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Cawdor Castle


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SCENE V. Inverness. Macbeth's castle.
Enter LADY MACBETH, reading a letter
'They met me in the day of success: and I have
learned by the perfectest report, they have more in (note 78)
them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire
to question them further, they made themselves air,
into which they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in
the wonder of it, came missives from the king, who (note 79)
all-hailed me 'Thane of Cawdor;' by which title,
before, these weird sisters saluted me, and referred
me to the coming on of time, with 'Hail, king that
shalt be!' This have I thought good to deliver
thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou
mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being
ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it
to thy heart, and farewell.'
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly, (note 80)
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou'ldst have, great Glamis,
That which cries 'Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone.' Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem (notes 81, 82)
To have thee crown'd withal.

Enter a Messenger
What is your tidings?

The king comes here to-night.

Thou'rt mad to say it:
Is not thy master with him? who, were't so,
Would have inform'd for preparation.

So please you, it is true: our thane is coming:
One of my fellows had the speed of him,
Who, almost dead for breath, had scarcely more (note 83)
Than would make up his message.

Give him tending;
He brings great news.

Exit Messenger
The raven himself is hoarse (note 84)
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, (note 85)
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between (note 86)
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances (note 87)
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, (note 88)
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, (note 89)
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, (note 90)
To cry 'Hold, hold!' (note 91)

Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!
Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now (note 92)
The future in the instant.

My dearest love,
Duncan comes here to-night.

And when goes hence?

To-morrow, as he purposes.

O, never
Shall sun that morrow see!
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't. He that's comingn (note 93)
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night's great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.

We will speak further.

Only look up clear;
To alter favour ever is to fear: (note 94)
Leave all the rest to me.


(78) By the pe'rfectest report. ' From the most reliable information.'
(79) Missives. Here used for messengers.
(80) Illness. Here used for 'badness,' 'evilness."
(81} Metaphysical. In Shakespeare's time this word was used to express 'supernatural' or 'preternatural'.
(82) Seem to have. An idiom used by Shakespeare to express' appear to wish,' 'make show of desiring,' 'give token of wishing.' See the passage referred to in Note 39, Act I" " All's Well."
(83) Who, almost dead for breath, 'Want of' is elliptically understood between "for" and "breath.."
(84) The raven himself is hoarse, &;c. ...Lady Macbeth, hearing that the messenger has scarcely breath to announce the king's arrival, follows up the thought by saying to herself, 'Ay, all who proclaim that advent may naturally be wanting invoice; the very bird that hath the harshest of notes is hoarse,' &c.
(85) Mortal. Here, and elsewhere, used by Shakespeare for 'deadly.'
(86) Nor keep peace between the effect and it. The First Folio prints 'hit' for "it" here; corrected in the Third Folio. Perhaps we should rather say modernised than corrected; for 'hit' was an old form of "it." See Note 52, Act V., " All's Well," for a similar First Folio use of 'hit' as a form of "it;" the present passage serving to confirm the propriety of our adopted reading there. The word "peace" in the present -passage has been suspected of error, Johnson proposing that it should be changed to 'pace;' but by "keep peace" the effect is produced of 'mediate,' 'suspend proceedings,' 'check hostilities,' and therefore of hindering achievement.
(87) Sightless. Here, and in the passage referred to in Note 118 of the present Act, used to express' unseen,' 'invisible.' Elsewhere Shakespeare employs it in the sense of 'unsightly' and these instances afford an example of the licence with which he uses words ending in "less."
(88) Pall thee in the dunnest smoke. "Pall" has been explained by some to mean 'a robe of state;' and by others has been derived from the Latin palliare, to 'invest,' 'clothe,' 'wrap,' or 'cover.' We think that it is one of Shakespeare's poetically coined verbs from nouns to express' cover as with a funereal pall. 'It will hardly be believed that "dunnest" has been objected to as a mean epithet (!); to our minds it has an even superbly-impressive effect, in its dark, shadowy grimness.
(89) That my keen knife. "Knife," in the present day sounding more familiar than would seem to befit the language of tragedy, was formerly a usual name for a 'dagger.'
(90) The blanket of the dark. Here is another of those familiar expressions, which trouble fastidious commentators, causing them to suspect error and propose so-called emendation; but which to poets and poetical appreciators seem fraught with grand simplicity. See Note 13 of the present Act.
(91) "Hold, hold! " This was the phrase formally and solemnly used when parting combatants. In Bellay's "Instructions for the Wars," 1589, we find that the old military laws declared capital punishment to be the penalty for" whosoever shall strike stroke at his adversary, either in the heat or otherwise, if a third do cry hold, to the intent to part them; except that they did fight a combat in a place enclosed; and then no man shall be so hardy as to bid hold, but the general."
(92) This ignorant present. 'This present moment unacquainted with the existence of that which hereafter will exist.' "Ignorant" here includes the sense of 'unpossessed of' as well as 'unacquainted with,' 'unconscious of,' 'unknowing.' The phrase is one of Shakespeare's finely succinct elliptical expressions, which the meddlers
with his phraseology would fain deprive us of by diluting it into 'this ignorant present time.'
(93) He that's coming. By this hard abstract expression, going even beyond her husband's plain mention of the king by his simple name of "Duncan," how strlkingly does the dramatist denote Lady Macbeth's character, and her tact in avoiding direct nomination of their intended victim by any title that may remind her partner of the claims he has upon their respect and hospitality as king and guest!
(94) Favour. ' Aspect,' 'appearance,' 'look,' 'countenance.'

17th Jun 2005


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