The Works of Samuel Johnson in Nine Volumes
Part 2 out of 9
For this reason a small dictionary appeared yet to be wanting to common
readers; and, as I may without arrogance claim to myself a longer
acquaintance with the lexicography of our language than any other writer
has had, I shall hope to be considered as having more experience at
least than most of my predecessors, and as more likely to accommodate
the nation with a vocabulary of daily use. I, therefore, offer to the
publick an abstract or epitome of my former work.
In comparing this with other dictionaries of the same kind, it will be
found to have several advantages.
1. It contains many words not to be found in any other.
2. Many barbarous terms and phrases, by which other dictionaries may
vitiate the style, are rejected from this.
3. The words are more correctly spelled, partly by attention to their
etymology, and partly by observation of the practice of the best
4. The etymologies and derivations, whether from foreign languages or
from native roots, are more diligently traced, and more distinctly
5. The senses of each word are more copiously enumerated, and more
6. Many words occurring in the elder authors, such as Spenser,
Shakespeare, and Milton, which had been hitherto omitted, are here
carefully inserted; so that this book may serve as a glossary or
expository index to the poetical writers.
7. To the words, and to the different senses of each word, are subjoined
from the large dictionary the names of those writers by whom they have
been used; so that the reader who knows the different periods of the
language, and the time of its authors, may judge of the elegance or
prevalence of any word, or meaning of a word; and without recurring to
other books, may know what are antiquated, what are unusual, and what
are recommended by the best authority.
The words of this Dictionary, as opposed to others, are more diligently
collected, more accurately spelled, more faithfully explained, and more
authentically ascertained. Of an abstract it is not necessary to say
more; and I hope, it will not be found that truth requires me to say
 Published in 2 vols. 1756.
TRAGEDY OF MACBETH:
WITH REMARKS ON SIR T. HANMER'S EDITION OF SHAKESPEARE.
FIRST PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1745.
[Transcriber's note: There are two footnote systems in use in this
section. The numbered footnotes in square brackets, , , etc, are
those of the editor, and are to be found at the end of the section.
The lettered footnotes in round brackets, (a), (b), etc, are Johnson's,
and are to be found at the end of each Note.]
ACT I. SCENE I.
_Enter three Witches._
In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and merit of a writer,
it is always necessary to examine the genius of his age, and the
opinions of his contemporaries. A poet, who should now make the whole
action of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce the chief
events by the assistance of supernatural agents, would be censured as
transgressing the bounds of probability; he would be banished from the
theatre to the nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of
tragedies; but a survey of the notions, that prevailed at the time when
this play was written, will prove, that Shakespeare was in no danger of
such censures, since he only turned the system that was then universally
admitted to his advantage, and was far from over-burdening the credulity
of his audience.
The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, though not strictly the
same, are confounded in this play, has in all ages and countries been
credited by the common people, and in most by the learned themselves.
These phantoms have indeed appeared more frequently, in proportion as
the darkness of ignorance has been more gross; but it cannot be shown,
that the brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been sufficient
to drive them out of the world. The time, in which this kind of
credulity was at its height, seems to have been that of the holy war, in
which the Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantment or
diabolical opposition, as they ascribe their success to the assistance
of their military saints; and the learned Dr. Warburton appears to
believe (Supplement to the Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first
accounts of enchantments were brought into this part of the world by
those who returned from their eastern expeditions. But there is always
some distance between the birth and maturity of folly, as of wickedness:
this opinion had long existed, though, perhaps, the application of it
had in no foregoing age been so frequent, nor the reception so general.
Olympiodorus, in Photius's Extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who
practised this kind of military magick, and having promised [Greek:
choris hopliton kata barbaron energein], _to perform great things
against the barbarians without soldiers_, was, at the instances of the
emperess Placidia, put to death, when he was about to have given proofs
of his abilities. The emperess showed some kindness in her anger by
cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation.
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of this notion may be found
in St. Chrysostom's book de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of
enchantments, not exceeded by any romance of the middle age; he supposes
a spectator, overlooking a field of battle, attended by one that points
out all the various objects of horrour, the engines of destruction, and
the arts of slaughter. [Greek: Deiknuto de eti para tois enantiois kai
petomenous hippous dia tinos manganeias kai hoplitas di aeros
pheromenous, kai pasaen goaeteias dunamin kai hidean.]_Let him then
proceed to show him in the opposite armies horses flying by enchantment,
armed men transported through the air, and every power and form of
magick_. Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such performances were
really to be seen in a day of battle, or only endeavoured to enliven his
description, by adopting the notions of the vulgar, it is equally
certain, that such notions were in his time received, and that,
therefore, they were not imported from the Saracens in a later age; the
wars with the Saracens, however, gave occasion to their propagation, not
only as bigotry naturally discovers prodigies, but as the scene of
action was removed to a greater 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 increasing 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
_Daemonologie_, 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 _Daemonologie_ 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 co-operated 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, chap. 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 the 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." This law was repealed in our time.
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
errour, 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.
NOTE III. [Transcriber's note: sic]
ACT I. SCENE II.
--The merciless Macdonal,--from the western isles
Of _Kernes_ and _Gallowglasses_ was supply'd;
And fortune on his damned _quarry_ smiling,
Shew'd like a rebel's whore.--
_Kernes_ are light-armed, and _Gallowglasses_ 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 Hollingshed'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
As cannons overcharg'd with double cracks.
So they redoubled strokes upon the foe.
Mr. Theobald has endeavoured to improve the sense of this passage by
altering the punctuation thus:
As cannons overcharg'd; with double cracks
So they redoubled strokes.--
He 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.
_King_. But who comes here?
_Mal_. The worthy Thane of Rosse.
_Len_. What haste looks through his eyes?
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.
_Thunder. Enter the three Witches_.
_1 Witch_. Where hast thou been, sister?
_2 Witch_. Killing swine.
_3 Witch_. Sister, where thou?
_1 Witch_. A sailor's wife had chesnuts in her lap,
And mouncht, and mouncht, and mouncht. Give me, quoth I.
(a) Aroint thee, witch!--the rump-fed ronyon cries.
Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' th' Tyger:
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.
_2 Witch_. I'll give thee a wind.
_1 Witch_. Thou art kind.
_3 Witch_. And I another.
_1 Witch_. I myself have all the other.
