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[Transcriber’s note: There are two footnote systems in use in this section. The numbered footnotes in square brackets, [1], [2], etc, are those of the editor, and are to be found at the end of the section. The lettered footnotes in round brackets, (a), (b), etc, are Johnson’s, and are to be found at the end of each Note.]


_Enter three Witches._

In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the opinions of his contemporaries. A poet, who should now make the whole action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds of probability; he would be banished from the theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of tragedies; but a survey of the notions, that prevailed at the time when this play was written, will prove, that Shakespeare was in no danger of such censures, since he only turned the system that was then universally admitted to his advantage, and was far from over-burdening the credulity of his audience.

The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not strictly the same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been credited by the common people, and in most by the learned themselves[1]. These phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance has been more gross; but it cannot be shown, that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time, in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantment or diabolical opposition, as they ascribe their success to the assistance of their military saints; and the learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Supplement to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by those who returned from their eastern expeditions. But there is always some distance between the birth and maturity of folly, as of wickedness: this opinion had long existed, though, perhaps, the application of it had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception so general. Olympiodorus, in Photius’s Extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who practised this kind of military magick, and having promised [Greek: choris hopliton kata barbaron energein], _to perform great things against the barbarians without soldiers_, was, at the instances of the emperess Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. The emperess showed some kindness in her anger by cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.

But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found in St. Chrysostom’s book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments, not exceeded by any romance of the middle age; he supposes a spectator, overlooking a field of battle, attended by one that points out all the various objects of horrour, the engines of destruction, and the arts of slaughter. [Greek: Deiknuto de eti para tois enantiois kai petomenous hippous dia tinos manganeias kai hoplitas di aeros pheromenous, kai pasaen goaeteias dunamin kai hidean.]_Let him then proceed to show him in the opposite armies horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of magick_. Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such performances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that, therefore, they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age; the wars with the Saracens, however, gave occasion to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was removed to a greater distance, and distance, either of time or place, is sufficient to reconcile weak minds to wonderful relations.

The reformation did not immediately arrive at its meridian, and though day was gradually increasing upon us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover in the twilight. In the time of queen Elizabeth was the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon at Huntingdon. But in the reign of king James, in which this tragedy was written, many circumstances concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. The king, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, had, before his arrival in England, not only examined in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given a very formal account of the practices and illusions of evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the justice of punishing them, in his dialogues of _Daemonologie_, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his accession, reprinted at London; and, as the ready way to gain king James’s favour was to flatter his speculations, the system of _Daemonologie_ was immediately adopted by all who desired either to gain preferment or not to lose it. Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very powerfully inculcated; and as the greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than that they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and credulity co-operated in its favour, and it had a tendency to free cowardice from reproach. The infection soon reached the parliament, who, in the first year of king James, made a law, by which it was enacted, chap. xii. That, “if any person shall use any invocation or conjuration of any evil or wicked spirit; 2. or shall consult, covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose; 3. or take up any dead man, woman or child out of the grave,–or the skin, bone or any part of the dead person, to be employed or used in any manner of witchcraft, sorcery, charm or enchantment; 4. or shall use, practise or exercise any sort of witchcraft, sorcery, charm or enchantment; 5. whereby any person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, pined or lamed in any part of the body; 6. That every such person, being convicted, shall suffer death.” This law was repealed in our time.

Thus, in the time of Shakespeare, was the doctrine of witchcraft at once established by law and by the fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, to doubt it; and as prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected, witches were every day discovered, and multiplied so fast in some places, that bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where their number was greater than that of the houses[2]. The Jesuits and Sectaries took advantage of this universal errour, and endeavoured to promote the interest of their parties by pretended cures of persons afflicted by evil spirits; but they were detected and exposed by the clergy of the established church.

Upon this general infatuation Shakespeare might be easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has followed with great exactness such histories as were then thought true; nor can it be doubted that the scenes of enchantment, however they may now be ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience thought awful and affecting[3].


–The merciless Macdonal,–from the western isles
Of _Kernes_ and _Gallowglasses_ was supply’d;
And fortune on his damned _quarry_ smiling,
Shew’d like a rebel’s whore.–
_Kernes_ are light-armed, and _Gallowglasses_ heavy-armed soldiers. The word _quarry_ has no sense that is properly applicable in this place, and, therefore, it is necessary to read,

And fortune on his damned _quarrel_ smiling.

_Quarrel_ was formerly used for _cause_, or for _the occasion of a quarrel_, and is to be found in that sense in Hollingshed’s account of the story of Macbeth, who, upon the creation of the prince of Cumberland, thought, says the historian, that he had _a just quarrel_ to endeavour after the crown. The sense, therefore, is, _fortune smiling on his execrable cause, &c_.

If I say sooth, I must report, they were
As cannons overcharg’d with double cracks.
So they redoubled strokes upon the foe.
Mr. Theobald has endeavoured to improve the sense of this passage by altering the punctuation thus:

–They were
As cannons overcharg’d; with double cracks
So they redoubled strokes.–
He declares, with some degree of exultation, that he has no idea of _a cannon charged with double cracks_; but, surely, the great author will not gain much by an alteration which makes him say of a hero, that he _redoubles strokes with double cracks_, an expression not more loudly to be applauded, or more easily pardoned, than that which is rejected in its favour. That a _cannon is charged with thunder_ or _with double thunders_ may be written, not only without nonsense, but with elegance: and nothing else is here meant by _cracks_, which in the time of this writer was a word of such emphasis and dignity, that in this play he terms the general dissolution of nature the _crack of doom_.

There are among Mr. Theobald’s alterations others which I do not approve, though I do not always censure them; for some of his amendments are so excellent, that, even when he has failed, he ought to be treated with indulgence and respect.

