Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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20-1 ‘Anon, anon: I pray you, remember the Porter.’ – ‘Anon’ means ‘immediately’ and the phrase is equivalent to ‘I’m coming, I’m coming’. His words are addressed offstage to Macduff, imagined on the other side of the gate. ‘I pray you, remember the Porter’ is a – probably automatic – plea for a ‘remembrance’ from him or a tip. There is irony in the fact that he has taken so long to answer Macduff’s knocking, but still has the gall to ask for money.

24 ‘till the second cock’ – This is an odder expression than may at first appear. Traditionally, the first cock crows at about three a.m. One can only imagine that the second cock would add its voice fairly soon after: however, the term is sometimes applied to the last ‘hours’ of the night, called by the watch or bellman and already alluded to by both Macbeths. If this is the Porter’s meaning, then he was still drinking at the ‘first cock’, but retired to his bed at the ‘second cock’ (four a.m.) and was asleep soon after, when Duncan was murdered. Macduff and Lenox may be imagined knocking upon the gate about an hour after that – at five o’clock, or first thing in the morning. Shakespeare, therefore, makes Macbeth’s murder of Duncan coincide neatly with Saint Peter’s threefold betrayal of Christ (Cf. Mk 14:30: ‘And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice’).

27 ‘nose-painting’ – Heavy drinkers frequently develop a red nose which they may choose to hide using cosmetics.

28ff ‘Lechery, Sir, it provokes and unprovokes…’ – The Porter provide a comic take on the play’s continual use of antithetical constructions (as noted by Kenneth Muir).

33-4 ‘Makes him stand to, and not stand to’ – The meaning of to ‘stand to’ was to ‘fight or toil on without any flagging’. There is a rather obvious pun, of course, on the difficulties of maintaining an erection when inebriated.

34 ‘equivocates him in a sleep’ – The drunken lecher is so ‘equivocated’ by all these contrary impulses that he falls asleep.

35 ‘giving him the lie’ – meaning both ‘deceives him’ and ‘leaves him (and his penis) lying down’.

37 ‘I’the very throat of me’ – To give someone ‘the lie in their throat’ meant to lie to their face. The Porter is punning, of course, as his ale passed through his throat when he drank it.

39 ‘though he took up my legs sometime’ – The image is of Drink personified wrestling with the Porter.

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William Shakespeare
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