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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 encreasing 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 Dæmonologie, 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 Dæmonologie 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 cooperated 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, ch. 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
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.”
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. The Jesuits and Sectaries took advantage of this universal error, 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.
Ν Ο Τ Ε ΙΙ.
The merciless Macdonel,-—from the Western Isles
Show'd like a rebel's whore. Kerns are light-armed, and Gallow-glasses 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 Hollingshead'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
So they redoubled strokes upon the foe. Mr. Theobald has endeavoured to improve the sense of this passage by altering the punctuation thus:
So they redoubled strokesHe 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.
NO TE IV.
King. But who comes here?
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.
NO TE V.
Thunder. Enter the three Witches. 1st Witch. Where hast thou been, sister? 2d Witch. Killing swine. 3d Witch. Sister, where thou ? 1st Witch. A sailor's wife had chesnuts in her lap, And mouncht, and mouncht, and mouncht. Give
me, quoth I. (1) Aroint thee, witch, the rump-fed ronyon cries. Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o’ th’ Tiger : 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. 2d Witch. I'll give thee a wind. 1st Witch. Thou art kind. 3d Witch. And I another. 1st Witch. I myself have all the other, And the (2) very points they blow, All the quarters that they know, I'th' Ship-man's cardI will drain him dry as hay ; Sleep shall neither night nor day Hang upon his pent-house lid ; He shall live a man (3) forbid;