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ment Shakespeare, 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.
LETTING I dare not, wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i' th' adage. The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her foot,
Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas.
WILL I with wine and wassel so convince.
To convince is in Shakespeare to over-power or subdue, as in this play,
Their malady convinces
-Who shall bear the guilt
Of our great quell. Quell is murder, manquellers being in the old lan guage the term for which murderers is now used.
NO TE XX.
ACT II. SCENE II.
Now o'er one half the world
The curtain’d sleep; now witchcraft celebrates
(1)-Now o'er one half the world
Nature seems dead. That is, over our hemisphere all action and motion seem to have ceased. This image, which is perhaps, the most striking that poetry can produce, has been adopted by Dryden in his “ Conquest of Mexico.”
All things are hush'd as nature's self lay dead,
Even lust and envy sleep! These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, that the contrast between them and this
of Shakespeare may be more accurately observed.
Night is described by two great poets, but one describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation. In the night of Dryden, all the disturbers of the world are laid asleep ; in that of Shakespeare, nothing but sorcery, lust, and murder is awake. He that reads Dryden, finds himself lulled with serenity, and disposed to solitude and contemplation. He that peruses Shakespeare, looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone. One is the night of a lover, the other that of a murderer.
(2) — Wither'd murder,
Thus with his stealthy pace,
Moves like a ghost. This was the reading of this passage in all the editions before that of Mr. Pope, who for sides, inserted in the text strides, which Mr. Theobald has tacitly copied from him, though a more proper alteration might perhaps have been made. A ravishing stride is an action of violence, impetuosity, and tumult, like that of a savage rushing on his prey; whereas the poet is here attempting to exhibit an image of secrecy and caution, of anxious circumspection and guilty timidity, the stealthy pace of a ravisher creeping into the chamber of a virgin, and of an assassin approaching the bed of him whom he proposes to murder, without awaking him ; these he describes as moving like ghosts, whose progression is so different from strides, that it has been in all ages represented to be, as Milton expresses it,
Smooth sliding without step. This hemistick will afford the true reading of this place, which is, I think, to be corrected thus :
And wither'd murder,
Thus with his stealthy pace,
Moves like a ghost. Tarquin is in this place the general name of a ravisher, and the sense is, Now is the time in which every one is asleep, bụt those who are employed in
wickedness, the witch who is sacrificing to Hecate, and the ravisher and the murderer, who, like me, are stealing upon their prey.
When the reading is thus adjusted, he wishes with great propriety, in the following lines, that the earth may not hear his steps.
(3) And take the present horror from the time
That now suits with it. I believe every one that has attentively read this dreadful soliloquy is disappointed at the conclusion, which, if not wholly unintelligible, is at least obscure, nor can be explained into any sense worthy of the author. I shall therefore propose a slight alteration.
Thou sound and firm-set earth,
That now suits with itMacbeth has, in the foregoing lines, disturbed his imagination by enumerating all the terrours of the night; at length he is wrought up to a degree of frenzy, that makes him afraid of some supernatural discovery of his design, and calls out to the stones not to betray him, not to declare where he walks, nor to talk.—As he is going to say of what, he discovers the absurdity of his suspicion, and pauses, but is again o’erwhelmed by his guilt, and concludes that such are the horrours of the present night, that the stones may be expected to cry out against him.
That now suits with it. He observes in a subsequent passage, that on such occasions stones have been known to move. It is
now a very just and strong picture of a man about to commit a deliberate murder, under the strongest convictions of the wickedness of his design.
Ν Ο Τ Ε ΧΧΙ. .
Lenox. The night has been unruly; where we lay
the earth was fev'rous and did shake. These lines I think should be rather regulated thus :
-Prophesying with accents terrible,
A prophecy of an event new-hatch'd, seems to be a prophecy of an event past. The term new-hatch'd is properly applicable to a bird, and that birds of ill omen should be new-hatch'd to the woful time is very consistent with the rest of the prodigies here mentioned, and with the universal disorder into which nature is described as thrown by the perpetration of this horrid murder.