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......... Heaven's breath Smells wooingly here. No jutting frieze,
By changing the punctuation and adding a syllable thus,
.........Heaven's breath Smells wooingly. Here is no jutting frieze.
Those who have perused books printed at the time of the first editions of Shakspeare, know that greater alterations than these are necessary almost in every page, even where it is not to be doubted that the copy was correct.
The arguments by which Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of Shaksfieare's knowledge of human nature. 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 de. stroyed 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 been lost.
I dare do all that may become a man,
This topic, 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, with. out great impatience.
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 Shakspeare, whose plan obliged him to make Macbeth yield, has not confuted, though he might easily have shown that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter.
LETTING I dare not, wait upon I would, Like the poor cat i’ th' adage.
The adage alluded to is, The cat loves fish, but dares not wet her foot.
Catus amat pisces, sed non vult tingere plantas.
WILL I with wine and wassal so convince.
To convince is in Shakspeare to overpower or subdue, as in this play,
...Their malady convinces The great essay of art.
..........Who shall bear the guilt
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
(1)..........Now o'er one half the world Nature seems dead.
That is, over our hemisphere all action and motion seem to have ceased. This image, which is perhaps the most striking that poetry can produce, has been adopted by Dryden in his Conquest of Mexico.
All things are hush'd as nature's self lay dead,
These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, that the contrast between them and this passage of Shakspeare may be more accurately observed.
Night is described by two great poets, but one describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation. In the night of Dryden, all the disturbers of the world are laid asleep; in that of Shakspeare, 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 Shakspeare, looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone. One is the night of a lover, the other that of a murderer.
(2)..............Wither'd murder, ................ Thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing sides tow'rd his design,
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 attempling 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 himn whom he proposes to murder, without awaking him ; these he describes as moving like ghosts, whose progression is se different from strides, that it has been in all ages represented to be, as Milton expresses it,
Smooth sliding without step.
This hemistic 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'rd 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.
(3) And take the present horror from the time
That now suits with it.
I believe every one that has attentively read this dreadful soliloquy is disappointed at the conclusion, which, if not wholly unintelligible, is, at least, obscure, nor can be explained into any sense worthy of the author. I shall therefore propose a slight alteration.
......... Thou sound and firm set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear