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Vaulting ambition, which o'er-leaps itself,
Enter Lady Macbeth.
left the chamber? Macb. Hath he ask'd for me? Lady M.
Know you not, he has ? Macb. We will proceed no further in this busi
ness: He hath honour'd me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people, Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon. Lady M.
Was the hope drunk,
Enter Lady -] The arguments by which Lady Macbeth per. suades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shakspeare'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 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 shown 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. Johnson.
Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since?
What beast was it then,
If we should fail,
We fail !
Then what you
4 Would'st thou have that
And live a coward in thine own esteem ;] Do you wish to obtain the crown, and yet would you remain such a coward in your own eyes all your life, as to suffer your paltry fears, which whisper, “I dare not,” to controul your noble ambition, which cries out, “I would ?" STEEVENS.
· Like the poor cat i the adage?] The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her feet:
“ Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas."
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
Bring forth men-children only!
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,] This is a me. taphor from an engine formed by mechanical complication. The sticking-place is the stop which suspends its powers, till they are discharged on their proper object; as in driving piles, &c.
Will I with wine and wassel so convince, &c.] To convince is, in Shakspeare, to overpower, or subdue. What was anciently called was-haile, (as appears from Selden's notes on the ninth Song of Drayton's Polyolbion) was an annual custom observed in the country on the vigil of the new year; and had its beginning, as some say, from the words which Ronix, daughter of Hengist, used, when she drank to Vortigern, loverd king washeil; he answering her, by direction of an interpreter, drinc-heile. Afterwards it appears that was-haile, and drinc-heil, were the usual phrases of quaffing among the English; but wassel is sometimes used for general riot, intemperance, or festivity. On the present occasion I believe it means intemperance. STEEVENS.
8- the warder of the brain-] A warder is a guard, a sentinel.
9 — the receipt of reason-] i. e. the receptacle.
' A limbeck only:] The limbeck is the vessel through which distilled liquors pass into the recipient. So shall it be with memory; through which every thing shall pass, and nothing remain. ? — 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.
Of his own chamber, and us'd their very daggers,
Who dares receive it other,
I am settled, and bend up Each corporal agent to this terrible feat. Away, and mock the time with fairest show: False face must hide what the false heart doth know.
's Till this instant the mind of Macbeth has been in a state of uncertainty and fluctuation. He has hitherto proved neither resolutely good, nor obstinately wicked. Though a bloody idea had arisen in his mind, after he had heard the prophecy in his favour, yet he contentedly leaves the completion of his hopes to chance. At the conclusion, however, of his interview with Duncan, he inclines to hasten the decree of fate, and quits the stage with an apparent resolution to murder his sovereign. But no sooner is the king under his roof, than, reflecting on the peculiarities of his own relative situation, he determines not to offend against the laws of hospitality, or the ties of subjection, kindred, and gratitude. His wife then assails his constancy afresh. He yields to her suggestions, and, with his integrity, his happiness is destroyed.
I have enumerated these particulars, because the waverings of Macbeth have, by some criticks, been regarded as unnatural and contradictory circumstances in his character; not remembering that nemo repente fuit turpissimus, or that (as Angelo observes)
“ when once our grace we have forgot,
“Nothing goes right; we would, and we would not-" a passage which contains no unapt justification of the changes that happen in the conduct of Macbeth. STEEVENS.
АСТ II. SCENE 1.The same. Court within the Castle.
Enter Banquo and FLEANCE, and a Servant with
a torch before them.
I take't, 'tis later, sir.
in heaven, Their candles are all out. Take thee that too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, And yet I would not sleep: Merciful powers ! Restrain in me the cursed thoughts, that nature Gives way to in repose!0Give me my sword;
4 Scene I.] The place is not marked in the old edition, nor is it easy to say where this encounter can be. It is not in the hall, as the editors have all supposed it, for Banquo sees the sky; it is not far from the bedchamber, as the conversation shows: it must be in the inner court of the castle, which Banquo might properly cross in his way to bed. Johnson.
There's husbandry in heaven,] Husbandry here means thrift, frugality.
O Merciful powers ! &c.] It is apparent from what Banquo says afterwards, that he had been solicited in a dream to attempt something in consequence of the prophecy of the Witches, that his waking senses were shocked at; and Shakspeare has here most exquisitely contrasted his character with that of Macbeth. Banquo is praying against being tempted to encourage thoughts of guilt even in his sleep; while Macbeth is hurrying into temptation, and revolving in his mind every scheme, however flagitious, that may assist him to complete his purpose. The one is unwilling to sleep, lest the same phantoms should assail his resolution again, while the other is depriving himself of rest through impatience to commit the murder.