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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". NOTE III.
ACT I. SCENE II.
-The merciless Macdonal,-from the western isles
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 &c.
If I say sooth, I must report, they were
So they redoubled strokes upon the foe.
Dr. Grey, in his notes on Hudibras, mentions, that Hopkins the noted witchfinder 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 Antient Statutes
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.
Mr. Theobald has endeavoured to improve the sense of this passage by altering the punctuation thus:
As cannons overcharg'd; with double cracks
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.
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,
(1) Aroint thee, witch!— the rump-fed ronyon cries.
3 Witch. And I another.
1 Witch. I myself have all the other.
I will drain him dry as hay,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
Look, what I have.
2 Witch. Shew me, Shew me.
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
(3) 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:
He ir pir bit 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.
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