenderness, and pours his complaints and fears into her bosom, accompanied with terms of endearment.
21-coigne of vantage] Convenient corner.
22 We rest your hermits.] Hermits, for beadsmen.
That is, we as hermits shall always pray for
23 If the assassination, &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 successfully, 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, 66 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 "judgment is pronounced and vengeance inflicted 66 upon us here in our present life. We teach others "to do as we have done, and are punished by our 66 own example."
24 Enter Lady MACBETH.] The arguments by which lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shakspeare's know
ledge 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 ;
This topic, 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 sophistry 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 shewn 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.
25 Like the poor cat i' the adage ?] The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her foot, Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas.