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Prepares for some attempt of war.4
Sent he to Macduff?
And that well might Advise him to a caution, to hold what distance His wisdom can provide. Some holy angel Fly to the court of England, and unfold His message ere he come; that a swift blessing May soon return to this our suffering country Under a hand accurs'd!“ LORD.
My prayers with him!?
Their refers to the son of Duncan, and Macduff. Sir T. Hanmer reads unnecessarily, I think, the king. Malone.
4 Prepares for some attempt of war.] The fingularity of this expression, with the apparent redundancy of the metre, almost persuade me to follow Sir T. Hanmer, by the omission of the two laft words. SteEVENS.
5 Advise him to a caution,] Sir T. Hanmer, to add smoothness to the versification, reads to a care.
I suspect, however, the wordsto a, are interpolations designed to render an elliptical expression more clear, according to some player's apprehension. Perhaps the lines originally stood thus:
And that well might
His wisdom can provide. Steevens. 6 - to this our suffering country
Under a hand accurs'd!] The construction is to our country Luffering under a hand accursed. Malone.
? My prayers with him!] The old copy, frigidly, and in defiance of measure, reads
I'll send my prayers with him. I am aware, that for this, and similar rejections, I shall be censured by those who are disinclined to venture out of the track of the old stage-waggon, though it may occasionally conduct them into a slough. It may soon, therefore, be discovered, chat aume
ACT IV. SCENE 1. A dark Cave. In the middle, a Cauldron boiling.
Enter the three Witches.
1. Witch. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd. 2. WITCH. Thrice ; and once the hedge-pig
rous beauties are resident in the discarded words I send; and that as frequently as the vulgarism-on, has been displaced to make room for-of, a diamond has been exchanged for a pebble.—For my own fake, however, let me add, that throughout the present tragedy no such liberties have been exercised, without the previous approbation of Dr. Farmer, who fully concurs with me in supposing the irregularities of Shakspeare's text to be oftener occasioned by interpolations, than by omissions. STEEVENS.
8 Scene I.] As this is the chief scene of enchantment in the play, it is proper in this place to observe, with how much judgement Shaklpeare 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 Shakspeare, 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 the discovered that the lady was out of his power, the power of witches being not universal, but limited, as Shakspeare has taken care to inculcate :
“ Though his bark cannot be loft,
" Yet it shall be tempeft-toit.” The common afflictions which the malice of witches produced, were melancholy, fits, and loss of Aesh, which are threatened by one of Shakspeare's witches : VOL. VII.
3. Wircu. Harper cries : 3—'Tis time, 'tis time.*
“ Weary fev’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. Shakspeare has accordingly made one of his witches declare that she has been killing Swine ; and Dr. Harsnet observes, that about that time, “ a fomu could not be ill of the measles, nor a girl of the fullens, but fome old woman was charg'd with witchcraft."
“ Toad, that under the cold stone,
“ Boil thou first i’the charmed pot.” Toads have likewise long lain under the reproach of being by some means acceffary to witchcraft, for which reason Shakspeare, in the first scene of this play, calls one of the spirits Paddock 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 inclufus, a great toad shut in a vial, upon which those that prosecuted him V'eneficium exprobrabant, charged him, I suppose, with witchcraft.
“ Fillet of a fenny snake,
« 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 confered by the woman whom king James examined, and who had of a dead body, that was divided in one of their arsemblies, two fingers for her share. It is observable, that Shakspeare, on this great occasion which involves the fate of a king, multiplies all the circumitances of horror. 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 of.
İ. Witch. Round about the cauldron go;s
In the poison'd entrails throw.
fended nature by devouring her own farrow. These are tocches of judgement and genius.
“ And now about the cauldron sing,
“ Red spirits and grey,
" You that mingle may." And in a former part:
" weird sisters, hand in hand,
“ And thrice again, to make up nine !” These two passages I have brought together; because they both feem 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 uncivilised 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 fick in two or three days, they fend one of their women that is skilled in that way to the place, where she says, I call thee from the eart, 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 Shakspeare, describing, amongst other properties, the colours of spirits.
Many other circumstances might be particularised, in which Shakspeare has shown his judgement and his knowledge.
JON NSON. 9 Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.] A cnt, from time immemorial, has been the agent and favourite of witches. This superftitious fancy is pagan, and very ancient; and the original, perhaps, this: When Galinthia was changed into a cat by the Fates (lays Ana tonius Liberalis, Metam. cap. 29.), by witches, (Jays Pausanias in his Bæotics,) Hecate took pity of her, and made her her priestefs; in which office the continues to this day. Hecate herself too, when Typhon forced all the gods and goddeles to hide themselves in animals, aimed the shape of a cat. So, Ovid:
" Fele foror Phabi latuit." WARBURTON. * Thrice; and once the hedge-pig whin'd.] Mr. Theobald reads,
Toad, that under coldest stone,
twice and once, &c. and observes that odd numbers are used in all enchantments and magical operations. The remark is just, but the passage was misunderstood. The second Witch only repeats the number which the first had mentioned, in order to confirm what she had said; and then adds, that the hedge-pig had likewise cried, though but once. Or what seems more easy, the hedge-pig had whined thrice, and after an interval had whined once again.
Even numbers, however, were always reckoned inauspicious. So, in The Honest Lawyer, by S. S. 1616: “ Sure 'tis not a lucky time; the first crow I heard this morning, cried twice. This even, sir, is no good number.” Twice and once, however, might be a cant expression. So, in King Henry IV. P. II. Silence says, “ I have been merry twice and once, ere now." STEEVENS.
The urchin, or hedgehog, from its solitariness, the ugliness of its appearance, and from a popular opinion that it sucked or pois soned the udders of cows, was adopted into the demonologic syftem, and its shape was sometimes supposed to be assumed by mischievous elves. Hence it was one of the plagues of Caliban in The Tempeft.
T. Warton. 3 Harper cries :] This is foine imp, or familiar spirit, concerning whose etymology and office, the reader may be wiser than the editor. Those who are acquainted with Dr. Farmer's pamphlet, will be unwilling to derive the name of Harper from Ovid's Harpalos, ab izzulw rapio. See Upton's Critical observations, &c. edit. 1748, p. 155.
Harper, however, may be only a mispelling, or misprint, for harpy. So, in Marlowe's Tamburlaine, &c. 1590:
« And like a harper tyers upon my life.” The word cries likewise seems to countenance this supposition. Crying is one of the technical terms appropriated to the noise made by birds of prey, especially when they are hungry.
STEEVENS. 4- 'Tis time, 'tis time.] This familiar does not cry out that it is time for them to begin their enchantments; but cries, i. e. gives them the signal, upon which the third Witch communicates the notice to her sisters :
Harper cries :-'Tis time, 'tis time.
“ Hec.] Heard you the owle yet?