Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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25 ‘whence the sun gins his reflection’ – ‘reflection’ in this sense is synonymous with a ‘return’ or ‘reversal’ and must refer, therefore, not to one of the equinoxes, as has been argued, but to one of the solstices (literally ‘sun-standings’) when the sun ends its progression (or regression) to a higher (or lower) point in the heavens and begins to move in the opposite direction. Given the bad weather invoked in the text, this is almost certainly a reference to the winter solstice, when lengthening days seem harbingers of springtime, but, paradoxically, the worst weather is usually still to come. Rather than leading to such an encouraging ‘spring’ (a pun, here, on the season and on the meaning ‘source of water’), Macbeth’s victory over Macdonwald is followed by another setback.

27-8 ‘whence comfort seem’d to come,/ Discomfort swells’ – Another example of the many inversions that pepper the text of the play from ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ onwards. The word ‘swells’ simply means ‘grows’ here, though there may be a secondary sense of water welling up from a spring.

34 ‘Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo’ – Shakespeare introduces Banquo, and he is given equal status with Macbeth. The two form a strong dramatic contrast: Banquo remains faithful and has an heir, whereas Macbeth betrays Duncan and has no children.

30 ‘skipping Kernes’ – a reference both to the Irishmen’s light armour and to their swift retreat.

31 ‘surveying vantage’ = ‘seeing an advantage’.

37 ‘as cannons overcharg’d with double cracks’ – an anachronism; ‘cracks’ are charges.

38 ‘So they’ – The metrical irregularity may well indicate that these words were inserted to mask a cut.

41 ‘another Golgotha’ – referring to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. The implication seems to be that such an excess of blood is, in some sense, an act of violence against God – that it is Christ’s blood in which they ‘meant to bathe’. The ambiguity fits in well with the unsettling nature of the play.

53 ‘that most disloyal traitor,/ The Thane of Cawdor’ – proleptic, of course, as Macbeth will soon receive this title.

54 ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ – Macbeth had earlier been ‘Valour’s minion’; this expression sounds like a promotion. ‘Bellona’ is rather an obscure classical goddess of war. She is Mars’s ‘mate’ in George Chapman’s translation of the Iliad (590).

54 ‘lapp’d in proof’ – clad in ‘proven’ armour.

58 ‘lavish’ = ‘insolent’.

63 ‘Saint Colme’s Inch’ – Inchcomb, a small island in the Firth of Forth, named for Columba. Metrically, the line needs two syllables for ‘Colmè’s’ and three for ‘disbursèd’.

64 ‘dollars’ – an anachronism, as the coin dates from the sixteenth century.

66 Two couplets bring the first action of the play to a resounding conclusion.

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William Shakespeare