Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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40 ‘I made a shift to cast him’ – Equivalent to ‘I managed to cast him off’, continuing the wrestling metaphor, though ‘cast’ probably also means to urinate here.

46-7 ‘I know this is a joyful trouble to you;/ But yet, ’tis one.’ – Macduff means the task of entertaining the king and his entourage.

49 ‘physics’ = ‘is a cure to’.

52 ‘He does:– he did appoint so.’ – The addition of ‘he did appoint so’ is Macbeth automatically correcting himself. He knows, of course, that Duncan will not be going anywhere.

54-5 ‘and, as they say,/ Lamentings heard i’th’air’ – Possibly the cry of the Banshee, a supernatural being whose keening wail foretells a death. The legend is found in the folklore of Scotland and Wales as well as Ireland.

57 ‘combustion’ – ‘tumult’, ‘disorder’.

58 ‘the obscure bird’ – the owl. ‘Obscure’ originally meant ‘dark’, so the expression means ‘the bird of the dark.’ The Barn Owl’s screech was often thought of as a bad omen, presaging death or disaster; it is this ‘obscure bird’ who is doing the ‘prophesying’ of line 56.

60 ‘feverous’ – Earthquakes were often regarded as bad omens; to this idea, Shakespeare adds the idea of the earth shaking with fever, as though all of nature is diseased.

60 ‘’Twas a rough night.’ – Macbeth’s attempt to downplay Lenox’s words. Interestingly, Act II, Scene i, when Macbeth prepares to murder Duncan is notable for its powerful impression of silence and stillness, broken only by the hooting of a single owl. Conceivably, we are to imagine the storm breaking immediately after the murder, but the bad weather is, of course, symbolic, and Shakespeare could assume that his audience would overlook the apparent contradiction.

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William Shakespeare
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