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is meant by the spy of the time, it will be found difficult to explain; and therefore sense will be cheaply gained by a slight alteration.-Macbeth is assuring the assassins that they shall not want directions to find Banquo, and therefore says,
Acquaint you with a perfect spy o'the time. Accordingly a third murderer joins them afterwards at the place of action.
Perfect is well instructed, or well informed, as in this play,
Though in your state of honour I am perfect: though I am well acquainted with your quality and rank.
seeling night,] i. e. blinding. A term in
99 You know your own degrees, sit down: at first, And last, the hearty welcome.] As this passage stands, not only the numbers are very imperfect, but the sense, if any can be found, weak and contemptible. The numbers will be improved by reading,
-sit down at first,
And last a hearty welcome.
But for last should then be written next. I believe the true reading is,
You know your own degrees, sit down.-To first
All of whatever degree, from the highest to the lowest, may be assured that their visit is well received
Ere human statute purg'd the gentle weal;] The gentle weal, is, the peaceable community, the state made quiet and safe by human statutes.
Mollia securæ peragebant otia gentes. JOHNSON.
Even to the disposition that I owe,] which in plain English is only, You make me just mad. WARBURTON.
You produce in me an alienation of mind, which is probably the expression which our author intended to paraphrase.
I do not think that either of the editors has very successfully explained this passage, which seems to mean,- -You prove to me that I am a stranger, even to my own disposition, when I recollect, the very object that steals the colour from my cheek, permits it to remain in yours. In other words,--You prove to me how false an opinion I have hitherto maintained of my own courage, when yours on the trial is found to exceed it.
Augurs, and understood relations,] Perhaps we should read auguries, i. e. prognostications by means of omens or prodigies. These, together with the connection of effects with causes, being understood (says he), have been instrumental in divulging the most secret murders.
49 Enter HECATE,] Shakspeare has been censured for introducing Hecate among the vulgar witches, and, consequently, for confounding ancient with modern superstitions. He is not however entirely indefensible as to this conduct. Delrio, Disquis. Mag.
lib. 2. quæst. 9. quotes a passage of Apuleius, Lib. de Asino aureo, " de quadam Caupona, regina Sagarum." And adds further," ut scias etiam tum quasdam ab "iis hoc titulo honoratas." In consequence of this information Ben Jonson has introduced a character which he calls a Dame, who presides at the meeting of the Witches,
"Sisters, stay; we want our dame."
The dame accordingly enters, invested with marks of pre-eminence, and the rest pay an implicit obedience to her commands. Shakspeare is therefore to blame only for calling his presiding character Hecate, as it might have been brought on with propriety under any other title whatever.
44 There hangs a vaporous drop profound;] This vaporous drop seems to have been meant for the same as the virus lunare of the ancients, being a foam which the moon was supposed to shed on particular herbs, or other objects, when strongly solicited by enchantment. Lucan introduces Erictho using it. L. 6. -et virus large lunare ministrat.
45 Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.] A cat, from time immemorial, has been the agent and favourite of witches. This superstitious fancy is pagan, and very ancient; and the original, perhaps, this: When Galinthia was changed into a cat by the Fates (says Antonius Liberalis, Metam. cap. 29.), by witches (says Pausanias in his Bootics), Hecate took pity of her, and made her her priestess; in which office she continues to this day. Hecate herself too, when Typhon forced all the gods and
goddesses to hide themselves in animals, assumed the shape of a cat. So Ovid,
Fele soror Phabi latuit.
Thrice; and once the hedge-pig whin'd.
Mr. Theobald reads, twice and once, &c. and observes that odd numbers are used in all enchantments and magical operations. The remark is just, but the passage was misunderstood. The second Witch only repeats the number which the first had mentioned, in order to confirm what she had said; and then adds, that the hedge pig had likewise cried, though but once. Or what seems more easy, the hedge-pig had whined thrice, and after an interval had whined once again. -'Tis time, 'tis time,
This familiar does not cry out that it is time for them to begin their enchantments, but cries, i. e. gives them the signal, upon which the third Witch communicates the notice to her sisters:
Harper cries:-'Tis time, 'tis time. STEEVENS. As this is the chief scene of enchantment in the play, it is proper to observe, with how much judgment Shakspeare has selected all the circumstances of his infernal ceremonies, and how exactly he has conformed to common opinions and traditions.
Thrice the brinded cat hath mcw'd.
The usual form in which familiar spirits are reported to converse with witches, is that of a cat. A witch, who was tried about half a century before the time of Shakspeare, had a cat named Rutterkin, as the spirit of one of those witches was Grimalkin; and when
any mischief was to be done she used to bid Rutterkin go and fly: but once when she would have sent Rutterkin to torment a daughter of the countess of Rutland, instead of going or flying, he only cried mew, from whence she discovered that the lady was out of his power, the power of witches being not universal, but limited, as Shakspeare has taken care to inculcate : Though his bark cannot be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
The common afflictions which the malice of witches produced were melancholy, fits, and loss of flesh, which are threatened by one of Shakspeare's witches: Weary sev'n nights, nine times nine, Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine:
It was likewise their practice to destroy the cattle of their neighbours, and the farmers have to this day many ceremonies to secure their cows and other cattle from witchcraft; but they seem to have been most suspected of malice against swine. Shakspeare has accordingly made one of his witches declare that she has been killing swine, and Dr. Harsenet observes, that about that time, a sow could not be ill of the measles, nor a girl of the sullens, but some old woman was charged with witchcraft.
Toad, that under the cold stone,
Toads have likewise long lain under the reproach of being by some means accessary to witchcraft, for