_King_. But who comes here?

_Mal_. The worthy Thane of Rosse.

_Len_. What haste looks through his eyes?

So should he look, that _seems_ to speak things strange. The meaning of this passage, as it now stands, is, _so should he look, that looks as if he told things strange_. But Rosse neither yet told strange things, nor could look as if he told them; Lenox only conjectured from his air that he had strange things to tell, and, therefore, undoubtedly said,
–What haste looks through his eyes?
So should he look, that _teems_ to speak things strange.
He looks like one that _is big_ with something of importance; a metaphor so natural, that it is every day used in common discourse.


[Thunder. Enter the three Witches.]

_1 Witch_. Where hast thou been, sister?

_2 Witch_. Killing swine.

_3 Witch_. Sister, where thou?
_1 Witch_.
A sailor’s wife had chesnuts in her lap,
And mouncht, and mouncht, and mouncht. Give me, quoth I.
(a) Aroint thee, witch!–the rump-fed ronyon cries.
Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tyger:
But in a sieve I’ll thither sail,
And like a rat without a tail,
I’ll do–I’ll do–and I’ll do.
_2 Witch_. I’ll give thee a wind.

_1 Witch_. Thou art kind.

_3 Witch_. And I another.
_1 Witch_.
I myself have all the other.
And the (b) very points they blow;
All the quarters that they know,
I’ th’ ship-man’s card.–
I will drain him dry as hay,
Sleep shall neither night nor day,
Hang upon his pent-house lid;
He shall live a man (c) forbid;
Weary sev’n nights, nine times nine,
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine;
Tho’ his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
Look, what I have.
_2 Witch_. Shew me, Shew me.
(a) Aroint thee, witch! In one of the folio editions the reading is _anoint thee_, in a sense very consistent with the common accounts of witches, who are related to perform many supernatural acts by the means of unguents, and particularly to fly through the air to the place 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 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 from 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.

(b) And the _very_ points they blow.

As the word _very_ is here of no other use than to fill up the verse, it is likely that Shakespeare wrote _various_, which might be easily mistaken for _very_, being either negligently read, hastily pronounced, or imperfectly heard.

(c) He shall live a man _forbid_.

Mr. Theobald has very justly explained _forbid_ by _accursed_, but without giving any reason of his interpretation. To _bid_ is originally _to pray_, as in this Saxon fragment:

[Anglo-Saxon: He is wis thaet bit g bote,] &c.

He is wise that _prays_ and makes amends.

As to _forbid_, therefore, implies to _prohibit_, in opposition to the word _bid_, in its present sense, it signifies by the same kind of opposition to _curse_, when it is derived from the same word in its primitive meaning.


The incongruity of all the passages, in which the Thane of Cawdor is mentioned, is very remarkable; in the second scene the Thanes of Rosse and Angus bring the king an account of the battle, and inform him that Norway,
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor
The Thane of Cawdor, ‘gan a dismal conflict.
It appears that Cawdor was taken prisoner, for the king says, in the same scene,
–Go, pronounce his death;
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
Yet though Cawdor was thus taken by Macbeth, in arms against his king, when Macbeth is saluted, in the fourth scene, _Thane of Cawdor_, by the Weird Sisters, he asks,
But how, of Cawdor? the Thane of Cawdor lives.
A prosp’rous gentleman;–
And in the next line considers the promises, that he should be Cawdor and King, as equally unlikely to be accomplished. How can Macbeth be ignorant of the state of the Thane of Cawdor, whom he has just defeated and taken prisoner, or call him a _prosperous gentleman_ who has forfeited his title and life by open rebellion? Or why should he wonder that the title of the rebel whom he has overthrown should be conferred upon him? He cannot be supposed to dissemble his knowledge of the condition of Cawdor, because he inquires with all the ardour of curiosity, and the vehemence of sudden astonishment; and because nobody is present but Banquo, who had an equal part in the battle, and was equally acquainted with Cawdor’s treason. However, in the next scene, his ignorance still continues; and when Rosse and Angus present him from the king with his new title, he cries out,
–The Thane of Cawdor lives;
Why do you dress me in his borrow’d robes?
Rosse and Angus, who were the messengers that, in the second scene, informed the king of the assistance given by Cawdor to the invader, having lost, as well as Macbeth, all memory of what they had so lately seen and related, make this answer,
–Whether he was
Combin’d with Norway, or did line the rebel
With hidden help and ‘vantage, or with both
He labour’d in his country’s wreck, I know not.
Neither Rosse knew what he had just reported, nor Macbeth what he had just done. This seems not to be one of the faults that are to be imputed to the transcribers, since, though the inconsistency of Rosse and Angus might be removed, by supposing that their names are erroneously inserted, and that only Rosse brought the account of the battle, and only Angus was sent to compliment Macbeth, yet the forgetfulness of Macbeth cannot be palliated, since what he says could not have been spoken by any other.
My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man,–
The _single state of man_ seems to be used by Shakespeare for an _individual_, in opposition to a _commonwealth_, or _conjunct body_ of men.
–Come what come may,
_Time and the hour_ runs through the roughest day.
I suppose every reader is disgusted at the tautology in this passage, _time and the hour_, and will, therefore, willingly believe that Shakespeare wrote it thus,
–Come what come may,
Time! on!–the hour runs thro’ the roughest day.
Macbeth is deliberating upon the events which are to befall him; but finding no satisfaction from his own thoughts, he grows impatient of reflection, and resolves to wait the close without harassing himself with conjectures:

–Come what come may.

But, to shorten the pain of suspense, he calls upon time, in the usual style of ardent desire, to quicken his motion,

Time! on!–

He then comforts himself with the reflection that all his perplexity must have an end,

–The hour runs thro’ the roughest day.

