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Acquaint you with the perfect spy o' th' time,
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, / will
Acquaint you with a perfect spy d tIC 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.
%d Murderer. He needs not to mistrust, since he delivers
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.
Macbeth. 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.
Macbjth. 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, / am more pleased that the blood of Banquo should be on thy face, than in his body.
Lady Macbeth. 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
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 afire on the authority of her grandam. NOTE XXXI.
Macbeth.—Love and health 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
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
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,
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