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Scene I. As this is the chief scene of enchantment in the play, it is proper in this place to observe, with how much judgment Shakspere has selected all the circumstances of his infernal ceremonies, and how exactly he has conformed to common opinions and traditions :
" Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd." The usual form in which familiar spirits are reported .to converse with witches, is that of a cat.
A witch, who was tried about half a century before the time of Shakspere, had a cat named Rutterkin, as the spirit of one of those witches was Grimalkin; and when any mischief was to be done, she used to bid Rutterkin go and fly But once, when she would have sent Rutterkin to torment a daughter of the countess of Rutland, instead of going or flying, he only cried mew, from .whence she discovered that the lady was out of his power, the power of witches being not universal, but limited, as Shakspere has taken care to inculcate :
" Though his bark cannot be lost,
“ Yet it shall be tempest-tost." The common afflictions which the malice of witches produced, were melancholy, fits, and loss of Aesh, which are threatened by one of Shakspere's witches :
“ Weary sev’n nights, nine times nine,
· It was likewise their practice to destroy the cattle of their neighbours; and the farmers have to this day many
ceremonies to secure their cows and other cattle from witchcraft; but they seem to have been most suspected of malice against swine. Shakepere has accordingly made one of his witches declare that she has been killing swine ; and Dr. Harsnet observes, that about that time, “a sow could not be ill of the measles, nor a girl of the sullens, but some old woman was charg'd with witchcraft.”
“ Toad, that under the cold stone,
“ Boil thou first i’the charmed pot." Toads have likewise long lain under the reproach of being by some means accessary to witchcraft, for which reason Shakspere, in the first scene of this play, calls one of the spirits Paddock or Toad, and now takes care to put a toad first into the pot. When Vaninus was-seized at Tholouse, there was found at his lodgings ingens Bufo Vitro inclusus, a great toad shut in a vial, upon which those that prosecuted him Veneficium exprobrabant, charged him, I suppose, with witchcraft.
“ Fillet of a fenny snake,
“ For a charm,” &c. The propriety of these ingredients may be known by consulting the books de Viribus Animalium, and de Mirabilibus Mundi, ascribed to Albertus Magnus, in which K
the reader, who has time and credulity, may discover very
“ Finger of birth-strangled babe,
“ Ditch-deliver'd by a drab;"'. It has been already mentioned in the law against witches, that they are supposed to take up dead bodies to use in enchantments, which was confessed by the woinan whom king James examined, and who had of a dead body, that was divided in one of their assem. blies, two fingers for her share. It is observable, that Shakspere, on this great occasion which involves the fate of a king, multiplies all the circumstances of horror. The babe, whose finger is used, must be strangled in its birth; the grease must not only be human, but must have dropped from a gibbet, the gibbet of a murderer; and even the
whose blood is used, must have offended nature by devouring her own farrow.
These are touches of judgment and genius.
“ And now about the cauldron sing-
“ Blue spirits and grey,
“ You that mingle may." And in a fornier part:
--weird sisters, hand in hand,
These two passages I have brought together, be. cause they both seem subject to the objection of too much levity for the solemnity of enchantment, and may both be shewn, by one quotation from Camden's account of Ireland, to be founded upon a practice really observed by the uncivilized natives of that country: “ When any one gets a fall, says the informer of Camden, he starts up, and, turning three times to the right, digs a hole in the earth; for they imagine that there is a spirit in the ground; and if he falls sick in two or three days, they send one of their women that is skilled in that way to the place, where she says, I call thee from the east, west, north, and south, from the groves, the woods, the rivers, and the fens, from the fairies, red, black, white." There was likewise a book written before the time of Shakspere, describing, amongst other properties, the colours of spirits.
Many other circumstances might be particularised, in which Shakspere has shown his judgment and his knowledge.
Johnson. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.] A cat, from time immemorial, bath been the agent and favourite of witches. This superstitious fancy is pagan, and very ancient; and the original, perhaps, this ; When Galinthia was changed into a cat by the Fates ( says Antonius Liberalis, Metam. cap. 29.), by witches (says Pausanias in his Bæotics), Hecate took pity of her, and made her her priestess; in which office she continues to this day. Hecate herself too, when Typhon forced all the gods
and goddesses to hide themselves in animals, assumed the shape of a cat. So, Ovid :
« Fele soror Phæbi latuit,” WARBURTON.
Thrice; and once the hedge-pi: whir’d.] Mr. Theobald reads, twice and once, &c. and observes that odd numbers are used in all enchantments and magical operations. The remark is just; but the passage was misunderstood. The second Witch only repeats the number which the first had mentioned, in order to confirm what she had said ; and then adds, that the hedge-pig had likewise cried, though but once. Or, what seenis more easy, the hedge-pig had whined thrice, and after an interval had whined once again.
Even numbers, however, were always reckoned inauspicious. So, in the Honest Lawyer, by S. S. 1616: “ Sure 'tis not a lucky time; the first crow I heard
morning, cried twice. This even, sir, is no good number.” Twice and once, however, might be a cant expression. So, in K. Henry IV. Part II. Silence says, “ I have been merry twice and once, ere now."
STEEVENS. 3. Harper cries : -] This is some imp, or fanuiliar spirit, concerning whose etymology and office, the reader may be wiser than the editor. Those who are acquainted with Dr. Farmer's pamphlets will be unwilling to derive the name of Harper from Ovid's Harpalos, ab aega w rapio. See Upton's Critical 0bservations, &c. edit. 1748, p. 155.
STEEVENS. 'tis time, 'tis time. ] This familiar does not cry out that it is time for them to begin their enchant