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vital objections. It does not fit the character nor the demands of the situation. Why should an English soldier, who has captured a French nobleman and is all taken up with the idea of getting money from him, address him with the title of a tune, in Irish, which means, "young girl my treasure?” The theory upon which this is accepted is that Pistol considers this “as good as anything else” to say to a Frenchman. But Pistol was thinking of getting money, his mind was strictly bent upon that, and Pistol, whatever else he might have been, was no fool. He was greedy for spoils. Again, Shakespeare has a way of striking the keynote of a play or a scene in the very opening lines. This scene is taken up with Pistol's effort to find out this man's standing and scare as much money out of him as possible. Why then should not the opening line of the scene have to do with this? And besides, if Pistol was repeating the title of a tune in Irish, why does he not repeat the name of the "familiar” tune at all but something very different. What he says resembles the name of the tune in but one word. I think we must regard him as trying to speak French, especially as he makes a very fair attempt at it for an ignorant English soldier and says the very thing that the scene as a whole would require him to say.
THE LIFE TO COME
Macb. If it were done when 't is done, then 't were well
(Macbeth, i, 7, 7)
The words bank and shoal do not refer to the same side of a body of water. They refer to two opposite sides of a stream, one side being a bank or bluff shore and the other a smooth slope of sand. The picture is that of a rider jumping his horse over such an obstruction. A horseman, in making a jump across a wide stream, prefers a place where the shore is slightly elevated on his own side and somewhat low and flat on the other — a bank and a shoal. If the reader will imagine a rider trying a wide leap toward a bluff shore, on the edge and slopes of which his horse will land athwart in case he falls short, he will readily see the reason for preparing a shoal of sand to light on. The elevation on his own side, of course, enables him to make a long jump. This same point of view applies to the passage which occurs nineteen lines further on in regard to "vaulting
ambition.” Upon this basis I shall explain all the moot points in these two passages.
Two scenes previous to this, at i, 5, 19, Lady Macbeth, speaking of her husband's ambition to become king, fears that it will not be in his nature to catch “the nearest way.” the forerunner, in Shakespeare's mind, of a point of view which he was to work out in more striking form when the time for Macbeth's decision should arrive.
The horseman presented to our imagination is a traveler. The goal of his ambition is in plain sight before him but a forbidding stream lies between himself and it. In riding along the shore a bank and shoal present themselves to his view. Here is an advantage; shall he take it or not? Being impatient to cross, he is disposed to make light of a risky jump. But on second thoughts and further view he realizes that his ambition is tempting him to spur his animal on to a leap which might have serious consequences. If a horse makes a leap beyond his ordinary ability, taking a wide downward jump so that he is unable to sustain himself on alighting, the results are likely to be disastrous. Here the man's confidence begins to desert him; he sees that he has more ambition than he may be able to carry out —
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Why is this place called the bank and shoal of time? A horseman in such a case, with his destination plainly in view, and therefore very near to it in one regard, may yet be very far away from it as a matter of fact. He will have to follow along till he comes to some appointed way of getting over, a bridge, a ford or a favorable place to swim and make a landing. In this life our fond hopes and ambitions hold their objects very plainly before the mind's eye; but we have to follow down the obstructing stream of time till our opportunity arrives, if ever. The actual horseman in this case would have to keep on till the time came to get across; therefore this stream, to all practical intents and purposes, is time. If he can manage to leap across it at once he is virtually leaping across so much time; therefore the bank and shoal between which his leap was made would be the bank and shoal of time.
These two passages, which I have not yet quite fully considered, form a picture which serves as a lively and illuminating parallel to Macbeth's case. He believes thoroughly in the prophecy of the witches that he shall be king; both he and Lady Macbeth see the promised land before them; but it is a matter of time and very indefinite in that regard. Suddenly a bank and shoal presents itself; King Duncan comes to spend the night under their roof. It is an inviting advantage, though risky; if Macbeth kills the king his own future
will have arrived at once. The opportunity enchains his attention and he expresses his conflicting emotions in the language of a horseman - which Macbeth
If he thought there would be no fatal consequences he would decide at once to "jump the life to come.”
This “life to come” does not refer to the hereafter as many critics have thought, at least not primarily. As he betrays no compunctions about the future, being wholly absorbed in his one ambition, this would be somewhat out of character. It means that he will jump right into the life of a king, which the prophecy has told him is sometime coming to him, and over the intervening time.
Shakespeare scholars will recognize in these two passages a considerable source of trouble to past generations. On account of some evasive quality about the lines, there has been a signal failure to connect the two parts of the soliloquy as having any relation to each other, whereas they are part and parcel of the one mental picture. The lay reader who may now consider it too simple to require explanation will find by reference to annotated editions an interesting study in the psychology of Shakespearean criticism.