This conjecture is supported by the passage in the letter to his lady, in which he says, _They referr’d me to the_ coming on of time _with, Hail, King that shall be._

–Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it. He dy’d,
As one that had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he _ow’d_,
As ’twere a careless trifle.

As the word _ow’d_ affords here no sense, but such as is forced and unnatural, it cannot be doubted that it was originally written, The dearest thing he _own’d_; a reading which needs neither defence nor explication.
–There’s no art,
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
The _construction of the mind_ is, I believe, a phrase peculiar to Shakespeare; it implies the _frame_ or _disposition_ of the mind, by which it is determined to good or ill.



The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness’ part
Is to receive our duties; and our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants;
Which do but what they should, by doing _every thing
Safe tow’rd your love and honour_.
Of the last line of this speech, which is certainly, as it is now read, unintelligible, an emendation has been attempted, which Dr. Warburton and Mr. Theobald have admitted as the true reading:

–our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants,
Which do but what they should, in doing every thing
_Fiefs_ to your love and honour.
My esteem for these criticks, inclines me to believe, that they cannot be much pleased with the expressions, _Fiefs to love_, or _Fiefs to honour_; and that they have proposed this alteration, rather because no other occurred to them, than because they approved it. I shall, therefore, propose a bolder change, perhaps, with no better success, but “sua cuique placent.” I read thus,

–our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants,
Which do but what they should, in doing _nothing,
Save_ tow’rd _your love and honour_.
We do but perform our duty, when we contract all our views to your service, when we act with _no other_ principle than regard to _your love and honour_.

It is probable that this passage was first corrupted by writing _safe_ for _save_, and the lines then stood thus:
–doing nothing
Safe tow’rd your love and honour.
Which the next transcriber observing to be wrong, and yet not being able to discover the real fault, altered to the present reading.




–Thou’dst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, “thus thou must do, if thou have _it_;
And that,” &c.

As the object of Macbeth’s desire is here introduced speaking of itself, it is necessary to read,

–thou’dst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, “thus thou must do, if thou have _me_.”

–Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth _seem_
To have thee crown’d withal.
For _seem_, the sense evidently directs us to read _seek_. The crown to which fate destines thee, and which preternatural agents _endeavour_ to bestow upon thee. The _golden round_ is the _diadem_.

Lady Macbeth.
–Come, all you spirits
That tend on _mortal thoughts_, unsex me here;
And fill me, from the crown to th’ toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood,
Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse;
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor _keep peace_ between
Th’ effect and it!
–Mortal thoughts,–

This expression signifies not _the thoughts of mortals_, but _murderous, deadly_, or _destructive designs_. So in Act v.

Hold fast the _mortal_ sword.

And in another place,

With twenty _mortal_ murthers.

–Nor keep _peace_ between
Th’ effect and it!–
The intent of Lady Macbeth evidently is to wish that no womanish tenderness, or conscientious remorse, may hinder her purpose from proceeding to effect; but neither this, nor indeed any other sense, is expressed by the present reading, and, therefore, it cannot be doubted that Shakespeare wrote differently, perhaps, thus:

That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor _keep pace_ between
Th’ effect and it.
To _keep pace between_, may signify to _pass between_, to _intervene_. Pace is, on many occasions, a favourite of Shakespeare. This phrase, is indeed, not usual in this sense; but was it not its novelty that gave occasion to the present corruption?


This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.

This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his lov’d mansionry, that heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutty frieze,
Buttrice, nor coigne of ‘vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle:
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observ’d,
The air is delicate.
In this short scene, I propose a slight alteration to be made, by substituting _site_ for _seat_, as the ancient word for situation; and _sense_ for _senses_, as more agreeable to the measure; for which reason likewise I have endeavoured to adjust this passage,

–heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutty frieze,

by changing the punctuation and adding the syllable thus,

–heaven’s breath
Smells wooingly. Here is no jutty frieze.
Those who have perused books, printed at the time of the first editions of Shakespeare, know that greater alterations than these are necessary almost in every page, even where it is not to be doubted, that the copy was correct.


The arguments by which Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shakespeare’s knowledge 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 housebreaker, 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;
Who dares do more is none.
This topick, 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 Shakespeare, whose plan obliged him to make Macbeth yield, has not confuted, though he might easily have shown that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter.

Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage.
The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish but dares not wet her foot.

Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas.

Will I with wine and wassel so convince.

To convince is, in Shakespeare, to _overpower_ or _subdue_, as in this play:

–Their malady _convinces_
The great assay of art.

–Who shall bear the guilt
Of our great _quell_?
_Quell_ is _murder, manquellers_ being, in the old language, the term for which _murderers_ is now used.


–Now o’er one half the world
(a)_Nature seems dead_, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; now witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecat’s offerings: and wither’d murther,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
_With (b)Tarquin’s ravishing sides_ tow’rds his design
Moves like a ghost.–Thou sound and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my where-about;
_And (c)take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it_.–

(a)–Now o’er one half the world
Nature seems dead.

That is, _over our hemisphere all action and motion seem to have ceased_. This image, which is, perhaps, the most striking that poetry can produce, has been adopted by Dryden, in his Conquest of Mexico.
All things are hush’d as Nature’s self lay dead,
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head:
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat,
And sleeping flowers beneath the night dews sweat.
Even lust and envy sleep!
These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, that the contrast between them and this passage of Shakespeare may be more accurately observed.