And the (b) very points they blow;
All the quarters that they know,
I' th' ship-man's card.--
I will drain him dry as hay,
Sleep shall neither night nor day,
Hang upon his pent-house lid;
He shall live a man (c) forbid;
Weary sev'n nights, nine times nine,
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine;
Tho' his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
Look, what I have.
_2 Witch_. Shew me, Shew me.
(a) 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 place 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 from 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.
(b) And the _very_ points they blow.
As the word _very_ is here of no other use than to fill up the verse, it
is likely that Shakespeare wrote _various_, which might be easily
mistaken for _very_, being either negligently read, hastily pronounced,
or imperfectly heard.
(c) He shall live a man _forbid_.
Mr. Theobald has very justly explained _forbid_ by _accursed_, but
without giving any reason of his interpretation. To _bid_ is originally
_to pray_, as in this Saxon fragment:
[Anglo-Saxon: He is wis thaet bit g bote,] &c.
He is wise that _prays_ and makes amends.
As to _forbid_, therefore, 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
The incongruity of all the passages, in which the Thane of Cawdor is
mentioned, is very remarkable; in the second scene the Thanes of Rosse
and Angus bring the king an account of the battle, and inform him that
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor
The Thane of Cawdor, 'gan a dismal conflict.
It appears that Cawdor was taken prisoner, for the king says, in the
--Go, pronounce his death;
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
Yet though Cawdor was thus taken by Macbeth, in arms against his king,
when Macbeth is saluted, in the fourth scene, _Thane of Cawdor_, by the
Weird Sisters, he asks,
But how, of Cawdor? the Thane of Cawdor lives.
A prosp'rous gentleman;--
And in the next line considers the promises, that he should be Cawdor
and King, as equally unlikely to be accomplished. How can Macbeth be
ignorant of the state of the Thane of Cawdor, whom he has just defeated
and taken prisoner, or call him a _prosperous gentleman_ who has
forfeited his title and life by open rebellion? Or why should he wonder
that the title of the rebel whom he has overthrown should be conferred
upon him? He cannot be supposed to dissemble his knowledge of the
condition of Cawdor, because he inquires with all the ardour of
curiosity, and the vehemence of sudden astonishment; and because nobody
is present but Banquo, who had an equal part in the battle, and was
equally acquainted with Cawdor's treason. However, in the next scene,
his ignorance still continues; and when Rosse and Angus present him from
the king with his new title, he cries out,
--The Thane of Cawdor lives;
Why do you dress me in his borrow'd robes?
Rosse and Angus, who were the messengers that, in the second scene,
informed the king of the assistance given by Cawdor to the invader,
having lost, as well as Macbeth, all memory of what they had so lately
seen and related, make this answer,
--Whether he was
Combin'd with Norway, or did line the rebel
With hidden help and 'vantage, or with both
He labour'd in his country's wreck, I know not.
Neither Rosse knew what he had just reported, nor Macbeth what he had
just done. This seems not to be one of the faults that are to be imputed
to the transcribers, since, though the inconsistency of Rosse and Angus
might be removed, by supposing that their names are erroneously
inserted, and that only Rosse brought the account of the battle, and
only Angus was sent to compliment Macbeth, yet the forgetfulness of
Macbeth cannot be palliated, since what he says could not have been
spoken by any other.
My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man,--
The _single state of man_ seems to be used by Shakespeare for an
_individual_, in opposition to a _commonwealth_, or _conjunct body_ of
_Macbeth._--Come what come may,
_Time and the hour_ runs through the roughest day.
I suppose every reader is disgusted at the tautology in this passage,
_time and the hour_, and will, therefore, willingly believe that
Shakespeare wrote it thus,
--Come what come may,
Time! on!--the hour runs thro' the roughest day.
Macbeth is deliberating upon the events which are to befall him; but
finding no satisfaction from his own thoughts, he grows impatient of
reflection, and resolves to wait the close without harassing himself
--Come what come may.
But, to shorten the pain of suspense, he calls upon time, in the usual
style of ardent desire, to quicken his motion,
He then comforts himself with the reflection that all his perplexity
must have an end,
--The hour runs thro' the roughest day.
This conjecture is supported by the passage in the letter to his lady,
in which he says, _They referr'd me to the_ coming on of time _with,
Hail, King that shall be._
_Malcolm._--Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it. He dy'd,
As one that had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he _ow'd_,
As 'twere a careless trifle.
As the word _ow'd_ affords here no sense, but such as is forced and
unnatural, it cannot be doubted that it was originally written, The
dearest thing he _own'd_; a reading which needs neither defence nor
_King._--There's no art,
To find the mind's construction in the face:
The _construction of the mind_ is, I believe, a phrase peculiar to
Shakespeare; it implies the _frame_ or _disposition_ of the mind, by
which it is determined to good or ill.
_Macbeth._ The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness' part
Is to receive our duties; and our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants;
Which do but what they should, by doing _every thing
Safe tow'rd your love and honour_.
Of the last line of this speech, which is certainly, as it is now read,
unintelligible, an emendation has been attempted, which Dr. Warburton
and Mr. Theobald have admitted as the true reading:
Are to your throne and state, children and servants,
Which do but what they should, in doing every thing
_Fiefs_ to your love and honour.
My esteem for these criticks, inclines me to believe, that they cannot
be much pleased with the expressions, _Fiefs to love_, or _Fiefs to
honour_; and that they have proposed this alteration, rather because no
other occurred to them, than because they approved it. I shall,
therefore, propose a bolder change, perhaps, with no better success, but
"sua cuique placent." I read thus,
Are to your throne and state, children and servants,
Which do but what they should, in doing _nothing,
Save_ tow'rd _your love and honour_.
We do but perform our duty, when we contract all our views to your
service, when we act with _no other_ principle than regard to _your love
It is probable that this passage was first corrupted by writing _safe_
for _save_, and the lines then stood thus:
Safe tow'rd your love and honour.
Which the next transcriber observing to be wrong, and yet not being able
to discover the real fault, altered to the present reading.
--Thou'dst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, "thus thou must do, if thou have _it_;
And that," &c.
As the object of Macbeth's desire is here introduced speaking of itself,
it is necessary to read,
--thou'dst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, "thus thou must do, if thou have _me_."
--Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate 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_.
_Lady Macbeth_.--Come, all you spirits
That tend on _mortal thoughts_, unsex me here;
And fill me, from the crown to th' toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood,
Stop up th' access and passage to remorse;
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor _keep peace_ between
Th' effect and it!
