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2 Witch. Show me, show me.
i Witch. Here I have a pilot's thumb, Wreck'd, as homeward he did come. [Drum within.
3 Witch. A drum, a drum ; Macbeth doth come.
All. The weird sisters, hand in hand,8
the said christened cat was the cause of the Kinges Majesties shippe, at bis coming fortbo of Denmarke, had a contrarie winde to the rest of bis shippes then beeing in his companie, which thing was most straunge and true, as the Kinges Majestie acknowledgeth, for when the rest of the shippes had a faire and good winde, then was the winde contrarie and altogether against his Majestie. And further the sayde witch declared, that his Majestie had never come safely from the sea, if his faith had not prevayled above their ententions.” To this circumstance perhaps our au. thor's allusion is sufficiently plain. Steevens.
& The weird sisters, band in band,] These weird sisters, were the Fates of the northern nations; the three handmaids of Odin. Hæ nominantur Valkyriæ, quas quodvis ad prælium Odinus mittit. He viros morti destinant, et victoriam gubernant. Gunna, et Rota, et Parcarum minima Skullda : per aëra et maria equitant semper ad morituros eligendos ; et cædes in potestate babent. Bartholinus de Causis contemptæ à Danis adhuc Gentilibus mortis. It is for this reason that Shakspeare makes them three; and calls them
Posters of the sea and land; and intent only upon death and mischief. However, to give this part of his work the more dignity, he intermixes, with this Nor. thern, the Greek and Roman superstitions; and puts Hécate at the head of their enchantments. And to make it still more fa. miliar to the common audience (which was always his point) he adds, for another ingredient, a sufficient quantity of our own country superstitions concerning witches; their beards, their cats, and their broomsticks. So that his witch-scenes are like the charm they prépare in one of them; where the ingredients are gathered from every thing shocking in the natural world, as here, from every thing absurd in the moral. But, as extravagant as all this is, the play has had the power to charm and bewitch every audience, from that time to this. Warburton.
Weird comes from the Anglo-Saxon pörd, fatum, and is used as a substantiye signifying a prophecy, by the translator of Hector.
. Enter MACBETH and Banquo.
Macb. So foul and fair a day I have not seen. sums. Ban. How far is 't call'd to Fores?'—What are these,
So wither’d, and so wild in their attire;
Boethius, in the year 1541, as well as for the Destinies, by Chaucer and Holinshed. Of the weirdis gevyn to Makbeth and Banbquo, is the argument of one of the chapters. Gawin Douglas, in his translation of Virgil, calls the Parcæ the weird sisters; and in Ane“ verie excellent and delectabill Treatise intitukit PHILOTUS, quhai. rin we may persave the greit inconveniences that fallis out in the Marriage betweene Age and Zouth, Edinburgh, 1603, the word appears again :
“How dois the quheill of fortune go,
Quhat wickit wierd has wrocht our wo.”
Quhat neidis Philotus to think ill,
« Or zit his wierd to warie?” The other method of spelling [weyward) was merely a blunder of the transcriber or printer.
The Valkyriæ, or Valkyriur, were not barely three in number. The learned critic might have found, in Bartholinus, not only Gunna, Rota, et Skullda, but also, Scogula, Hilda, Gondula, and Geiroscogula. Bartholinus adds, that their number is yet greater, according to other writers who speak of them. They were the cup-bearers of Odin, and conductors of the dead. They were distinguished by the elegance of their forms; and it would be as just to compare youth and beauty with age and deformity, as the Valkyriæ of the North with the Witches of Shakspeare. Steevens.
The old copy has-weyward, probably in consequence of the transcriber's being deceived by his ear. The correction was made by Mr. Theobald. The following passage in Bellenden's trans. lation of Hector Boethius, fully supports the emendation: “Be aventure Makbeth and Banquho were passand to Fores, quhair kyng Duncane hapnit to be for ye tyme, and met be ye gait thre wemen clothit in elrage and uncouth weid. They wer jugit be the pepill to be weird sisters.” So also Holinshed. Malone.
9 How far is't calld to Fores?] The king at this time resided at Fores, a town in Murray, not far from Inverness. “It fortuned, (says Holinshed) as Macbeth and Banquo journeyed towards. Fores, where the king then lay, they went sporting by the way, without other company, save only themselves, when suddenly in the midst of a laund there met them three women in straunge and wild apparell, resembling creatures of the elder world,” &c.
Steevens. The old copy reads-Soris. Corrected by Mr. Pope. Malone
That man may question ?1 You seem to understand me,
Macb. Speak, if you can;- What are you?
1 That man may question? Are ye any beings with which man is permitted to hold converse, or of whom it is lawful to ask questions. Fobnson.
2 You should be women, 1 In Pierce Pennilesse bis Suppli. cation to the Divell, 1592, there is an enumeration of spirits and their offices; and of certain watry spirits it is said:“- by the help of Alynach a spirit of the West, they will raise stormes, cause earthquakes, rayne, haile or snow, in the clearest day that is; and if ever they appear to anie man, they come in women's apparell.” Henderson.