Night is described by two great poets, but one describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation. In the night of Dryden, all the disturbers of the world are laid asleep; in that of Shakespeare, nothing but sorcery, lust, and murder, is awake. He that reads Dryden, finds himself lulled with serenity, and disposed to solitude and contemplation. He that peruses Shakespeare, looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone. One is the night of a lover; the other, that of a murderer.
(b)–Wither’d murder,
–thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin’s ravishing _sides_ tow’rds his design,
Moves like a ghost.–
This was the reading of this passage in all the editions before that of Mr. Pope, who for _sides_, inserted in the text _strides_, which Mr. Theobald has tacitly copied from him, though a more proper alteration might, perhaps, have been made. A _ravishing stride_ is an action of violence, impetuosity, and tumult, like that of a savage rushing on his prey; whereas the poet is here attempting to exhibit an image of secrecy and caution, of anxious circumspection and guilty timidity, the _stealthy pace_ of a _ravisher_ creeping into the chamber of a virgin, and of an assassin approaching the bed of him whom he proposes to murder, without awaking him; these he describes as _moving like ghosts_, whose progression is so different from _strides_, that it has been in all ages represented to be, as Milton expresses it,

Smooth sliding without step.

This hemistich will afford the true reading of this place, which is, I think, to be corrected thus:
–and wither’d murder,
–thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin ravishing, _slides_ tow’rds his design,
Moves like a ghost.
Tarquin is, in this place, the general name of a ravisher, and the sense is: Now is the time in which every one is asleep, but those who are employed in wickedness, the witch who is sacrificing to Hecate, and the ravisher, and the murderer, who, like me, are stealing upon their prey.

When the reading is thus adjusted, he wishes with great propriety, in the following lines, that the _earth_ may not _hear his steps_.
(c) And take the present horror from the time.
Which now suits with it.–
I believe every one that has attentively read this dreadful soliloquy is disappointed at the conclusion, which, if not wholly unintelligible, is at least obscure, nor can be explained into any sense worthy of the author. I shall, therefore, propose a slight alteration,
–Thou sound and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my where-about,
And _talk_–the present horror of the time!–
That now suits with it.–
Macbeth has, in the foregoing lines, disturbed his imagination by enumerating all the terrours of the night; at length he is wrought up to a degree of frenzy, that makes him afraid of some supernatural discovery of his design, and calls out to the stones not to betray him, not to declare where he walks, nor _to talk_.–As he is going to say of what, he discovers the absurdity of his suspicion, and pauses, but is again overwhelmed by his guilt, and concludes that such are the horrours of the present night, that the stones may be expected to cry out against him:

_That_ now suits with it.

He observes in a subsequent passage, that on such occasions _stones have been known to move_. It is now a very just and strong picture of a man about to commit a deliberate murder, under the strongest convictions of the wickedness of his design.


The night has been unruly; where we lay
Our chimneys were blown down: and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’th’air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion, and confused events,
_New-hatch’d to the woeful time_.
The obscure bird clamour’d the live-long night:
Some say, the earth was fev’rous, and did shake.

These lines, I think, should be rather regulated thus:

–prophesying with accents terrible,
Of dire combustion and confused events.
New-hatch’d to th’woeful time, the obscure bird
Clamour’d the live-long night. Some say, the earth
Was fev’rous and did shake.
A _prophecy_ of an _event new-hatch’d_, seems to be _a prophecy_ of an _event past_. The term _new-hatch’d_ is properly applicable to a _bird_, and that birds of ill omen should be _new-hatch’d to the woeful time_ is very consistent with the rest of the prodigies here mentioned, and with the universal disorder into which nature is described as thrown, by the perpetration of this horrid murder.

–Up, up, and see
The great doom’s image, Malcolm, Banquo,
As from your graves rise up.–
The second line might have been so easily completed, that it cannot be supposed to have been left imperfect by the author, who probably wrote,

–Malcolm! Banquo! rise!
As from your graves rise up.–
Many other emendations, of the same kind, might be made, without any greater deviation from the printed copies, than is found in each of them from the rest.

–Here, lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
And his gash’d stabs look’d like a breach in nature,
For ruin’s wasteful entrance: there, the murtherers
Steep’d in the colours of their trade, their daggers
_Unmannerly breech’d with gore_.–
An _unmannerly dagger_, and a _dagger breech’d_, or as in some editions _breach’d with gore_, are expressions not easily to be understood, nor can it be imagined that Shakespeare would reproach the murderer of his king only with _want of manners_. There are, undoubtedly, two faults in this passage, which I have endeavoured to take away by reading,

_Unmanly drench’d_ with gore.–
_I saw_ drench’d _with the king’s Mood the fatal daggers, not only instruments of murder but evidences of_ cowardice.

Each of these words might easily be confounded with that which I have substituted for it by a hand not exact, a casual blot, or a negligent inspection.

Mr. Pope has endeavoured to improve one of these lines, by substituting _goary blood_ for _golden blood_, but it may easily be admitted, that he who could on such an occasion talk of _lacing the silver skin_, would _lace it_ with _golden blood_. No amendment can be made to this line, of which every word is equally faulty, but by a general blot.

It is not improbable, that Shakespeare put these forced and unnatural metaphors into the mouth of Macbeth, as a mark of artifice and dissimulation, to show the difference between the studied language of hypocrisy, and the natural outcries of sudden passion. This whole speech, considered in this light, is a remarkable instance of judgment, as if consists entirely of antitheses and metaphors.


–Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that, which would be fear’d. ‘Tis much he dares,
And to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety. There is none but he,
Whose being I do fear: and, under him,
My genius is rebuk’d; (a)_as, it is said,
Anthony’s was by Caesar_. He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of king upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then, prophet-like,
They hail’d him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they plac’d a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If ’tis so,
For Banquo’s issue have I ‘fil’d my mind;
For them, the gracious Duncan have I murther’d,
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the (b)_common enemy of man_,
To make them kings,–the seed of Banquo kings.
Rather than so, come fate into the list,
(c)And champion me to th’ _utterance_!–

(a)–As, it is said,
Anthony’s was by Caesar.