This expression signifies not _the thoughts of mortals_, but _murderous,
deadly_, or _destructive designs_. So in Act v.
Hold fast the _mortal_ sword.
And in another place,
With twenty _mortal_ murthers.
--Nor keep _peace_ between
Th' effect and it!--
The intent of Lady Macbeth evidently is to wish that no womanish
tenderness, or conscientious remorse, may hinder her purpose from
proceeding to effect; but neither this, nor indeed any other sense, is
expressed by the present reading, and, therefore, it cannot be doubted
that Shakespeare wrote differently, perhaps, thus:
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor _keep pace_ between
Th' effect and it.
To _keep pace between_, may signify to _pass between_, to _intervene_.
Pace is, on many occasions, a favourite of Shakespeare. This phrase, is
indeed, not usual in this sense; but was it not its novelty that gave
occasion to the present corruption?
_King_. This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.
_Ban_. This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,
By his lov'd mansionry, that heaven's breath
Smells wooingly here. No jutty frieze,
Buttrice, nor coigne of 'vantage, but this bird
Hath made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle:
Where they most breed and haunt, I have observ'd,
The air is delicate.
In this short scene, I propose a slight alteration to be made, by
substituting _site_ for _seat_, as the ancient word for situation; and
_sense_ for _senses_, as more agreeable to the measure; for which reason
likewise I have endeavoured to adjust this passage,
Smells wooingly here. No jutty frieze,
by changing the punctuation and adding the syllable thus,
Smells wooingly. Here is no jutty frieze.
Those who have perused books, printed at the time of the first editions
of Shakespeare, know that greater alterations than these are necessary
almost in every page, even where it is not to be doubted, that the copy
The arguments by which Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the
murder, afford a proof of Shakespeare'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
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
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 that what would be criminal in
others is virtuous in them: this argument 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
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 _overpower_ or _subdue_, as in this
--Their malady _convinces_
The great assay of art.
--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.
ACT II. SCENE II.
--Now o'er one half the world
(a)_Nature seems dead_, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; now witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecat's offerings: and wither'd murther,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
_With (b)Tarquin's ravishing sides_ tow'rds his design
Moves like a ghost.--Thou sound and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my where-about;
_And (c)take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it_.--
(a)--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,
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head:
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat,
And sleeping flowers beneath the night dews sweat.
Even lust and envy sleep!
These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, that the contrast
between them and this passage of Shakespeare may be more accurately
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.
--thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing _sides_ tow'rds his design,
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 hemistich 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,
With Tarquin ravishing, _slides_ tow'rds his design,
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, but 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_.
(c) And take the present horror from the time.
Which 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,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my where-about,
And _talk_--the present horror of the time!--
That now suits with it.--
Macbeth 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
overwhelmed by his guilt, and concludes that such are the horrours of
the present night, that the stones may be expected to cry out against
_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.
_Len_. The night has been unruly; where we lay
Our chimneys were blown down: and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i'th'air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion, and confused events,
_New-hatch'd to the woeful time_.
The obscure bird clamour'd the live-long night:
Some say, the earth was fev'rous, and did shake.
These lines, I think, should be rather regulated thus:
--prophesying with accents terrible,
Of dire combustion and confused events.
New-hatch'd to th'woeful time, the obscure bird
Clamour'd the live-long night. Some say, the earth
Was fev'rous and did shake.
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 woeful 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.
--Up, up, and see
The great doom's image, Malcolm, Banquo,
As from your graves rise up.--
The second line might have been so easily completed, that it cannot be
supposed to have been left imperfect by the author, who probably wrote,
--Malcolm! Banquo! rise!
As from your graves rise up.--
Many other emendations, of the same kind, might be made, without any
greater deviation from the printed copies, than is found in each of them
from the rest.
_Macbeth_.--Here, lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
And his gash'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature,
For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murtherers
Steep'd in the colours of their trade, their daggers
_Unmannerly breech'd with gore_.--
An _unmannerly dagger_, and a _dagger breech'd_, or as in some editions
_breach'd with gore_, are expressions not easily to be understood, nor
can it be imagined that Shakespeare would reproach the murderer of his
king only with _want of manners_. There are, undoubtedly, two faults in
this passage, which I have endeavoured to take away by reading,
_Unmanly drench'd_ with gore.--
_I saw_ drench'd _with the king's Mood the fatal daggers, not only
instruments of murder but evidences of_ cowardice.
Each of these words might easily be confounded with that which I have
substituted for it by a hand not exact, a casual blot, or a negligent
Mr. Pope has endeavoured to improve one of these lines, by substituting
_goary blood_ for _golden blood_, but it may easily be admitted, that he
who could on such an occasion talk of _lacing the silver skin_, would
_lace it_ with _golden blood_. No amendment can be made to this line, of
which every word is equally faulty, but by a general blot.
It is not improbable, that Shakespeare put these forced and unnatural
metaphors into the mouth of Macbeth, as a mark of artifice and
dissimulation, to show the difference between the studied language of
hypocrisy, and the natural outcries of sudden passion. This whole
speech, considered in this light, is a remarkable instance of judgment,
as if consists entirely of antitheses and metaphors.
ACT III. SCENE II.
_Macbeth_.--Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that, which would be fear'd. 'Tis much he dares,
And to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety. There is none but he,
Whose being I do fear: and, under him,
My genius is rebuk'd; (a)_as, it is said,
Anthony's was by Caesar_. He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of king upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then, prophet-like,
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they plac'd a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If 'tis so,
For Banquo's issue have I 'fil'd my mind;
For them, the gracious Duncan have I murther'd,
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the (b)_common enemy of man_,
To make them kings,--the seed of Banquo kings.
Rather than so, come fate into the list,
(c)And champion me to th' _utterance_!--
(a)--As, it is said,
Anthony's was by Caesar.
Though I would not often assume the critick's privilege, of being
confident where certainty cannot be obtained, nor indulge myself too
far, in departing from the established reading; yet I cannot but propose
the rejection of this passage, which, I believe, was an insertion of
some player, that, having so much learning as to discover to what
Shakespeare alluded, was not willing that his audience should be less
knowing than himself, and has, therefore, weakened the author's sense by
the intrusion of a remote and useless image into a speech bursting from
a man wholly possessed with his own present condition, and, therefore,
not at leisure to explain his own allusions to himself. If these words
are taken away, by which not only the thought but the numbers are
injured, the lines of Shakespeare close together without any traces of a
My genius is rebuk'd. He chid the sisters.
