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And take the present horror from the time,
lives ; Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives 5.
[A bell rings.
“ No noise but owls' and wolves' dead-boding cries;
WARBURTON. 1 - Thou sure and firm-set earth,] The old copy—“Thou sowre," &c. which, though an evident corruption, directs us to the reading I have ventured to substitute in its room. So, in Act IV. Sc. III. :
“ Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure." STEEVENS, 2 – which way they walk,] The folio reads :
“ which they may walk " Steevens. Corrected by Mr. Rowe. MALONE.
3 Thy very stones prate of my where-about,] The following passage in a play which has been frequently mentioned, and which Langbaine says was very popular in the time of Queen Elizabeth, A Warning for Faire Women, 1599, perhaps suggested this thought:
“ Mountains will not suffice to cover it,
“ And point at us to be the murderers." Yet the thought may have been derived immediately from Scripture. See St. Luke, ix. 40; and Habakkuk, xi. 10, 11.
MALONB. So, as Dr. Farmer observes, in Churchyard's Choice:
“ The stepps 1 tread, shall tell me my offence." STEEVENS. 4 And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it.] i. e. lest the noise from the stones take away from this midnight season that present horror which suits so well with what is going to be acted in it. What was the horror he means ? Silence, than which nothing can be more horrid to the perpetrator of an atrocious design. This shows a great knowledge of human nature. WARBURTON.
Whether to “take horror from the time” means not rather to catch it as communicated, than to deprive the time of horror, deserves to be considered. Johnson.
I go, and it is done ; the bell invites me 6.
The latter is surely the true meaning. Macbeth would have nothing break through the universal silence that added such a horror to the night, as suited well with the bloody deed he was about to perform. Mr. Burke, in his Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, observes, that “all general privations are great, because they are all terrible; " and, with other things, he gives silence as an instance, illustrating the whole by that remarkable passage in Virgil, where, amidst all the images of terror that could be united, the circumstance of silence is particularly dwelt upon :
Dii quibus imperium est animarum, umbræque silentes,
Et Chaos et Phlegethon, loca nocte tacentia late. When Statius, in the fifth book of the Thebaid, describes the Lemnian massacre, his frequent notice of the silence and solitude, both before and after the deed, is striking in a wonderful degree:
Conticuere domus, &c. and when the same poet enumerates the terrors to which Chiron had familiarized his pupil, he subjoins- nec ad vastæ trepidare silentia sylvæ.
Achilleid, ij. 391. Again, when Tacitus describes the distress of the Roman army, under Cæcina, he concludes by observing, “-ducemque terruit, dira quies." See Annal. i. lxv.
In all the preceding passages, as Pliny remarks, concerning places of Worship, silentia ipsa adoramus. Steevens.
In confirmation of Steevens's ingenious note on this passage, it may be observed, that one of the circumstances of horror enumerated by Macbeth is,-“ Nature seems dead.” M. Mason. So also, in the second Æneid :
- vestigia retro
Horror ubique animos, simul ipsa silentia terrent. Dryden's well-known lines, which exposed him to so much ridicule,
“ An horrid stillness first invades the ear,
“ And in that silence we the tempest hear," show, that he had the same idea of the awfulness of silence as our poet. MALONE.
3- Whiles I threat, he lives ;
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.) Here is evidently a false concord; but it must not be corrected, for it is necessary to the rhyme. Nor is this the only place in which Shakspeare has sacrificed grammar to rhyme. In Cymbeline, the song in Cloten's serenade runs thus :
Enter Lady MACBETH. LADY M. That which hath made them drunk,
hath made me bold : What hath quench'd them, hath given me fire :
Hark!- Peace! It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman, Which gives the stern'st good-night'. He is about
“ Hark! hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,
“ And Phæbus 'gins to rise,
“ On chalic'd flowers that lies." And Romeo says to Friar Lawrence :
"— both our remedies
“ Within thy help and holy physick lies.” M. Mason. 0 - the bell INVITES me.) So, in Cymbeline :
“ The time inviting thee?" STEEVENS. 7 — it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.] Thus Raleigh, speaking of love, in England's Helicon, 4to. 1600 :
“ It is perhaps that sauncing bell,
" That toules all into heauen or hell." Sauncing is probably a mistake for sacring, or saints' bell; originally, perhaps, written (with the Saxon genitive) saintis bell. In Hudibras (as Mr. Ritson observes to me) we find
“ The only saints' bell that rings all in." Steevens. Saunce bell (still so called at Oxford) is the small bell which hangs in the window of a church tower, and is always rung when the clergyman enters the church, and also at funerals. In some places it is called tolling all in, i. e. into church. Harris. 8 It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal BELLMAN,
Which gives the stern'st good-night.] Shakspeare has here improved on an image he probably found in Spenser's Fairy Queen, b. v. c. vi. 27:
“ The native belman of the night,
The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
MACB. [Within.] Who's there ?-what, ho!
“ It was the owl that shriek’d; the fatal bellman.” So, in King Richard III. :
“Out on ye, owls! nothing but songs of death!" Malone. 9- the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores :) i. e. By going to sleep, they trife and make light of the trust reposed in them, that of watching by their king. So, in Othello : “ O mistress, villainy hath made mocks with love." Malone.
'— their POSSETS,] It appears from this passage, as well as from many others in our old dramatick performances, that it was the general custom to eat possets just before bed-time. So, in the first part of King Edward IV. by Heywood : “ – thou shalt be welcome to beef and bacon, and perhaps a bag-pudding; and my daughter Nell shall pop a posset upon thee when thou goest to bed." Macbeth has already said:
“ Go bid thy mistress when my drink is ready,
“ She strike upon the bell.” Lady Macbeth has also just observed
“ That which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold :" And in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Mrs. Quickly promises Jack Rugby a posset at night. This custom is also mentioned by Froissart. STEEVENS.
Posset, says Randle Holmes in his Academy of Armoury, b. iii. p. 84, is “ hot milk poured on ale or sack having sugar, grated bisket, and eggs, with other ingredients boiled in it, which goes all to a curd." Malone. ? death and nature do CONTEND about them,
Whether they live, or die.] Of this image our ancient writers were peculiarly fond. Thus again, in Twine's translation of the story of Prince Appollyn : “ Death strived with life within her, and the conflict was daungerous and doubtfull who should prevaile." Again, in All's Well That Ends Well :
“ thy blood and virtue
“ Contend for empire in thee." Steevens. Again, ibid :
" -- Nature and sickness
LADY M. Alack! I am afraid they have awak'd, And 'tis not done:—the attempt, and not the
hear a noise ?
crickets cry. Did you not speak ? MACB.
3 -- Hark!—I laid their daggers ready,
He could not miss them.] Compare Euripides,- Orestes, v. 1291 —where Electra stands centinel at the door of the palace, while Orestes is within for the purpose of murdering Helen. The dread of a surprize, and eagerness for the business, make Electra conclude that the deed must be done ere time enough had elapsed for attempting it. She listens with anxious impatience; and hearing nothing, expresses strong fears lest the daggers should have failed. Read the whole passage. S. W. 4 Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't.] This is very artful. For, as the poet has drawn the lady and her husband, it would be thought the act should have been done by her. It is likewise highly just ; for though ambition had subdued in her all the sentiments of nature towards present objects, yet the likeness of one past, which she had been accustomed to regard with reverence, made her unnatural passions, for a moment, give way to the sentiments of instinct and humanity. WARBURTON.
The same circumstance, on a similar occasion, is introduced by Statius, in the fifth book of his Thebaid, v. 236 :
Ut vero Alcimeden etiamnum in murmure truncos