Though I would not often assume the critick’s privilege, of being confident where certainty cannot be obtained, nor indulge myself too far, in departing from the established reading; yet I cannot but propose the rejection of this passage, which, I believe, was an insertion of some player, that, having so much learning as to discover to what Shakespeare alluded, was not willing that his audience should be less knowing than himself, and has, therefore, weakened the author’s sense by the intrusion of a remote and useless image into a speech bursting from a man wholly possessed with his own present condition, and, therefore, not at leisure to explain his own allusions to himself. If these words are taken away, by which not only the thought but the numbers are injured, the lines of Shakespeare close together without any traces of a breach.

My genius is rebuk’d. He chid the sisters.

(b)–The common enemy of man.

It is always an entertainment to an inquisitive reader, to trace a sentiment to its original source, and, therefore, though the term enemy of man, applied to the devil, is in itself natural and obvious, yet some may be pleased with being informed, that Shakespeare probably borrowed it from the first lines of the Destruction of Troy, a book which he is known to have read.

That this remark may not appear too trivial, I shall take occasion from it to point out a beautiful passage of Milton, evidently copied from a book of no greater authority: in describing the gates of hell, Book ii. v.879, he says,
–On a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Th’ infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
Harsh thunder.
In the history of Don Bellianis, when one of the knights approaches, as I remember, the castle of Brandezar, the gates are said to open, _grating harsh thunder upon their brazen hinges_.
(c)–Come fate into the list,
And champion me to th’ utterance.–
This passage will be best explained by translating it into the language from whence the only word of difficulty in it is borrowed. _Que la destinee se rende en lice, et qu’elle me donne un defi_ a l’outrance. A challenge or a combat _a l’outrance, to extremity_, was a fixed term in the law of arms, used when the combatants engaged with an _odium internecinum, an intention to destroy each other_, in opposition to trials of skill at festivals, or on other occasions, where the contest was only for reputation or a prize. The sense, therefore, is, Let fate, that has fore-doomed the exaltation of the sons of Banquo, enter the lists against me, with the utmost animosity, in defence of its own decrees, which I will endeavour to invalidate, whatever be the danger.

Ay, in the catalogue, ye go for men;
As hounds, and grey-hounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demy-wolves are cleped
All by the name of dogs.
Though this is not the most sparkling passage in the play, and though the name of a dog is of no great importance, yet it may not be improper to remark, that there is no such species of dogs as _shoughs_ mentioned by Caius De Canibus Britannicis, or any other writer that has fallen into my hands, nor is the word to be found in any dictionary which I have examined. I, therefore, imagined that it is falsely printed for _slouths_, a kind of slow hound bred in the southern parts of England, but was informed by a lady, that it is more probably used, either by mistake, or according to the orthography of that time, for _shocks_.

–In this hour, at most,
I will advise you where to plant yourselves;
Acquaint you with the perfect spy o’th’time,
The moment on’t; for’t must be done to-night,
And something from the palace.–
What 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,

I will– _Acquaint you with_ a perfect spy _o’th’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_.


2 Murderer.
He needs not to mistrust, since he delivers
Our offices and what we have to do,
To the direction just.
Mr. Theobald has endeavoured unsuccessfully to amend this passage, in which nothing is faulty but the punctuation. The meaning of this abrupt dialogue is this: The _perfect spy_, mentioned by Macbeth in the foregoing scene, has, before they enter upon the stage, given them the directions which were promised at the time of their agreement; and, therefore, one of the murderers observes, that, since _he has given them such exact information, he needs not doubt of their performance_. Then, by way of exhortation to his associates, he cries out,

–To the direction just.

_Now nothing remains but that we conform exactly to Macbeth’s directions_.


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
And last the hearty welcome.
_All of whatever degree, from the highest to the lowest, may be assured that their visit is well received_.

_Macbeth._–There’s blood upon thy face.

[–_To the murderer, aside at the door_.]

_Murderer_. ‘Tis Banquo’s then.
_Macbeth_. ‘Tis better thee without, than _he_ within.
The sense apparently requires that this passage should be read thus:

‘Tis better thee without, than _him_ within.

That is, _I am more pleased that the blood of Banquo should be on thy face, than in his body_.

Lady Macbeth.
O proper stuff!
This is the very painting of your fear:
[Aside to Macbeth.]
This is the air-drawn dagger, which, you said,
Led you to Duncan. Oh, these flaws and starts,
_Impostures to true fear_, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authoriz’d by her grandam. Shame itself!
Why do you make such faces? When all’s done,
You look but on a stool.
As _starts_ can neither with propriety nor sense be called _impostures to true fear_, something else was undoubtedly intended by the author, who, perhaps, wrote,

–These flaws and starts,
_Impostures true to fear_, would well become
A woman’s story.–

These symptoms of terrour and amazement might better become _impostors true_ only _to fear, might become a coward at the recital of such falsehoods, as no man could credit, whose understanding was not weakened by his terrours; tales, told by a woman over a fire on the authority of her grandam_.

–Love and health to all!
Then I’ll sit down: give me some wine, fill full:–
I drink to the general joy of the whole table,
And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss;
Would he were here! to all, and him, we thirst,
_And all to all_.–

Though this passage is, as it now stands, capable of more meanings than one, none of them are very satisfactory; and, therefore, I am inclined to read it thus:

–to all, and him, we thirst,
_And hail to all_.
Macbeth, being about to salute his company with a bumper, declares that he includes Banquo, though absent, in this act of kindness, and wishes _health_ to all. _Hail_ or _heil_ for _health_ was in such continual use among the good-fellows of ancient times, that a drinker was called a _was-heiler_, or a _wisher of health_, and the liquor was termed _was-heil_, because _health_ was so often _wished_ over it. Thus in the lines of Hanvil the monk,
Jamque vagante scypho, discincto gutture _was-heil_
Ingeminant _was-heil_: labor est plus perdere vini
Quam sitis.–

These words were afterwards corrupted into _wassail_ and _wassailer_.