(b)--The common enemy of man.
It is always an entertainment to an inquisitive reader, to trace a
sentiment to its original source, and, therefore, though the term enemy
of man, applied to the devil, is in itself natural and obvious, yet some
may be pleased with being informed, that Shakespeare probably borrowed
it from the first lines of the Destruction of Troy, a book which he is
known to have read.
That this remark may not appear too trivial, I shall take occasion from
it to point out a beautiful passage of Milton, evidently copied from a
book of no greater authority: in describing the gates of hell, Book ii.
v.879, he says,
--On a sudden open fly,
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound,
Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grate
In the history of Don Bellianis, when one of the knights approaches, as
I remember, the castle of Brandezar, the gates are said to open,
_grating harsh thunder upon their brazen hinges_.
(c)--Come fate into the list,
And champion me to th' utterance.--
This passage will be best explained by translating it into the language
from whence the only word of difficulty in it is borrowed. _Que la
destinee se rende en lice, et qu'elle me donne un defi_ a l'outrance. A
challenge or a combat _a l'outrance, to extremity_, was a fixed term in
the law of arms, used when the combatants engaged with an _odium
internecinum, an intention to destroy each other_, in opposition to
trials of skill at festivals, or on other occasions, where the contest
was only for reputation or a prize. The sense, therefore, is, Let fate,
that has fore-doomed the exaltation of the sons of Banquo, enter the
lists against me, with the utmost animosity, in defence of its own
decrees, which I will endeavour to invalidate, whatever be the danger.
_Macbeth_. Ay, in the catalogue, ye go for men;
As hounds, and grey-hounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demy-wolves are cleped
All by the name of dogs.
Though this is not the most sparkling passage in the play, and though
the name of a dog is of no great importance, yet it may not be improper
to remark, that there is no such species of dogs as _shoughs_ mentioned
by Caius De Canibus Britannicis, or any other writer that has fallen
into my hands, nor is the word to be found in any dictionary which I
have examined. I, therefore, imagined that it is falsely printed for
_slouths_, a kind of slow hound bred in the southern parts of England,
but was informed by a lady, that it is more probably used, either by
mistake, or according to the orthography of that time, for _shocks_.
_Macbeth_.--In this hour, at most,
I will advise you where to plant yourselves;
Acquaint you with the perfect spy o'th'time,
The moment on't; for't must be done to-night,
And something from the palace.--
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,
_Acquaint you with_ a perfect spy _o'th'time_.
Accordingly a third murderer joins them afterwards at the place of
_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_.
_2 Murderer_. He needs not to mistrust, since he delivers
Our offices and what we have to do,
To the direction just.
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
_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
You know your own degrees, sit down--_To_ first
And last the hearty welcome.
_All of whatever degree, from the highest to the lowest, may be assured
that their visit is well received_.
_Macbeth._--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, _I am more pleased that the blood of Banquo should be on thy
face, than in his body_.
_Lady Macbeth_. O 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
A woman's story.--
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 a fire on the authority of
_Macbeth_.--Love and health to all!
Then I'll sit down: give me some wine, fill full:--
I drink to the general joy of the whole table,
And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss;
Would he were here! to all, and him, we thirst,
_And all 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_
Ingeminant _was-heil_: labor est plus perdere vini
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
Even to the disposition that I _owe_,
When now I think, you can behold such sights,
And keep the natural ruby of your cheek,
When mine is blanched with fear.
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,
Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;
Augurs, that understand relations, have
By magpies, and by choughs, and rooks, brought forth
The secret'st man of 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
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 means of security, are
detected by supernatural directions:
Augurs, that understand relations, &c.
By the word _relation_ is understood the _connexion_ of effects with
causes; to _understand relations_ as _an augur_, is to know how those
things _relate_ to each other, which have no visible combination or
_Enter Lenox and another Lord_.
As this tragedy, like the rest of Shakespeare's, is, perhaps,
overstocked with personages, it is not easy to assign a reason, why a
nameless character should be introduced here, since nothing is said that
might not, with equal propriety, have been put into the mouth of any
other disaffected man. I believe, therefore, that in the original copy,
it was written, with a very common form of contraction, _Lenox and An_.
for which the transcriber, instead of Lenox and Angus, set down, Lenox
and _another Lord_. The author had, indeed, been more indebted to the
transcriber's fidelity and diligence, had he committed no errours of
As this is the chief scene of enchantment in the play, it is proper, in
this place, to observe, with how much judgment Shakespeare has selected
all the circumstances of his infernal ceremonies, and how exactly he has
conformed to common opinions and traditions:
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
The usual form in which familiar spirits are reported to converse with
witches, is that of a cat. A witch, who was tried about half a century
before the time of Shakespeare, had a cat named Rutterkin, as the spirit
of one of those witches was Grimalkin; and when any mischief was to be
done, she used to bid Rutterkin _go and fly_; but once, when she would
have sent Rutterkin to torment a daughter of the countess of Rutland,
instead of _going_ or _flying_, he only cried _mew_, from whence she
discovered that the lady was out of his power, the power of witches
being not universal, but limited, as Shakespeare has taken care to
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tost.
The common afflictions which the malice of witches produced, were
melancholy, fits, and loss of flesh, which are threatened by one of
Weary sev'n nights, nine times nine,
Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine.
It was, likewise, their practice to destroy the cattle of their
neighbours, and the farmers have, to this day, many ceremonies to secure
their cows and other cattle from witchcraft; but they seem to have been
most suspected of malice against swine. Shakespeare has, accordingly,
made one of his witches declare that she has been _killing swine_; and
Dr. Harsenet observes, that, about that time, "a sow could not be ill of
the measles, nor a girl of the sullens, but some old woman was charged
Toad, that under the cold stone,
Days and nights hast thirty-one,
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.
Toads have, likewise, long lain under the reproach of being by some
means accessary to witchcraft, for which reason Shakespeare, in the
first scene of this play, calls one of the spirits Padocke, or Toad, and
now takes care to put a toad first into the pot. When Vaninus was seized
at Tholouse, there was found at his lodgings, "ingens bufo vitro
inclusus," _a great toad shut in a vial_, upon which those that
prosecuted him "veneficium exprobrabant," _charged him_, I suppose,
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt, and toe of frog;--For a charm, &c.
The propriety of these ingredients may be known by consulting the books
De Viribus Animalium and De Mirabilibus Mundi, ascribed to Albertus
Magnus, in which the reader, who has time and credulity, may discover
very wonderful secrets.
Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab--
It has been already mentioned, in the law against witches, that they are
supposed to take up dead bodies to use in enchantments, which was
confessed by the woman whom king James examined, and who had of a dead
body, that was divided in one of their assemblies, two fingers for her
share. It is observable, that Shakespeare, on this great occasion, which
involves the fate of a king, multiplies all the circumstances of
horrour. The babe, whose finger is used, must be strangled in its birth;
the grease must not only be human, but must have dropped from a gibbet,
the gibbet of a murderer; and even the sow, whose blood is used, must
have offended nature by devouring her own farrow. These are touches of
judgment and genius.
And now about the cauldron sing--
Black spirits and white,
Red spirits and grey,
Mingle, mingle, mingle,
You that mingle may.
And, in a former part:
--weird sisters hand in hand,--
Thus do go about, about;
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine,
And thrice again, to make up nine;
These two passages I have brought together, because they both seem
subject to the objection of too much levity for the solemnity of
enchantment, and may both be shown, by one quotation from Camden's
account of Ireland, to be founded upon a practice really observed by the
uncivilized natives of that country. "When any one gets a fall," says
the informer of Camden, "he starts up, and, _turning three times to the
right_, digs a hole in the earth; for they imagine that there is a
spirit in the ground, and if he falls sick in two or three days, they
send one of their women that is skilled in that way to the place, where
she says, I call thee from the east, west, north, and south, from the
groves, the woods, the rivers, and the fens, from the _fairies, red,
black, white_." There was, likewise, a book written before the time of
Shakespeare, describing, amongst other properties, the _colours_ of
Many other circumstances might be particularized, in which Shakespeare
has shown his judgment and his knowledge.
_Macbeth_. Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo; down!
Thy crown does (a)sear mine eye-balls:--and thy (b)_hair_,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first:--
A third is like the former.
(a) The expression of Macbeth, that the _crown sears_ his eye-balls, is
taken from the method formerly practised of destroying the sight of
captives or competitors, by holding a burning bason before the eye,
which dried up its humidity. Whence the Italian, _abacinare, to blind_.
(b) As Macbeth expected to see a train of kings, and was only inquiring
from what race they would proceed, he could not be surprised that the
_hair_ of the second was _bound with gold_, like that of the first; he
was offended only that the second resembled the first, as the first
resembled Banquo, and, therefore, said:
--and thy _air_,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
I will--give to the edge o' th' sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That _trace him in his line_.--No boasting like a fool:
This deed I'll do before my purpose cool.
Both the sense and measure of the third line, which, as it rhymes,
ought, according to the practice of this author, to be regular, are, at
present, injured by two superfluous syllables, which may easily be
removed by reading,
That trace his line:--No boasting like a fool.
_Rosse_. My dearest cousin,
I pray you, school yourself: But for your husband,
He's noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
The fits o'th'time, I dare not speak much further,
But cruel are the times when we are traitors,
And do not know't ourselves, when we (a)_hold rumour
From what we fear_, yet know not what we fear;
But float upon a wild and violent sea,
Each way, and (b)_move_. I'll take my leave of you:
Shall not be long but I'll be here again:
Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward
To what they were before: my pretty cousin,
Blessing upon you!
(a)--When we hold rumour
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.
The present reading seems to afford no sense; and, therefore, some
critical experiments may be properly tried upon it, though, the verses
being without any connexion, there is room for suspicion, that some
intermediate lines are lost, and that the passage is, therefore,
irretrievable. If it be supposed that the fault arises only from the
corruption of some words, and that the traces of the true reading are
still to be found, the passage may be changed thus:
--when we _bode ruin_
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear.
Or, in a sense very applicable to the occasion of the conference:
--when the _bold, running_
From what they fear, yet know not what they fear.
(b) But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way, and move.
That he who _floats_ upon a _rough sea_ must move, is evident, too
evident for Shakespeare so emphatically to assert. The line, therefore,
is to be written thus:
Each way, and move--I'll take my leave of you.
Rosse is about to proceed, but, finding himself overpowered by his
tenderness, breaks off abruptly, for which he makes a short apology, and
_Malcolm_. Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.
_Macduff_. Let us rather
Hold fast the mortal sword; and, like good men,
Bestride our _downfal birth-doom_: each new morn,
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland, and yell'd out
Like syllables of dolour.
He who can discover what is meant by him that earnestly exhorts him to
_bestride_ his _downfal birth-doom_, is at liberty to adhere to the
present text; but those who are willing to confess that such counsel
would to them be unintelligible, must endeavour to discover some reading
less obscure. It is probable that Shakespeare wrote:
--like good men,
Bestride our _downfall'n birthdom_--
The allusion is to a man from whom something valuable is about to be
taken by violence, and who, that he may defend it without encumbrance,
lays it on the ground, and stands over it with his weapon in his hand.
Our birthdom, or birthright, says he, lies on the ground, let us, like
men who are to fight for what is dearest to them, not abandon it, but
stand over it and defend it. This is a strong picture of obstinate
_Birthdom_ for _birthright_ is formed by the same analogy with
_masterdom_ in this play, signifying the _privileges_ or _rights of a
Perhaps it might be _birth-dame_ for _mother_; let us stand over our
mother that lies bleeding on the ground.
_Malcolm_. Now we'll together; and the _chance of goodness_
Be like our warranted quarrel!
The _chance of goodness_, as it is commonly read, conveys no sense. If
there be not some more important errour in the passage, it should, at
least, be pointed thus:
--And the chance, of goodness,
Be like our warranted quarrel!
That is, may the event be, of the goodness of heaven, [_pro justicia
divina_,] answerable to the cause.
But I am inclined to believe that Shakespeare wrote,
--and the chance, O goodness,
Be like our warranted quarrel!
This some of his transcribers wrote with a small _o_, which another
imagined to mean _of_. If we adopt this reading, the sense will be, _and
O! thou sovereign goodness, to whom we now appeal, may our fortune
answer to our cause._
ACT V. SCENE III.
_Macbeth_. Bring me no more reports, let them fly all,
Till Birnam wood remove to Dunsinane,
I cannot taint with fear. What's the boy Malcolm?
Was he not born of woman?--
--fly false thanes,
And mingle with the English epicures.
In the first line of this speech, the proper pauses are not observed in
the present editions.
