Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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18 ‘smoked with bloody execution’ – The image is of hot blood clouding the cold air, but there is, perhaps, a whiff of hell fire about the notion. The word ‘execution’ is a pun, meaning both to terminate a life through judicial sentence and to complete an action.

19 ‘carv’d out his passage’ – Shakespeare creates a strong sense here of a man who makes his own way, forging his own fate, and ‘Disdaining Fortune’.

20 ‘slave’ – There are probably several lines cut here, and the next does not follow semantically: ‘Which’ should refer back to Macdonwald (‘the slave’), but it obviously refers to Macbeth.

22 ‘unseam’d him’ – the first of numerous references in the play to tailoring and clothes. Together they evoke a complex of ideas including deception and the idea of adopting a form or status to which one is not naturally entitled. Here Macdonwald’s ‘cloak’ of false loyalty is ripped asunder, along with his midriff.

22 ‘the nave to the chops’ – Macbeth’s sword enters at the navel and is drawn upwards to the jaws. The word ‘nave’ is a shortening of ‘navel’ and this is a unique usage in the English language. Shakespeare was very likely recalling Marlowe’s line in Dido, Queen of Carthage ‘Then from the navell to the throat at once/ He ript old Priam ’ (II.i.256).

23 ‘fix’d his head upon our battlements’ – One of Macbeth’s first recorded actions is proleptic of his own fate at the end of the play (cf. V.ix.19.SD)

24 ‘cousin’ – Shakespeare alerts the audience to the fact that Macbeth is of royal blood. Looking ahead a little, Shakespeare appears to assume (as he does in Hamlet ) that his audience would be familiar with the notion that a new king might be chosen from any of the royal blood, rather than by strict primogeniture. The practice in medieval Scotland is clarified by Duncan’s appointing of Malcolm as Prince of Cumberland (equivalent to the rank of Prince of Wales in later English practice).

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William Shakespeare