_Macbeth_.--Can such things be,
            And overcome us, like a summer's cloud,
            Without our special wonder? You make me strange
            Even to the disposition that I _owe_,
            When now I think, you can behold such sights,
            And keep the natural ruby of your cheek,
            When mine is blanched with fear.


This passage, as it now stands, is unintelligible, but may be restored to sense by a very slight alteration:
–You make me strange
Ev’n to the disposition that I _know_.
_Though I had before seen many instances of your courage, yet it now appears in a degree altogether_ new. _So that my long_ acquaintance _with your_ disposition _does not hinder me from that astonishment which_ novelty _produces_.

It will have blood, they say, blood will have blood,
Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;
Augurs, that understand relations, have
By magpies, and by choughs, and rooks, brought forth
The secret’st man of blood.–
In this passage the first line loses much of its force by the present punctuation. Macbeth having considered the prodigy which has just appeared, infers justly from it, that the death of Duncan cannot pass unpunished;

It will have blood:–

then, after a short pause, declares it as the general observation of mankind, that murderers cannot escape:

–they say, blood will have blood.

Murderers, when they have practised all human means of security, are detected by supernatural directions:

Augurs, that understand relations, &c.

By the word _relation_ is understood the _connexion_ of effects with causes; to _understand relations_ as _an augur_, is to know how those things _relate_ to each other, which have no visible combination or dependence.


_Enter Lenox and another Lord_.

As this tragedy, like the rest of Shakespeare’s, is, perhaps, overstocked with personages, it is not easy to assign a reason, why a nameless character should be introduced here, since nothing is said that might not, with equal propriety, have been put into the mouth of any other disaffected man. I believe, therefore, that in the original copy, it was written, with a very common form of contraction, _Lenox and An_. for which the transcriber, instead of Lenox and Angus, set down, Lenox and _another Lord_. The author had, indeed, been more indebted to the transcriber’s fidelity and diligence, had he committed no errours of greater importance.

As this is the chief scene of enchantment in the play, it is proper, in this place, to observe, with how much judgment Shakespeare 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 mew’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 Shakespeare, 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 Shakespeare 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 Shakespeare’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. Shakespeare 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,
Days and nights hast thirty-one,
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Toads have, likewise, long lain under the reproach of being by some means accessary to witchcraft, for which reason Shakespeare, in the first scene of this play, calls one of the spirits Padocke, or Toad, and now takes care to put a toad first into the pot. When Vaninus was seized at Tholouse, there was found at his lodgings, “ingens bufo vitro inclusus,” _a great toad shut in a vial_, upon which those that prosecuted him “veneficium exprobrabant,” _charged him_, I suppose, _with witchcraft_.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt, and toe of frog;–For a charm, &c.
The propriety of these ingredients may be known by consulting the books De Viribus Animalium and De Mirabilibus Mundi, ascribed to Albertus Magnus, in which the reader, who has time and credulity, may discover very wonderful secrets.

Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-deliver’d by a drab–
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 Shakespeare, on this great occasion, which involves the fate of a king, multiplies all the circumstances of horrour. 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 uncivilized 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 Shakespeare, describing, amongst other properties, the _colours_ of spirits.

Many other circumstances might be particularized, in which Shakespeare has shown his judgment and his knowledge[4].


Macbeth. Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo; down! Thy crown does (a)sear mine eye-balls:–and thy (b)_hair_, Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first:– A third is like the former.

(a) 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. Whence the Italian, _abacinare, to blind_.

(b) As Macbeth expected to see a train of kings, and was only inquiring 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.

I will–give to the edge o’ th’ sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That _trace him in his line_.–No boasting like a fool:
This deed I’ll do before my purpose cool.
Both the sense and measure of the third line, which, as it rhymes, ought, according to the practice of this author, to be regular, are, at present, injured by two superfluous syllables, which may easily be removed by reading,
That trace his line:–No boasting like a fool.

My dearest cousin,
I pray you, school yourself: But for your husband,
He’s noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
The fits o’th’time, I dare not speak much further,
But cruel are the times when we are traitors,
And do not know’t ourselves, when we (a)_hold rumour
From what we fear_, yet know not what we fear;
But float upon a wild and violent sea,
Each way, and (b)_move_. I’ll take my leave of you:
Shall not be long but I’ll be here again:
Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward
To what they were before: my pretty cousin,
Blessing upon you!

(a)–When we hold rumour
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.
The present reading seems to afford no sense; and, therefore, some critical experiments may be properly tried upon it, though, the verses being without any connexion, there is room for suspicion, that some intermediate lines are lost, and that the passage is, therefore, irretrievable. If it be supposed that the fault arises only from the corruption of some words, and that the traces of the true reading are still to be found, the passage may be changed thus:
–when we _bode ruin_
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.

Or, in a sense very applicable to the occasion of the conference:

–when the _bold, running_
From what they fear, yet know not what they fear.

(b) But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way, and move.
That he who _floats_ upon a _rough sea_ must move, is evident, too evident for Shakespeare so emphatically to assert. The line, therefore, is to be written thus:

Each way, and move–I’ll take my leave of you.

Rosse is about to proceed, but, finding himself overpowered by his tenderness, breaks off abruptly, for which he makes a short apology, and retires.



  _Malcolm_. Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there
             Weep our sad bosoms empty.
  _Macduff_. Let us rather
             Hold fast the mortal sword; and, like good men,
             Bestride our _downfal birth-doom_: each new morn,
             New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
             Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
             As if it felt with Scotland, and yell'd out
             Like syllables of dolour.