Bring me no more reports--let them fly all--
_Tell me not any more of desertions--Let all my subjects leave me--I am
safe till, &c._
The reproach of epicurism, on which Mr. Theobald has bestowed a note, is
nothing more than a natural invective, uttered by an inhabitant of a
barren country, against those who have more opportunities of luxury.
_Macbeth_. I have liv'd long enough: my _way_ of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf.
As there is no relation between the _way of life_, and _fallen into the
sear_, I am inclined to think, that the _W_ is only an _M_ inverted, and
that it was originally written, my _May_ of life.
_I am now passed from the spring to the autumn of my days, but I am
without those comforts that should succeed the sprightliness of bloom,
and support me in this melancholy season._
_Malcolm_. 'Tis his main hope:
For where there is _advantage to be given_,
Both more and less have given him the revolt;
And none serve with him but constrained things,
Whose hearts are absent too.
The impropriety of the expression _advantage to be given_, instead of
_advantage given_, and the disagreeable repetition of the word _given_
in the next line incline me to read,
--where there is _a'vantage_ to be _gone_,
Both more and less have given him the revolt.
_Advantage_ or _'vantage_, in the time of Shakespeare, signified
_More and less_ is the same with _greater and less_. So in the
interpolated Mandeville, a book of that age, there is a chapter of India
the more and the less.
_Macbeth_.--Wherefore was that cry?
_Seyton_. The queen, my lord, is dead.
_Macbeth_. She should (a)have, died hereafter:
There would have been a time for such a _word_.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of (b)recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow.--
(a) She should have died hereafter,
There would have been a time for such a _word_.
This passage has very justly been suspected of being corrupt. It is not
apparent for what _word_ there would have been a _time_, and that there
would or would not be a _time_ for any _word_, seems not a consideration
of importance sufficient to transport Macbeth into the following
exclamation. I read, therefore:
She should have died hereafter,
There would have been a time for--such a _world!_--
It is a broken speech, in which only part of the thought is expressed,
and may be paraphrased thus: The queen is dead. _Macbeth_. Her death
should have been deferred to some more peaceful hour; had she lived
longer, _there would at length have been a time for_ the honours due to
her as a queen, and that respect which I owe her for her fidelity and
love. Such is the _world_--such is the condition of human life, that we
always think _to-morrow_ will be happier than to-day; but to-morrow and
to-morrow steals over us unenjoyed and unregarded, and we still linger
in the same expectation to the moment appointed for our end. All these
days, which have thus passed away, have sent multitudes of fools to the
grave, who were engrossed by the same dream of future felicity, and,
when life was departing from them, were, like me, reckoning on to-
(b) To the last syllable of recorded time.
_Recorded time_ seems to signify the time fixed in the decrees of heaven
for the period of life. The _record_ of _futurity_ is, indeed, no
accurate expression, but as we only know transactions past or present,
the language of men affords no term for the volumes of prescience, in
which future events may be supposed to be written.
_Macbeth_. If thou speak'st false.
Upon the next tree shalt thou hang alive,
Till famine cling thee: if thy speech be sooth,
I care not if thou dost for me as much.--
I _pull_ in resolution; and begin
To doubt th' equivocation of the fiend,
That lies like truth: "Fear not till Birnam wood
Do come to Dunsinane," and now a wood
Comes toward Dunsinane.
I _pull_ in resolution.--
Though this is the reading of all the editions, yet as it is a phrase
without either example, elegance, or propriety, it is surely better to
I _pall_ in resolution.--
_I languish in my constancy, my confidence begins to forsake me._ It is
scarcely necessary to observe how easily _pall_ might be changed into
_pull_ by a negligent writer, or mistaken for it by an unskilful
_Siward_ Had I as many sons as I have hairs,
I would not wish them to a fairer death:
And so his knell is knoll'd.
This incident is thus related from Henry of Huntingdon, by Camden, in
his Remains, from which our author probably copied it.
When Siward, the martial Earl of Northumberland, understood that his
son, whom he had sent in service against the Scotchmen, was slain, he
demanded whether his wound were in the fore part or hinder part of his
body. When it was answered in the fore part, he replied, "I am right
glad; neither wish I any other death to me or mine."
* * * * *
After the foregoing pages were printed, the late edition of Shakespeare,
ascribed to Sir Thomas Hanmer, fell into my hands; and it was,
therefore, convenient for me to delay the publication of my remarks,
till I had examined whether they were not anticipated by similar
observations, or precluded by better. I, therefore, read over this
tragedy, but found that the editor's apprehension is of a cast so
different from mine, that he appears to find no difficulty in most of
those passages which I have represented as unintelligible, and has,
therefore, passed smoothly over them, without any attempt to alter or
Some of the lines with which I had been perplexed, have been, indeed, so
fortunate as to attract his regard; and it is not without all the
satisfaction which it is usual to express on such occasions, that I find
an entire agreement between us in substituting [see Note II.] _quarrel_
for _quarry_, and in explaining the adage of the cat, [Note XVII.] But
this pleasure is, like most others, known only to be regretted; for I
have the unhappiness to find no such conformity with regard to any other
The line which I have endeavoured to amend, Note XI. is, likewise,
attempted by the new editor, and is, perhaps, the only passage in the
play in which he has not submissively admitted the emendations of
foregoing criticks. Instead of the common reading,
--Doing every thing
_Safe_ towards your love and honour,
he has published,
--Doing every thing
_Shap'd_ towards your love and honour.
This alteration, which, like all the rest attempted by him, the reader
is expected to admit, without any reason alleged in its defence, is, in
my opinion, more plausible than that of Mr. Theobald: whether it is
right, I am not to determine.
In the passage which I have altered in Note XL. an emendation is,
likewise, attempted in the late edition, where, for,
--and the chance _of_ goodness
Be like our warranted quarrel,
is substituted--and the chance _in_ goodness--whether with more or less
elegance, dignity, and propriety, than the reading which I have offered,
I must again decline the province of deciding.
Most of the other emendations which he has endeavoured, whether with
good or bad fortune, are too trivial to deserve mention. For surely the
weapons of criticism ought not to be blunted against an editor, who can
imagine that he is restoring poetry, while he is amusing himself with
alterations like these: for,
--This is the sergeant,
Who like a good and hardy soldier fought;
--This is the sergeant, who
Like a _right_ good and hardy soldier fought.
--Dismay'd not this
Our captains Macbeth and Banquo?--Yes;
--Dismay'd not this
Our captains _brave_ Macbeth and Banquo?--Yes.
Such harmless industry may, surely, be forgiven, if it cannot be
praised: may he, therefore, never want a monosyllable, who can use it
with such wonderful dexterity.
Rumpatur quisquis rumpitur invidia!
The rest of this edition I have not read, but, from the little that I
have seen, think it not dangerous to declare that, in my opinion, its
pomp recommends it more than its accuracy. There is no distinction made
between the ancient reading, and the innovations of the editor; there is
no reason given for any of the alterations which are made; the
emendations of former criticks are adopted without any acknowledgment,
and few of the difficulties are removed which have hitherto embarrassed
the readers of Shakespeare.
I would not, however, be thought to insult the editor, nor to censure
him with too much petulance, for having failed in little things, of whom
I have been told, that he excels in greater. But I may, without
indecency, observe, that no man should attempt to teach others what he
has never learned himself; and that those who, like Themistocles, have
studied the arts of policy, and "can teach a small state how to grow
great," should, like him, disdain to labour in trifles, and consider
petty accomplishments as below their ambition.
 "To deny the possibility, nay, the actual existence of witchcraft
and sorcery, is, at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of
God, in various passages both of the Old and New Testament: and the
thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath, in
its turn, borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well-attested,
or by prohibitory laws, which, at least, suppose the possibility of
commerce with evil spirits." Blackstone, Commentaries iv. 60. The
learned judge, however, concludes with calling it a "dubious crime,"
and approves the maxim of the philosophic Montesquieu, whom no one
would lightly accuse of superstition, that "il faut etre tres
circonspect dans la poursuite de la magie et de l'heresie." Esprit
des Lois, xii. 5. Selden attempted to justify the punishing of
witchcraft capitally. Works, iii. 2077. See Spectator, 117.
Barrington's Ancient Statutes, 407.
 In Nashe's Lenten Stuff, 1599, it is said, that no less than six
hundred witches were executed at one time. Reed.--Boswell's
Shakespeare, xi. 5. Dr. Grey, in his notes on Hudibras, mentions,
that Hopkins the noted witch-finder hanged sixty suspected witches
in one year. He also cites Hutchinson on Witchcraft for thirty
thousand having been burnt in 150 years. _See Barrington on Ancient
 Johnson's apprehensions here are surely unfounded. The region of
Fancy, however, in his mind, was very circumscribed. Mrs. Montague's
chapter on Shakespeare's Preternatural Beings, in her excellent
Essay, will repay perusal. See too Schlegel on Dramatic Literature.
 Compare the Incantations of the Erichtho of Lucan, the Canidie of
Horace, the Cantata of Salvator Rosa, "all' incanto all' incante,"
and the Eumenides of AEschylus. The Gothic wildness of Shakespeare's
"weird sisters" will thence be better appreciated.--Ed.
 These excellent observations extorted praise from the supercilious
Warburton himself. In the Preface to his Shakespeare, published two
years after the appearance of Johnson's anonymous pamphlet, he thus
alludes to it: "As to all those things which have been published
under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on
Shakespeare, (if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as
a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man
of parts and genius,) the rest are absolutely below a serious
notice." According to Boswell, Johnson ever retained a grateful
remembrance of this distinguished compliment; "He praised me," said
he, "at a time when praise was of value to me." Boswell, I. Johnson
affixed to this tract, proposals for a Shakespeare in 10 volumes,
18mo. price, to subscribers, 1_l_ 5_s_. in sheets, half-a-guinea of
which moderate sum was to be deposited at the time of subscription.
The following fuller proposals were published in 1756; but they were
not realized until the lapse of nine years from that period.
FOR PRINTING THE
PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1756.
When the works of Shakespeare are, after so many editions, again offered
to the publick, it will, doubtless, be inquired, why Shakespeare stands
in more need of critical assistance than any other of the English
writers, and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, which
another editor may hope to supply?
The business of him that republishes an ancient book is, to correct what
is corrupt, and to explain what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in
many places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors that have
written since the use of types, almost peculiar to Shakespeare. Most
writers, by publishing their own works, prevent all various readings,
and preclude all conjectural criticism. Books, indeed, are sometimes
published after the death of him who produced them; but they are better
secured from corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They
subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the author; and the
faults of the printed volume can be only faults of one descent.
But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has been far different: he
sold them, not to be printed, but to be played. They were immediately
copied for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after transcript,
vitiated by the blunders of the penman, or changed by the affectation of
the player; perhaps enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to
shorten the representation; and printed at last without the concurrence
of the author, without the consent of the proprietor, from compilations
made by chance or by stealth out of the separate parts written for the
theatre; and thus thrust into the world surreptitiously and hastily,
they suffered another depravation from the ignorance and negligence of
the printers, as every man who knows the state of the press, in that
age, will readily conceive.
It is not easy for invention to bring together so many causes concurring
to vitiate the text. No other author ever gave up his works to fortune
and time with so little care: no books could be left in hands so likely
to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued in manuscript:
no other transcribers were likely to be so little qualified for their
task as those who copied for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks
of the people were universally illiterate: no other editions were made
from fragments so minutely broken, and so fortuitously reunited; and in
no other age was the art of printing in such unskilful hands.
With the causes of corruption that make the revisal of Shakespeare's
dramatick pieces necessary, may be enumerated the causes of obscurity,
which may be partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself.
When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and remains almost the only
unforgotten name of a distant time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age
has its modes of speech, and its cast of thought; which, though easily
explained when there are many books to be compared with each other,
become sometimes unintelligible and always difficult, when there are no
parallel passages that may conduce to their illustration. Shakespeare is
the first considerable author of sublime or familiar dialogue in our
language. Of the books which he read, and from which he formed his
style, some, perhaps, have perished, and the rest are neglected. His
imitations are, therefore, unnoted, his allusions are undiscovered, and
many beauties, both of pleasantry and greatness, are lost with the
objects to which they were united, as the figures vanish when the
canvass has decayed.
It is the great excellence of Shakespeare, that he drew his scenes from
nature, and from life. He copied the manners of the world, then passing
before him, and has more allusions than other poets to the traditions
and superstition of the vulgar; which must, therefore, be traced, before
he can be understood.
He wrote at a time when our poetical language was yet unformed, when the
meaning of our phrases was yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted
at pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while the Saxon was
still visibly mingled in our diction. The reader is, therefore,
embarrassed at once with dead and with foreign languages, with
obsoleteness and innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion
produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion swept away before its
meaning was generally known, or sufficiently authorised: and in that
age, above all others, experiments were made upon our language, which
distorted its combinations, and disturbed its uniformity.
