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Macbeth Illustration


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SCENE II. The palace.
Enter LADY MACBETH and a Servant
Is Banquo gone from court?

Ay, madam, but returns again to-night.

Say to the king, I would attend his leisure
For a few words.

Madam, I will.

Nought's had, all's spent, (note 37)
Where our desire is got without content:
'Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

How now, my lord! why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making, (note 38)
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what's done is done.

We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it: (note 39)
She'll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice
Remains in danger of her former tooth.
But let the frame of things disjoint, both the
worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, (note 40)
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave; (note 41)
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.

Come on;
Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.

So shall I, love; and so, I pray, be you:
Let your remembrance apply to Banquo;
Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue: (note 42)
Unsafe the while, that we (note 43)
Must lave our honours in these flattering streams,
And make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disguising what they are.

You must leave this.

O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!
Thou know'st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives.

But in them nature's copy's not eterne. (note 44)

There's comfort yet; they are assailable;
Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown (note 45)
His cloister'd flight, ere to black Hecate's summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums (note 46)
Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.

What's to be done?

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night, (note 47)
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond (note 48)
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow (note 49)
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse. (note 50)
Thou marvell'st at my words: but hold thee still;
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.
So, prithee, go with me.


(37) Naught's had, all's spent. In this brief soliloquy, of but three lines and a half, there is wonderful condensation of moral painting and dramatic art. It shows us the deep-seated misery of the murderess, discontented with rank gained by loss of peace, absolutely envying her victim sent to peace, and writhing beneath the constant sense of doubt and dread; it allows us to see the inward dejection of her spirit, the profound melancholy and perturbation in which she is secretly steeped; while, on the very instant that she sees her husband approach, she can rally her forces, assume exterior fortitude, and resume accustomed hardness of manner, with which to stimulate him by remonstrance almost amounting to reproach.
(38) Sorriest. Here used for 'grimmest,' 'dismalest;' as before, in the present play, where Macbeth, looking on his blood-stained hands, says, "This is a sorry sight," "sorry" means 'Prim,' 'dismal,' 'ghastly.'
(39) Scotch'd. The Folio prints 'Scorch'd.' This was possibly an old form of the word as it seems to be derived from the old French escorcher, 'to flay,' 'to skin;' and from the Italian scorzare which Florio explains by 'to flea the skin off.' The word "scotch'd," however, more properly means 'gashed with cuts rather more than skin deep;' and Shakespeare thus uses it here and elsewhere.
(40) To gain our peace, have sent to peace. The Second Folio changed the first "peace" in this line to 'place;' a change that has been adopted by several editors. Not only, however, is the repeated word completely in Shakespeare's manner, but it precisely suits with that which Macbeth has aimed at, in order to appease his restless ambition, and to give expected fulness of content to all his after days.
(41) Ecstacy. 'Strong emotional disturbance.'
(42) Present him eminence. 'Treat him with the highest distinction.'
(43) Unsafe the while, that we, &c. It seems extremely probable that something has been omitted in the Folio printing of the original passage here. As it stands, we must elliptically understand 'Ah! how' before "unsafe," and 'is ours' before " the while;" since the word " eminence" appears to supply the particular here referred to, and the meaning of the entire sentence to be, 'Treat him with the highest dignity and distinction, both by your looks and speech: 'alas how unstable is our own royal dignity when it must condescend to use flattery and dissimulation.'
(44) In them nature's copy's not eterne. Here "copy' besides meaning 'example' or 'specimen' of humanity, has reference to the technical legal term used for a 'lease' held by copyhold tenure; in which the tenant holds an estate/or life merely, and not in perpetuity. "Eterne" is an abbreviated form of 'eternal,' frequently used by Chaucer.
(45) The bat hath flown his cloister'd flight. "Cloister'd" is one of Shakespeare's elliptically-framed epithets; the expression meaning 'the flight which is taken round and round through cloisters.' Its
propriety of effect to the dramatic story, and propriety of truth to natural fact, are both perfect.
(46) The shard-borne beetle. 'The beetle borne along the air by its shards or scaly wings.'
(47) Come, seeling night. "Seeling" is here used for 'blinding.' The term is from falconry: it being the custom to seal the eyes of a hawk by sewing its upper and under lids together, which was done in order to accustom it to its hood.
(48) That great bond. Macbeth here alludes to the life of Banquo by a legal expression in conformity with Lady Macbeth's previous phrase explained in Note 44 of this Act; and Shakespeare uses a similar form where he makes Queen Margaret say, in "Richard III," Act IV, sc. 4, "Cancel his bond of life."
(49) The crow makes wing to the rooky wood. Strange to say, this most poetical sentence has been misunderstood; whereas it surely gives most vividly the impression of the long flight of crows that troop at close of day to their nests among the high trees of a wood - rooks returning to their rookery. The very epithet "rooky" appears to us to caw with the sound of many bedward rooks bustling and croaking to their several roosts.
(50) Preys. One of the words which were used in Shakespeare's time in the plural that now are employed only in the singular.

21st Jun 2005


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