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Macbeth Illustration


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SCENE II. The same.
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 it:
The doors are open; and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg'd
their possets, (note 16)
That death and nature do contend about them, (note 17)
Whether they live or die.

[Within] Who's there? what, ho!

Alack, I am afraid they have awaked,
And 'tis not done. The attempt and not the deed
Confounds us. Hark! I laid their daggers ready; (note 18)
He could not miss 'em. Had he not resembled
My father as he slept, I had done't.

My husband!

I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?



As I descended?


Who lies i' the second chamber?


This is a sorry sight.

Looking on his hands
A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.

There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried
That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them:
But they did say their prayers, and address'd them
Again to sleep.

There are two lodged together.

One cried 'God bless us!' and 'Amen' the other;
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say 'Amen,'
When they did say 'God bless us!'

Consider it not so deeply.

But wherefore could not I pronounce 'Amen'?
I had most need of blessing, and 'Amen'
Stuck in my throat.

These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad.

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care, (note 19)
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast,--

What do you mean? (note 20)

Still it cried 'Sleep no more!' to all the house:
'Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.'

Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.

I'll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on't again I dare not.

Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.

Exit. Knocking within
Whence is that knocking?
How is't with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine, (note 21)
Making the green one red. (note 22)

My hands are of your colour; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.

Knocking within
I hear a knocking
At the south entry: retire we to our chamber;
A little water clears us of this deed:
How easy is it, then! Your constancy (notes 23, 24)
Hath left you unattended.

Knocking within
Hark! more knocking.
Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us,
And show us to be watchers. Be not lost
So poorly in your thoughts.

To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself. (note 26)

Knocking within
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!


(16) Possetts. The several uses made by the dramatist in this scene of the custom which prevailed formerly of taking a night-draught before retiring to rest, are worthy of remark. Macbeth, wholly engrossed wlth his contemplated deed, says to the servant, "Bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, she strike upon the bell; "using the signal as a mere summons to his bloody act. Lady Macbeth swallows her portion as that which shall give her nerve and firmness for her task; while the cup prepared for the already "surfeited grooms" is "drugg'd" to make all doubly secure.
(17) Death and nature do contend. "Nature" is here used for, natural strength, 'native constitution.' See Note 68, Act I. "All's Well."
(18) Hark! The poetry of this exclamation, as Shakespeare has employed it in this appalling scene, has been strangely vulgarised into bare matter of fact by theatrical representation, which usually accompanies this exclamation of Macbeth by a clap of stage thunder. It appears to us that Macbeth's "Hark!" here is of a piece with Lady Macbeth's "Hark!" which she twice utters just before. It is put into both their mouths to denote the anxious listening, the eager sensitive ears, the breathless strain with which each murderous accomplice hearkens after any sound that they dread should break the silence of night. She answers her own ejaculation, in the first place, by observing that "it was the owl that shriek'd;" and, in the second place, by "I laid their daggers ready;" showing
that she is tracking (by her ear) the progress made by her husband, his steps, his descent from the death-chamber: then he, after coming to her, also exclaims, "Hark!" - adding as the shudder subsides with which he has gasped it forth, "Who lies i' the second chamber?" showing that he too is listening for possible sounds, and not listening to actual ones. The word, to our thinking, expressively indicates that susceptibility to a sound that may at any instant come, which obtains possession of those engaged in a perilous deed-perilous to body and soul - and causes them to bid themselves hush and hearken to what they fancy .might be heard but for the beating of their own heart and the already busy whispers of their own conscience.
(19) Sleave. 'Raw silk,' 'unwrought silk;' sometimes called 'floss silk.'
(20) What do you mean? Wonderfully characteristic is this inquiry on the part of Lady Macbeth. Utterly unable to follow the flights of overwrought fancy which shake her imaginative and impressionable husband, she interrupts him with this amazed exclamation. The mental effect produced by their deed upon each of these partners in guilt is indeed a profound metaphysical study.
(21) Incarnardine. A magnificently poetic verb; formed from the Italian word incarnardino, 'carnation or flesh colour.'
(22) Making the green-one red. The Folio prints, 'making the green one, red.' The mode of printing the line which is adopted in our text was first suggested by Murphy; and we think it advisable that the disjunction of "green" and "one" should be thus marked, in order to designate unmistakably what we .believe Shakespeare intended - that the sense of the lIne IS, ' making the green of the leas one entire red colour.' Milton, in his" Comus," has a some- what similar form of expression - "Makes one blot of all the air ;" while Shakespeare himself has, in "Henry VIII," Act II, sc. 1 "Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice."
(23) How easy is it, then! "Easy" is here used in a double sense; that of 'facile of riddance,' and 'slight,' 'inconsiderable,' 'venial.'
(24) Your constancy hath left you unattended. 'Your firmness has deserted you.' "Constancy" is here used in the sense it bears as I pointed out in Note 91, Act II, "Julius Caesar."
(25) To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself. This, in rejoinder to Lady Macbeth's concluding words, means - 'Since my thoughts must be conscious of my deed, it were best that I should be "lost" and not be conscious of my own being:'
(26) I would thou couldst ! This burst of anguished desire that his deed could be undone, thus early after its committal, is of a piece with the lesson read with such terrible force throughout this uniquely drawn scene. The brave soldier-familiar with slaughter and death in their ghastly forms - converted into the trembling dastard who shudders forth, "I am afraid to think what I have done; look on 't again I dare not;" the racked imagination, blinded with gazing upon his blood-dyed hands; the writhing desire to be rid of his own identity; and, finally, this anguished cry of at-once-awakened remorse, all form a matchless picture of present torture foreboding future unending misery.

21st Jun 2005


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