If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, it is to be imputed
to the nature of his work, which required the use of the common
colloquial language, and consequently admitted many phrases allusive,
elliptical, and proverbial, such as we speak and hear every hour without
observing them; and of which, being now familiar, we do not suspect that
they can ever grow uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they can ever
These are the principal causes of the obscurity of Shakespeare; to which
might be added the fulness of idea, which might sometimes load his words
with more sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and that
rapidity of imagination which might hurry him to a second thought before
he had fully explained the first. But my opinion is, that very few of
his lines were difficult to his audience, and that he used such
expressions as were then common, though the paucity of contemporary
writers makes them now seem peculiar.
Authors are often praised for improvement, or blamed for innovation,
with very little justice, by those who read few other books of the same
age. Addison, himself, has been so unsuccessful in enumerating the words
with which Milton has enriched our language, as, perhaps, not to have
named one of which Milton was the author; and Bentley has yet more
unhappily praised him as the introducer of those elisions into English
poetry, which had been used from the first essays of versification among
us, and which Milton was, indeed, the last that practised.
Another impediment, not the least vexatious to the commentator, is the
exactness with which Shakespeare followed his authors. Instead of
dilating his thoughts into generalities, and expressing incidents with
poetical latitude, he often combines circumstances unnecessary to his
main design, only because he happened to find them together. Such
passages can be illustrated only by him who has read the same story, in
the very book which Shakespeare consulted.
He that undertakes an edition of Shakespeare, has all these difficulties
to encounter, and all these obstructions to remove.
The corruptions of the text will be corrected by a careful collation of
the oldest copies, by which it is hoped that many restorations may yet
be made: at least it will be necessary to collect and note the variation
as materials for future criticks; for it very often happens that a wrong
reading has affinity to the right.
In this part all the present editions are apparently and intentionally
defective. The criticks did not so much as wish to facilitate the labour
of those that followed them. The same books are still to be compared;
the work that has been done, is to be done again; and no single edition
will supply the reader with a text, on which he can rely, as the best
copy of the works of Shakespeare.
The edition now proposed will, at least, have this advantage over
others. It will exhibit all the observable varieties of all the copies
that can be found; that, if the reader is not satisfied with the
editor's determination, he may have the means of choosing better for
Where all the books are evidently vitiated, and collation can give no
assistance, then begins the task of critical sagacity: and some changes
may well be admitted in a text never settled by the author, and so long
exposed to caprice and ignorance. But nothing shall be imposed, as in
the Oxford edition, without notice of the alteration; nor shall
conjecture be wantonly or unnecessarily indulged.
It has been long found, that very specious emendations do not equally
strike all minds with conviction, nor even the same mind, at different
times; and, therefore, though, perhaps, many alterations may be proposed
as eligible, very few will be obtruded as certain. In a language so
ungrammatical as the English, and so licentious as that of Shakespeare,
emendatory criticism is always hazardous, nor can it be allowed to any
man who is not particularly versed in the writings of that age, and
particularly studious of his author's diction. There is danger lest
peculiarities should be mistaken for corruptions, and passages rejected
as unintelligible, which a narrow mind happens not to understand.
All the former criticks have been so much employed on the corrections of
the text, that they have not sufficiently attended to the elucidation of
passages obscured by accident or time. The editor will endeavour to read
the books which the author read, to trace his knowledge to its source,
and compare his copies with their originals. If, in this part of his
design, he hopes to attain any degree of superiority to his
predecessors, it must be considered, that he has the advantage of their
labours; that, part of the work being already done, more care is
naturally bestowed on the other part; and that, to declare the truth,
Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the ancient English
literature; Dr. Warburton was detained by more important studies; and
Mr. Theobald, if fame be just to his memory, considered learning only as
an instrument of gain, and made no further inquiry after his author's
meaning, when once he had notes sufficient to embellish his page with
the expected decorations.
With regard to obsolete or peculiar diction, the editor may, perhaps,
claim some degree of confidence, having had more motives to consider the
whole extent of our language than any other man from its first
formation. He hopes that, by comparing the works of Shakespeare with
those of writers who lived at the same time, immediately preceded, or
immediately followed him, he shall be able to ascertain his ambiguities,
disentangle his intricacies, and recover the meaning of words now lost
in the darkness of antiquity.
When, therefore, any obscurity arises from an allusion to some other
book, the passage will be quoted. When the diction is entangled, it will
be cleared by a paraphrase or interpretation. When the sense is broken
by the suppression of part, of the sentiment in pleasantry or passion,
the connexion will be supplied. When any forgotten custom is hinted,
care will be taken to retrieve and explain it. The meaning assigned to
doubtful words will be supported by the authorities of other writers, or
by parallel passages of Shakespeare himself.
The observation of faults and beauties is one of the duties of an
annotator, which some of Shakespeare's editors have attempted, and some
have neglected.--For this part of his task, and for this only, was Mr.
Pope eminently and indisputably qualified; nor has Dr. Warburton
followed him with less diligence or less success. But I have never
observed that mankind was much delighted or improved by their asterisks,
commas, or double commas; of which the only effect is, that they
preclude the pleasure of judging for ourselves; teach the young and
ignorant to decide without principles; defeat curiosity and discernment,
by leaving them less to discover; and at last show the opinion of the
critick, without the reasons on which it was founded, and without
affording any light by which it may be examined.
The editor, though he may less delight his own vanity, will, probably,
please his reader more, by supposing him equally able with himself to
judge of beauties and faults, which require no previous acquisition of
remote knowledge. A description of the obvious scenes of nature, a
representation of general life, a sentiment of reflection or experience,
a deduction of conclusive arguments, a forcible eruption of effervescent
passion, are to be considered as proportionate to common apprehension,
unassisted by critical officiousness; since, to conceive them, nothing
more is requisite than acquaintance with the general state of the world,
and those faculties which he must almost bring with him who would read
But when the beauty arises from some adaptation of the sentiment to
customs worn out of use, to opinions not universally prevalent, or to
any accidental or minute particularity, which cannot be supplied by
common understanding, or common observation, it is the duty of a
commentator to lend his assistance.
The notice of beauties and faults, thus limited, will make no distinct
part of the design, being reducible to the explanation of some obscure
The editor does not, however, intend to preclude himself from the
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