He who can discover what is meant by him that earnestly exhorts him to _bestride_ his _downfal birth-doom_, is at liberty to adhere to the present text; but those who are willing to confess that such counsel would to them be unintelligible, must endeavour to discover some reading less obscure. It is probable that Shakespeare wrote:
–like good men,
Bestride our _downfall’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 encumbrance, lays it on the ground, and stands over it with his weapon in his hand. Our birthdom, or birthright, 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.

_Birthdom_ for _birthright_ is formed by the same analogy with _masterdom_ in this play, signifying the _privileges_ or _rights of a master_.

Perhaps it might be _birth-dame_ for _mother_; let us stand over our mother that lies bleeding on the ground.

Now we’ll together; and the _chance of goodness_
Be like our warranted quarrel!
The _chance of goodness_, as it is commonly read, conveys no sense. If there be not some more important errour in the passage, it should, at least, be pointed thus:

–And the chance, of goodness,
Be like our warranted quarrel!
That is, may the event be, of the goodness of heaven, [_pro justicia divina_,] answerable to the cause.

But I am inclined to believe that Shakespeare wrote,
–and the chance, O goodness,
Be like our warranted quarrel!
This some of his transcribers wrote with a small _o_, which another imagined to mean _of_. If we adopt this reading, the sense will be, _and O! thou sovereign goodness, to whom we now appeal, may our fortune answer to our cause._

Bring me no more reports, let them fly all,
Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane,
I cannot taint with fear. What’s the boy Malcolm?
Was he not born of woman?–
–fly false thanes,
And mingle with the English epicures.
In the first line of this speech, the proper pauses are not observed in the present editions.

Bring me no more reports–let them fly all–

Tell me not any more of desertions–Let all my subjects leave me–I am safe till, &c.

The reproach of epicurism, on which Mr. Theobald has bestowed a note, is nothing more than a natural invective, uttered by an inhabitant of a barren country, against those who have more opportunities of luxury.

I have liv’d long enough: my _way_ of life
Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf.
As there is no relation between the _way of life_, and _fallen into the sear_, I am inclined to think, that the _W_ is only an _M_ inverted, and that it was originally written, my _May_ of life.

I am now passed from the spring to the autumn of my days, but I am without those comforts that should succeed the sprightliness of bloom, and support me in this melancholy season.


‘Tis his main hope:
For where there is _advantage to be given_,
Both more and less have given him the revolt;
And none serve with him but constrained things,
Whose hearts are absent too.
The impropriety of the expression _advantage to be given_, instead of _advantage given_, and the disagreeable repetition of the word _given_ in the next line incline me to read,
–where there is _a’vantage_ to be _gone_,
Both more and less have given him the revolt.
_Advantage_ or _’vantage_, in the time of Shakespeare, signified _opportunity_.

_More and less_ is the same with _greater and less_. So in the interpolated Mandeville, a book of that age, there is a chapter of India the more and the less.



  _Macbeth_.--Wherefore was that cry?
  _Seyton_. The queen, my lord, is dead.
  _Macbeth_. She should (a)have, died hereafter:
             There would have been a time for such a _word_.
             To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
             Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
             To the last syllable of (b)recorded time;
             And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
             The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
             Life's but a walking shadow.--


(a) She should have died hereafter,
There would have been a time for such a _word_.


This passage has very justly been suspected of being corrupt. It is not apparent for what _word_ there would have been a _time_, and that there would or would not be a _time_ for any _word_, seems not a consideration of importance sufficient to transport Macbeth into the following exclamation. I read, therefore:
She should have died hereafter,
There would have been a time for–such a _world!_–
To-morrow, &c.
It is a broken speech, in which only part of the thought is expressed, and may be paraphrased thus: The queen is dead. _Macbeth_. Her death should have been deferred to some more peaceful hour; had she lived longer, _there would at length have been a time for_ the honours due to her as a queen, and that respect which I owe her for her fidelity and love. Such is the _world_–such is the condition of human life, that we always think _to-morrow_ will be happier than to-day; but to-morrow and to-morrow steals over us unenjoyed and unregarded, and we still linger in the same expectation to the moment appointed for our end. All these days, which have thus passed away, have sent multitudes of fools to the grave, who were engrossed by the same dream of future felicity, and, when life was departing from them, were, like me, reckoning on to- morrow.

(b) To the last syllable of recorded time.

_Recorded time_ seems to signify the time fixed in the decrees of heaven for the period of life. The _record_ of _futurity_ is, indeed, no accurate expression, but as we only know transactions past or present, the language of men affords no term for the volumes of prescience, in which future events may be supposed to be written.

If thou speak’st false.
Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
Till famine cling thee: if thy speech be sooth,
I care not if thou dost for me as much.–
I _pull_ in resolution; and begin
To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend,
That lies like truth: “Fear not till Birnam wood
Do come to Dunsinane,” and now a wood
Comes toward Dunsinane.

I _pull_ in resolution.–
Though this is the reading of all the editions, yet as it is a phrase without either example, elegance, or propriety, it is surely better to read:

I _pall_ in resolution.–

_I languish in my constancy, my confidence begins to forsake me._ It is scarcely necessary to observe how easily _pall_ might be changed into _pull_ by a negligent writer, or mistaken for it by an unskilful printer.

Had I as many sons as I have hairs,
I would not wish them to a fairer death:
And so his knell is knoll’d.
This incident is thus related from Henry of Huntingdon, by Camden, in his Remains, from which our author probably copied it.

When Siward, the martial Earl of Northumberland, understood that his son, whom he had sent in service against the Scotchmen, was slain, he demanded whether his wound were in the fore part or hinder part of his body. When it was answered in the fore part, he replied, “I am right glad; neither wish I any other death to me or mine.”

