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with this glowing temper, brooding on the perpetration of an act that,
"Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream,"
shakes his "whole state of man," every word almost that he utters, suggests an image to him; the train of thinking, however, though frequently obstructed, is never broken; and it may not be uninteresting to trace it, step by step, through the whole of this complex soliloquy. He begins his meditation generally; "if it were done," i. e. if the act of the murder were performed, the reflection was proceeding thus: if it were done when he is asleep; but the word "done" suggesting instantly a new idea, the final issue of the business, he pauses on it for a moment, and then recurs to that with which he began, the simple act of the assassination, "when 'tis done," and proceeds, "then 'twere well it were done quickly;" here again he pauses, and returns to the second reflection, the ultimate event.
?< . . If the assassination
"Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
"With his surcease, success:"
i. e. The full attainment of my desire.
"That but this blow
"Might be the be-all and the end-all here:"
i. e. On this spot where it is struck; but, no sooner has the word "here" been uttered, but a new idea starts forth, which he pursues,—the idea of our frail existence in this world, in opposition to the world hereafter.
". The be-all and the end-all here—
"Rut here, upon this bank and shoal of time, "We'd jump the life to come."
We would run a bold risk as to futurity, "but in these cases we still have judgment here," i. e. on earth, and that judgment is—
"That we but teach
"Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
"To plague th' inventor."
i. e. When we commit a murder we only instruct others how to murder ourselves; inclining now to the better side of the argument, he calls in the sentiments of honour and hospitality to invigorate his virtue.
". He's here in double trust,
"First as I am his kinsman and his subject, *' Strong both against the deed; then as his host, "That should, against his murderer, shut the door,
"Not bear the knife myself."
To these general suggestions he now adds one of prudence:
"Besides, this Duncan
"Hath borne his faculties so meek; hath been"So clear in his great office, that his virtues
"Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
"The deep damnation of his taking off;"And Pity, like a naked new-born babe,"Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, hors'd
r' Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
"Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,"That tears shall drown the wind."
Pity in its most amiable and affecting form, like a naked new-born infant, or a cherubim mounted on the invisible couriers of the divine will, (not the winds, as Dr. Johnson would have it,) shall blow, i. e. taint and tumify with horror, in the eyes of all the world, this execrable deed; insomuch that the ambient wind shall be allayed and overcome by a universal shower of tears. He is now almost a convert to compunction, having "no spur to prick" him on but "vaulting ambition;" and finding, on the lady's entrance, that the king had asked for him, his honourable resolution is wound up, and gratitude comes forth to put her seal upon it. Nothing can exceed the delicacy or the energy of these words:
"We will proceed no further in this business, "He hath honour'd me of late," &c.
79. "Catch, with his surcease, success."
Dr. Johnson's proposed emendation of "its" for " his," would wipe out a capital beauty in this speech. Macbeth enters, ruminating upon an action he is about to commit, and now for the first time discloses it; imperfectly, however, by the use of " his," instead of the substantive to which, in his mind, it has reference; and of "surcease," instead of a word of more open meaning. B. Strutt.
80. "We'd jump the life to come."
Mr. Steevens thinks the meaning of "jump" here is overleap, make no account of the life to come; but it is rather, make a bold or desperate trial, as in Cariolanus:
"" i Who would fear
"To jump a body with a dangerous physic,"That's sure of death without it.
80. "We but teach bloody instructions.''*
A similar reflection to this I find in Sir Walter Raleigh's preface to his history of the world; "and he (king Edward IV.) which instructed Gloucester to kill Henry the VI. his predecessor, taught him also, by the same act, to kill his own sons and successors, Edward and Richard; for those kings which have sold the blood of others at a low rate, have made the market for their own enemies to buy of theirs at the same price.
82. "Like angels, trumpet-tongued."
Not trumpet-tongued like angels generally, but like those angels who, to plead most powerfully, are trumpet-tongued. "The sightless couriers of the air" are not winds, as Dr. Johnson supposes, but invisible posters of the divine will; that fly unperceived by sense, and unconnected with matter. If winds were meant as the supporters of the babe, the infant would be left in a very perilous predicament, for he must soon be unhorsed by the drowning of the wind.
"That tears shall drown the wind."
I suspect the death of Sir Thomas Overbury, and the consequent events, were here much in the poet's thoughts. C. Lofft.
86. "Ihave given suck," &c.
This passage has, perhaps, too hastily been censured for unnatural horror and ferocity. The lady's object is to stimulate Macbeth to the murder by any means: she strengthens every incitement, and invalidates every objection. On such an occasion the speaker is not uttering so much his own real sentiments as those which are
4 most likely to operate on the hearer; that tender sentiment was not quite extinguished in the breast even of this sanguinary woman, there is a beautiful instance, in the proper place, where, after leaving the daggers by the king's pillow, she says,
"Had he not resembled
"My father as he slept, I bad don't."
In an old Collection of Anthems, London, printed by W. G. 1663, I find one, on Psalm 137, set by Henry Lawes, of so much poetic excellence that a judicious friend of mine ascribes it to Milton.—There is in it a sentiment not unlike this in ferocity.
"Men shall blesse the hand that tears "From the mother's soft embraces
"Sucking infants, and besmears
"With their brains the rugged faces
87. "Had I so sworn," &c.
This is most judiciously put; the savageness of the sentiment is not only mitigated by the idea of the speaker's acting under the obligation of an oath, but the force of that obligation is artfully impressed on Macbeth to incite him to the murder.
"Sworn," says Mr. Malone, is used as a dissyllable, but what ear will recognise it as such? The measure, however, is complete without the word "but" from the second folio; and we might read,
"And dash'd the brains out, had I sworn as you "Have done to this."