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ACT I. SCENE I.
LINE 4. When the battle's lost and won:] i. e, the battle in which Macbeth was then engaged.
Line 10. Paddock calls:-&c.] Paddock in the north signifies a frog, or toad.
Line 11. Fair is foul, and foul is fair :] The meaning is, that to us, perverse and malignant as we are, fair is foul, and foul is fair.
ACT I. SCENE II.
Line 28. 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 Holinshed's account of the story of Macbeth, who, at 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.
JOHNSON. Line 43. Discomfort swells.] Discomfort, the natural opposite to comfort.
JOHNSON. Line 54.
they were As cannons overcharg'd with double cracks; So they redoubled strokes] The word crack was in the time of this writer a word of such emphasis and dignity, that in this play he terms the general dissolution of nature the crack of doom.
JOHNSON. Line 74. -flout the sky,] This poetical image of banners mocking or beating the air, as in defiance, is very fine.
Line 80. with self-comparisons,] i. e. gave him as good as he brought, shew'd he was his equal.
ACT I. SCENE III.
Line 103. 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 places 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 of 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.
JOHNSON. Line 103. -ronyon cries.] i. e. scabby or mangy woman. Fr. rogneur, royne, scurf.
STEEVENS. Line 106. And, like a rat without a tail,] It should be remembered (as it was the belief of the times) that though a witch could assume the form of any animal she pleased, the tail would still be wanting.
The reason given by some of the old writers, for such a deficiency, is, that though the hands and feet, by an easy change, might be converted into the four paws of a beast, there was still no part about a woman which corresponded with the length of tail common to almost all four-footed creatures.
STEEVENS. Line 112. And the very ports they blow,] As the word very is here of no other use than to fill up the verse, it is likely that Shakspeare wrote various, which might be easily mistaken for very, being either negligently read, hastily pronounced, or imperfectly heard.
JOHNSON. Line 118. He shall live a man forbid:) Forbid 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.
JOHNSON, Line 120. Shall he dwindle, &c.] This mischief was supposed to be put in execution by means of a waxen figure, which represented the person who was to be consumed by slow degrees.
Steevens. Line 141. That man may question ?] Are ye any beings with which man is permitted to hold converse, or of which it is lawful to ask questions.
JOHNSON. Line 150. - thane of Cawdor!] In Johnson's Tour to the Western Islands of Scotland, we find that one ancient tower, with its battlements and winding stairs, of the castle of Cardor still remains, from which Macbeth drew this title.
Line 157. Are ye fantastical,] By fantastical, he means creatures of fantasy, or imagination; the question is, Are these real beings before us, or are we deceived by illusions of fancy? JOHNS. Line 177. By Sinel's death,] The father of Macbeth. POPE.
192. -eaten of the insane root,] The insane root means the root which causes insanity.
Line 207. -as thick as tale,] Meaning that the news came as thick as a tale can travel with the post.
JOHNSON. Line 236. Might yet enkindle you—] Enkindle, for to stimulate you to seek.
WARBURTON. Line 244. -Swelling act] Swelling is used in the same sense in the Prologue to Hen. V.
-“ princes to act “And monarchs to behold the swelling scene." Steev. Line 246. This supernatural soliciting-] Soliciting means incitement.
JOHNSON. Line 253.
Are less than horrible imaginings:] Present fears are fears of things present, which Macbeth declares, and every man has found, to be less than the imagination presents them while the objects are yet distant.
JOHNSON. Line 256. -single state of man,] The single state of man
seems to be used by Shakspeare for an individual, in opposition to a commonwealth, or conjunct body.
JOHNSON. Line 256.
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.
JOHNSON. Line 270. -my dull brain was wrought
With things forgotten.] My head was worked, agitated, put into commotion.
ACT I. SCENE IV.
Line 284. 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.
STEEVENS. Line 289. -studied in his death,] Instructed in the art of dying. It was usual to say studied, for learned in science. Johns.
Line 293. To find the mind's construction in the face:] The construction of the mind is, I believe, a phrase peculiar to Shakspeare; it implies the frame or disposition of the mind, by which it is determined to good or ill.
JOHNSON. Line 327. hence to Inverness,] In Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, we find that the walls of Macbeth's castle at Inverness are yet standing.
ACT I. SCENE V.
-missives from the king,] i. e, messengers. -377. --the golden round,
Which fute 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.
JOHNSON. Line 391. — 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.
JOHNSON. Line 394. -mortal thoughts,] This expression signifies not the thoughts of mortals, but murtherous, deadly, or destructive designs.
JOHNSON. -remorse ;] i. e. pity. -401. -tuke my milk for gall,] Take away my milk, and put gall into the place.
JOHNSON. Line 404. You wait on nature's mischief!] Nature's mischief is mischief done to nature, violation of nature's order committed by wickedness.
JOHNSON. Line 405. And pall thee) i.e. wrap thyself in a pall. WARB,
408. To cry hold! hold!] On this passage there is a long criticism in the Rambler.
JOHNSON. Line 408. Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!] Shakspeare has supported the character of lady Macbeth by repeated efforts, and never omits an 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. STEEVENS.
Line 412. This ignorant present,] Ignorant has here the signification of unknowing; that is, I feel by anticipation those future hours, of which, according to the process of nature, the present time would be ignorant.