3 — your beards - Witches were supposed always to have hair on their chins. So, in Decker's Honest Whore, 1635: " Some women have beards, marry they are half
witches.” Steevens. 4 Alt bail, Macbeth!'7 It hath lately been repeated from Mr. Guthrie's Essay upon English Tragedy, that the portrait of Mac. beth's wife is copied from Buchanan, “ whose spirit, as well as words, is translated into the play of Shakspeare: and it had signifyed nothing to have pored only on Holinshed for facts.”_"Ani. mus etiam, per se ferox, prope quotidianis conviciis uxoris (quæ ,omnium consiliorum ei erat conscia) stimulabatur."--This is the whole that Buchanan says of the Lady, and truly I see no more spirit in the Scotch, than in the English chronicler." The wordes of the three weird sisters also greatly encouraged him [to the murder of Duncan, ] but specially his wife lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she that was very ambitious, brenning in uinquenchable desire to beare the name of a queene." Edit. 1577, p. 244.
This part of Holinshed is an abridgment of Johne Bellenden's translation of the Noble Clerk, Hector Boece, imprinted at Edinburgh, in fol. 1541. I will give the passage as it is found there. “ His wyfe impacient of lang tary (as all wemen ar) specially quhare they are desirus of ony purpos, gaif hym gret artation to persew the third weird, that sche micht be ane quene, calland hym ofttymis febyl cowart and nocht desyrus of honouris, sen he durst no assailze the thing with manheid and curage, quhilk is offerit to hym bę beniuolence of fortoun. Howbeit, şindry otheris hes assailzeit şic thinges afore with maist terribyl
2 Witch. All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of
Cawdor !6 3 Witch. All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king here
after. Ban. Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear Things that do sound so fair?-_I' the name of truth, Are ye fantastical, or that indeed.
jeopardyis, quhen they had not sic sickernes to succeid in the end of thair laubouris as he had.” p. 173.
But we can demonstrate, that Shakspeare had not the story from Buchanan. According to bim, the weird sisters salute Macbeth : Una Angusiæ Thanum, altera Moravia, tertia Re. gem.”—Thane of Angus, and of Murray, &c. but according to Holinshed, immediately from Bellenden, as it stands in Shakspeare : “ The first of them spake and sayde, All hayle Makbeth Thane of Glammis,—the second of them sayde, Hayle Makbeth Thane of Cawder, but the third sayde, All hayle Makbeth, that hereafter shall be King of Scotland.” p. 243.
1 Witch. All bail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis ! 2 Witch. All bail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor ! 3 Witch. All bail, Macbeth ! that shalt bé king bereafter!
Here too our poet found the equivocal predictions, on which his hero so fatally depended : “He had learned of certaine wy. sards, how that he ought to take heede of Macduffe: and surely hereupon had he put Macduffe to death, but a certaine witch, whom he had in great trust, had tolde, that he should neuer be slain with inan borne of any woman, nor vanquished till the wood of Bernane came to the castell of Dunsinane.” p. 244. And the scene between Malcolm and Macduff, in the fourth Act, is almost literally taken from the Chronicle. Farmer.
All hail, Macbeth!] All bail is a corruption of al-bael, Saxon, i. e. ave, salve. Malone.
5 thane of Glamis.'] The thaneship of Glamis was the ancient inheritance of Macbeth's family. The castle where they lived is still standing, and was lately the magnificent residence of the earl of Strathmore. See a particular description of it in Mr. Gray's Letter to Dr. Wharton, dated from Glames Castle.
Steevens. - thane of Cawdor!) Dr. Johnson observes, in his fourney to the Western Islands of Scotland, that part of Calder Castle, from which Macbeth drew his second title, is still remaining. In one of his Letters, Vol. I, p. 122, he takes notice of the same object: “ There is one ancient tower with its battlements and winding stairs--the rest of the house is, though not modern, of later erection. Steevens.
7 Are ye fantastical,] By fantastical is not meant, according to the common signification, creatures of his own brain; for he
Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner
1 IVitch. Hail!
could not be so extravagant as to ask such a question : but it is used for supernatural, spiritual. Warburton.
By fantastical, he means creatures of fantasy or imagination : the question is, Are these real beings before us, or are we deceived by illusions of fancy? Fobnson.
So, in Reginald Scott's Discovery of Witchcraft, 1584:-" Ho affirmeth these transubstantiations to be but fantastical, not according to the veritie, but according to the appearance.” The same expression occurs in All's lost by Lust, 1633, by Rowley:
or is that thing,
“Merely phantastical ?" Shakspeare, however, took the word from Holinshed, who in his account of the witches, says : “ This was reputed at first but bome vain fantastical illusion by Macbeth and Banquo.”
Steevens. 8 Of noble having,] Having is estate, possession, fortune. So, in Twelfth Night:
“ my having is not much ;
“ Hold; there is half my coffer.” Again, in the ancient metrical romance of Syr Bevys of Hampton,' bl. 1. no date :
“And when he heareth this tydinge,
“ He will go theder with great having." See also note on The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III, sc. ii.
Steevens. 9 That he seems rapt withal ;] Rapt is rapturously affected extra se raptus. So, in Spenser's Faery Queen, IV, ix. 6:
"That, with the sweetness of her rare delight,
" The prince half rapt, began on her to dote.” Again, in Cumbeline :
What, dear sir, thus raps you?” Steevens.