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Macbeth Glossary

O well done! I commend your put in. (4.1.39-43)

Hecate O well done! I commend your pains;
And every one shall share i' the gains;
And now about the cauldron sing,
Live elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in. (4.1.39-43)
[Music and a song: 'Black spirits,' etc, Hecate retires]

It is likely this passage (and all of 3.5) was inserted at a later date, possibly by Thomas Middleton. Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley explains:
These passages have been suspected (1) because they contain stage-directions for two songs which have been found in Middleton's Witch; (2) because they can be excised without leaving the least trace of their excision; and (3) because they contain lines incongruous with the spirit and atmosphere of the rest of the Witch-scenes: e.g. III. v. 10 f.:

all you have done
Hath been but for a wayward son,
Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,
Loves for his own ends, not for you;

and IV. i. 41, 2:

And now about the cauldron sing,
Like elves and fairies in a ring.

The idea of sexual relation in the first passage, and the trivial daintiness of the second (with which cf. III. v. 34,
Hark! I am call'd; my little spirit, see,
Sits in a foggy cloud, and stays for me)

suit Middleton's Witches quite well, but Shakespeare's not at all; and it is difficult to believe that, if Shakespeare had meant to introduce a personage supreme over the Witches, he would have made her so unimpressive as this Hecate. (It may be added that the original stage-direction at IV. i. 39, 'Enter Hecat and the other three Witches,' is suspicious.)

I doubt if the second and third of these arguments, taken alone, would justify a very serious suspicion of interpolation; but the fact, mentioned under (1), that the play has here been meddled with, trebles their weight. And it gives some weight to the further fact that these passages resemble one another, and differ from the bulk of the other Witch passages, in being iambic in rhythm. (It must, however, be remembered that, supposing Shakespeare did mean to introduce Hecate, he might naturally use a special rhythm for the parts where she appeared.)

The same rhythm appears in a third passage which has been doubted: IV. i. 125-132. But this is not quite on a level with the other two; for (1), though it is possible to suppose the Witches, as well as the Apparitions, to vanish at 124, and Macbeth's speech to run straight on to 133, the cut is not so clean as in the other cases; (2) it is not at all clear that Hecate (the most suspicious element) is supposed to be present. The original stage-direction at 133 is merely 'The Witches Dance, and vanish'; and even if Hecate had been present before, she might have vanished at 43, as Dyce makes her do (400-1).

Back to the Witches' Chants (4.1)

Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966. (First Edition 1904).


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