* * * * *

After the foregoing pages were printed, the late edition of Shakespeare, ascribed to Sir Thomas Hanmer, fell into my hands; and it was, therefore, convenient for me to delay the publication of my remarks, till I had examined whether they were not anticipated by similar observations, or precluded by better. I, therefore, read over this tragedy, but found that the editor’s apprehension is of a cast so different from mine, that he appears to find no difficulty in most of those passages which I have represented as unintelligible, and has, therefore, passed smoothly over them, without any attempt to alter or explain them.

Some of the lines with which I had been perplexed, have been, indeed, so fortunate as to attract his regard; and it is not without all the satisfaction which it is usual to express on such occasions, that I find an entire agreement between us in substituting [see Note II.] _quarrel_ for _quarry_, and in explaining the adage of the cat, [Note XVII.] But this pleasure is, like most others, known only to be regretted; for I have the unhappiness to find no such conformity with regard to any other passage.

The line which I have endeavoured to amend, Note XI. is, likewise, attempted by the new editor, and is, perhaps, the only passage in the play in which he has not submissively admitted the emendations of foregoing criticks. Instead of the common reading,
–Doing every thing
_Safe_ towards your love and honour,

he has published,

–Doing every thing
_Shap’d_ towards your love and honour.
This alteration, which, like all the rest attempted by him, the reader is expected to admit, without any reason alleged in its defence, is, in my opinion, more plausible than that of Mr. Theobald: whether it is right, I am not to determine.

In the passage which I have altered in Note XL. an emendation is, likewise, attempted in the late edition, where, for,
–and the chance _of_ goodness
Be like our warranted quarrel,
is substituted–and the chance _in_ goodness–whether with more or less elegance, dignity, and propriety, than the reading which I have offered, I must again decline the province of deciding.

Most of the other emendations which he has endeavoured, whether with good or bad fortune, are too trivial to deserve mention. For surely the weapons of criticism ought not to be blunted against an editor, who can imagine that he is restoring poetry, while he is amusing himself with alterations like these: for,
–This is the sergeant,
Who like a good and hardy soldier fought;
–This is the sergeant, who
Like a _right_ good and hardy soldier fought.


–Dismay’d not this
Our captains Macbeth and Banquo?–Yes;

–Dismay’d not this
Our captains _brave_ Macbeth and Banquo?–Yes.
Such harmless industry may, surely, be forgiven, if it cannot be praised: may he, therefore, never want a monosyllable, who can use it with such wonderful dexterity.

Rumpatur quisquis rumpitur invidia!

The rest of this edition I have not read, but, from the little that I have seen, think it not dangerous to declare that, in my opinion, its pomp recommends it more than its accuracy. There is no distinction made between the ancient reading, and the innovations of the editor; there is no reason given for any of the alterations which are made; the emendations of former criticks are adopted without any acknowledgment, and few of the difficulties are removed which have hitherto embarrassed the readers of Shakespeare.

I would not, however, be thought to insult the editor, nor to censure him with too much petulance, for having failed in little things, of whom I have been told, that he excels in greater. But I may, without indecency, observe, that no man should attempt to teach others what he has never learned himself; and that those who, like Themistocles, have studied the arts of policy, and “can teach a small state how to grow great,” should, like him, disdain to labour in trifles, and consider petty accomplishments as below their ambition.[5]

[1] “To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery, is, at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testament: and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath, in its turn, borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well-attested, or by prohibitory laws, which, at least, suppose the possibility of commerce with evil spirits.” Blackstone, Commentaries iv. 60. The learned judge, however, concludes with calling it a “dubious crime,” and approves the maxim of the philosophic Montesquieu, whom no one would lightly accuse of superstition, that “il faut etre tres circonspect dans la poursuite de la magie et de l’heresie.” Esprit des Lois, xii. 5. Selden attempted to justify the punishing of witchcraft capitally. Works, iii. 2077. See Spectator, 117. Barrington’s Ancient Statutes, 407.

[2] In Nashe’s Lenten Stuff, 1599, it is said, that no less than six hundred witches were executed at one time. Reed.–Boswell’s Shakespeare, xi. 5. Dr. Grey, in his notes on Hudibras, mentions, that Hopkins the noted witch-finder hanged sixty suspected witches in one year. He also cites Hutchinson on Witchcraft for thirty thousand having been burnt in 150 years. _See Barrington on Ancient Statutes_.

[3] Johnson’s apprehensions here are surely unfounded. The region of Fancy, however, in his mind, was very circumscribed. Mrs. Montague’s chapter on Shakespeare’s Preternatural Beings, in her excellent Essay, will repay perusal. See too Schlegel on Dramatic Literature.

[4] Compare the Incantations of the Erichtho of Lucan, the Canidie of Horace, the Cantata of Salvator Rosa, “all’ incanto all’ incante,” and the Eumenides of AEschylus. The Gothic wildness of Shakespeare’s “weird sisters” will thence be better appreciated.–Ed.

[5] These excellent observations extorted praise from the supercilious Warburton himself. In the Preface to his Shakespeare, published two years after the appearance of Johnson’s anonymous pamphlet, he thus alludes to it: “As to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakespeare, (if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius,) the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.” According to Boswell, Johnson ever retained a grateful remembrance of this distinguished compliment; “He praised me,” said he, “at a time when praise was of value to me.” Boswell, I. Johnson affixed to this tract, proposals for a Shakespeare in 10 volumes, 18mo. price, to subscribers, 1_l_ 5_s_. in sheets, half-a-guinea of which moderate sum was to be deposited at the time of subscription. The following fuller proposals were published in 1756; but they were not realized until the lapse of nine years from that period. Boswell, I.–Ed.

[The end]
Samuel Johnson’s essay: Observations On The Tragedy Of Macbeth