Notes to Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

Notes on the notes:

<<    1 brinded  brindled, streaked

<<    2 hedge-pig  hedgehog

<<    3 Harpier  (Apparently the name of the familiar spirit of Third Witch. The name suggests "Harpy," which in Greek mythology is a loathsome monster with the head and chest of a woman, and the remainder of its body in the shape of a predatory bird.)

<<    5 In the poison'd entrails throw  throw the poisoned entrails in

<<    7 Days and nights has thirty-one / Swelter'd venom sleeping got  has for thirty-one days and nights sweated out venom while sleeping

<<   10 double  (In Shakespeare's time, "double" also meant "deceptive.")

<<   12 Fillet  long-wise slice
    fenny inhabiting fens or swamps

<<   16 fork  forked tongue
    blind-worm's sting (The blindworm is a legless lizard with a black forked tongue, which was thought to contain venom, and was called its "sting.")

<<   17 howlet's  owl's

<<   23 mummy  medicine made from mummified flesh
    maw and gulf stomach and gullet

<<   24 ravin'd  ravenous

<<   25 hemlock  a poisonous plant

<<   27 Gall  gallbladder (The word also means "bile," "a bitter liquid," "spitefulness," and "impudence.")
    yew a tree considered a symbol of sadness

<<   28 Sliver'd  cut off

<<   29 Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips  (Both Turks and Tartars were considered to be cruelly violent.)

<<   31 drab  whore (To get rid of her baby, the whore would deliver it in a ditch and then strangle it.)

<<   32 slab  sticky, thick

<<   33 chaudron  entrails

 ** Enter HECAT . . . Exit HECATE.  (The general opinion of Shakespeare scholars is that everything between Hecate's entrance and her exit was inserted after Shakespeare wrote the play. A song by the name of "Black spirits" appears in a later play, Thomas Middleton's The Witch, which was performed about 1615. Open the text of the song.)

<<   39 pains  strenuous efforts

<<   44 pricking  tingling

<<   50 that which you profess  i.e., the demonic arts in which you are expert

<<   53 yesty  yeasty, foamy

<<   54 Confound and swallow navigation up  i.e., destroy and drown all ships at sea

<<   55 bladed corn be lodged  ripe grain be beaten down [by storms]

<<   56 warders  keepers, guardians

<<   57 slope  bend

<<   58 though the treasure / Of nature's germains tumble all together, / Even till destruction sicken  though the most precious seeds of nature fall into utter chaos, even to the point that death and destruction get sick of their own work

<<   65 nine farrow  litter of nine
    grease that's sweaten / From the murderer's gibbet (The "murderer's gibbet" is the gallows where a murderer is hung. In Shakespeare's time executions were public, and the bodies were often left to hang as a warning to others. After about ten days in warm weather the liquefied fat of the corpse sweats through the skin, drips down, and forms puddles of nauseating grease.)

<<   68 Thyself and office  yourself and your function

 ** an armed Head  a head wearing a helmet (This apparition foreshadows Macduff's leading role in the attack on Macbeth, and perhaps also Macbeth's beheading by Macduff.)

<<   71 beware Macduff; / Beware the thane of Fife  (Macduff is the thane of Fife.)

 ** He descends  (The apparition is lowered through a trap door.)

<<   73 caution  warning

<<   74 Thou hast harp'd my fear aright  you have touched the exact note of what I fear

 ** a bloody Child.  (This apparition foreshadows the hidden meaning of the prophecy that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." Near the end of the play, faced with Macduff, Macbeth repeats this prophecy, but Macduff replies, Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd. So it turns out that the word "born," doesn't cover a Caesarean section, which would result in a newborn covered in blood.)

<<   84 take a bond of fate  get a guarantee from fate (Macbeth has been assured that he will not be harmed by "man of woman born," but he wants to lock up the deal by killing Macduff. Of course, anyone is a self-deluded fool who thinks that he can make fate guarantee anything.)

<<   85 That  so that (The "pale-hearted fear" is Macbeth's own; despite being told that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth," he fears Macduff.)

 ** a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand  (The "Child crowned" may foreshadow the victory of Malcolm, King Duncan's child, or the royalty of the descendants of Fleance, Macduff's child. The "tree in his hand" foreshadows the advance of Birnam Wood to Macbeth's castle.)

<<   87 like  in the likeneness of
    the issue of a king the descendant of a king

<<   88 round / And top of sovereignty  i.e., royal crown

<<   91 conspirers  conspirators [against Macbeth]

<<   95 impress  draft as soldiers

<<   96 bodements  prophecies

<<   97 Rebellious dead  i.e., Banquo and his descendents ? (Editors often change this phrase to "Rebellious head" or "Rebellion's head," meaning "an armed force of rebellion on the march.")

<<   99 live the lease of nature, pay his breath / To time and mortal custom  i.e., live out a full life, and die only of old age, as is customary

<<   101 art  magic

<<   102 issue  descendants

<<   102 issue  descendants

<<   104 I will be satisfied  i.e., I demand that you answer my question

<<   106 Why sinks that cauldron?  (Though there is no stage direction, this line indicates that the cauldron descends through a trap door.)
    noise music (The word "noise" can also mean a band of musicians.)

*** Hoboys  oboes

<<   111 Come like shadows, so depart  Come like shadows (spirits, ghosts), and leave the same way

*** glass  mirror

<<   112 Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo  you look too much like the ghost of Banquo (Apparently this is spoken to the first king.)
    Down! (Macbeth demands that the spirit sink out of sight.)

<<   114 other  second
    is like  strongly resembles

<<   116 other  second
    Start, eyes!  jump [out their sockets], [my] eyes! (Macbeth doesn't want to see any more.)

<<   119 bears a glass holds a mirror

<<   121 two-fold balls and treble scepters (This indicates kingship of both England and Scotland. Macbeth was performed before King James, the First of England, and the Sixth of Scotland. A "ball" is an orb, which is—according to Wikipedia—"a hollow golden sphere set with numerous precious and semi-precious stones. The Orb is surmounted by a cross, representing the rule of Jesus over the world." A scepter is a ceremonial staff. King James was crowned in Scone as King of Scotland and there received an orb and a scepter. He was crowned again in England, where he received an orb and two scepters.)

<<   123 blood-bolter'd with hair matted with blood

<<   125 Ay, sir . . . (It is the opinion of Shakespearean scholars that lines 125-132 were inserted after Shakespeare wrote the play, in order to introduce the dance of the witches. Scholars also believe that Shakespeare didn't intend the witches to dance.)

<<   126 amazedly as in a trance

<<   127 sprites spirits

<<   130 antic round wild dance

<<   131 That in order that

<<   132 Our duties did his welcome pay our ceremonies repaid the welcome he gave us (This is snide; Macbeth, rather than welcoming the witches, called them "hags" and demanded information from them.)

<<   135 Come in, without there come in, whoever is there, outside

<<   137 Came they not by you? didn't they come past you?

<<   140 horse horses

<<   144 Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits: / The flighty purpose never is o'ertook / Unless the deed go with it time, you forestall my dreadful exploits; the always-fleeing purpose is never overtaken unless the deed goes with it (In all probability, Macbeth's "purpose" had been to kill Macduff. Now he is angry with himself that he let slip his chance to do so. He reflects that we never catch up with what we intend to do unless we do it right away.)

<<   147 firstlings first born

<<   150 surprise mount a surprise attack on

<<   151 Seize upon Fife take possession of Fife [Macduff's castle and all his land]

<<   153 That trace him in his line follow him in his family line (Macbeth plans to wipe out anyone who might have any possible claim to Fife.)