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He sought them in a cave upon the heath, where they, who knew by foresight of his coming, were engaged in preparing their dreadful charms by which they conjured up infernal spirits to reveal to them futurity. Their horrid ingredients were toads, bats, and serpents, the eye of a newt and the tongue of a dog, the leg of a lizard and the wing of the night-owl, the scale of a dragon, the tooth of a wolf, the maw of the ravenous salt-sea shark, the mummy of a witch, the root of the poisonous hemlock (this to have effect must be digged in the dark), the gall of a goat, and the liver of a Jew, with slips of the yew-tree that roots itself in graves, and the finger of a dead child. All these were set on to boil in a great kettle, or caldron, which, as fast as it grew too hot, was cooled with a baboon's blood. To these they poured in the blood of a sow that had eaten her young, and they threw into the flame the grease that had sweaten from a murderer's gibbet. By these charms they bound the infernal spirit to answer their questions.
It was demanded of Macbeth whether he would have his doubts resolved by them or by their masters, the spirits.
He, nothing daunted by the dreadful ceremonies which be saw, boldly answered: "Where are they? Let me see them."
And they called the spirits, which were three. And the first arose in the likeness of an armed head, and he called Macbeth by name and bid him beware of the Thane of Fife; for which caution Macbeth thanked him; for Macbeth had entertained a jealousy of Macduff, the Thane of Fife.
And the second spirit arose in the likeness of a bloody child, and he called Macbeth by name and bid him have no fear, but laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born should have power to hurt him; and he advised him to be bloody, bold, and resolute.
"Then live, Macduff!" cried the king. "What need I fear thee? But yet I will make assurance doubly sure. Thou shalt not live, that I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies, and sleep in spite of thunder."
That spirit being dismissed, a third arose in the form of a child crowned, with a tree in his hand. He called Macbeth by name and comforted him against conspiracies, saying that he should never be vanquished until the wood of Birnam to Dunsinane hill should come against him.
"Sweet bodements! good!" cried Macbeth; "who can unfix the forest, and move it from its earth-bound roots? I see I shall live the usual period of man's life, and not be cut off by a violent death. But my heart throbs to know one thing. Tell me, if your art can tell so much, if Banquo's issue shall ever reign in this kingdom?"
Here the caldron sank into the ground, and a noise of music was heard, and eight shadows, like kings, passed by Macbeth, and Banquo last, who bore a glass which showed the figures of many more, and Banquo, all bloody, smiled upon Macbeth, and pointed to them; by which Macbeth knew that these were the posterity of Banquo, who should reign after him in Scotland; and the witches, with a sound of soft music, and with dancing, making a show of duty and welcome to Macbeth, vanished. And from this time the thoughts of Macbeth were all bloody and dreadful. The first thing he heard when he got out of the witches' cave was that Macduff, Thane of Fife, had fled to England to join the army which was forming against him under Malcolm, the eldest son of the late king, with intent to displace Macbeth and set Malcolm, the right heir, upon the throne. Macbeth, stung with rage, set upon the castle of Macduff and put his wife and children, whom the thane had left behind, to the sword, and extended the slaughter to all who claimed the least relationship to Macduff.
These and such-like deeds alienated the minds of all his chief nobility from him. Such as could fled to join with Malcolm and Macduff, who were now approaching with a powerful army which they had raised in England; and the rest secretly wished success to their arms, though, for fear of Macbeth, they could take no active part. His recruits went on slowly. Everybody hated the tyrant; nobody loved or honored him; but all suspected him; and he began to envy the condition of Duncan, whom he had murdered, who slept soundly in his grave, against whom treason had done its worst. Steel nor poison, domestic malice nor foreign levies, could hurt him any longer.
While these things were acting, the queen, who had been the sole partner in his wickedness, in whose bosom he could sometimes seek a momentary repose from those terrible dreams which afflicted them both nightly, died, it is supposed, by her own hands, unable to bear the remorse of guilt and public hate; by which event he was left alone, without a soul to love or care for him, or a friend to whom he could confide his wicked purposes.
He grew careless of life and wished for death; but the near approach of Malcolm's army roused in him what remained of his ancient courage, and he determined to die (as he expressed it) "with armor on his back." Besides this, the hollow promises of the witches had filled him with a false confidence, and he remembered the sayings of the spirits, that none of woman born was to hurt him, and that he was never to be vanquished till Birnam wood should come to Dunsinane, which he thought could never be. So he shut himself up in his castle, whose impregnable strength was such as defied a siege. Here he sullenly waited the approach of Malcolm. When, upon a day, there came a messenger to him, pale and shaking with fear, almost unable to report that which he had seen; for he averred, that as he stood upon his watch on the hill he looked toward Birnam, and to his thinking the wood began to move!
"Liar and slave!" cried Macbeth. "If thou speakest false, thou shalt hang alive upon the next tree, till famine end thee. If thy tale be true, I care not if thou dost as much by me"; for Macbeth now began to faint in resolution, and to doubt the equivocal speeches of the spirits. He was not to fear till Birnam wood should come to Dunsinane; and now a wood did move! "However," said he, "if this which he avouches be true, let us arm and out. There is no flying hence, nor staying here. I begin to be weary of the sun, and wish my life at an end." With these desperate speeches he sallied forth upon the besiegers, who had now come up to the castle.
The strange appearance which had given the messenger an idea of a wood moving is easily solved. When the besieging army marched through the wood of Birnam, Malcolm, like a skilful general, instructed his soldiers to hew down every one a bough and bear it before him, by way of concealing the true numbers of his host. This marching of the soldiers with boughs had at a distance the appearance which had frightened the messenger. Thus were the words of the spirit brought to pass, in a sense different from that in which Macbeth had understood them, and one great hold of his confidence was gone.
And now a severe skirmishing took place, in which Macbeth, though feebly supported by those who called themselves his friends, but in reality hated the tyrant and inclined to the party of Malcolm and Macduff, yet fought with the extreme of rage and valor, cutting to pieces all who were opposed to him, till he came to where Macduff was fighting. Seeing Macduff, and remembering the caution of the spirit who had counseled him to avoid Macduff, above all men, he would have turned, but Macduff, who had been seeking him through the whole fight, opposed his turning, and a fierce contest ensued, Macduff giving him many foul reproaches for the murder of his wife and children. Macbeth, whose soul was charged enough with blood of that family already, would still have declined the combat; but Macduff still urged him to it, calling him tyrant, murderer, hell-hound, and villain.
Then Macbeth remembered the words of the spirit, how none of woman born should hurt him; and, smiling confidently, he said to Macduff:
"Thou losest thy labor, Macduff. As easily thou mayest impress the air with thy sword as make me vulnerable. I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born."
"Despair thy charm," said Macduff, "and let that lying spirit whom thou hast served tell thee that Macduff was never born of woman, never as the ordinary manner of men is to be born, but was untimely taken from his mother."
"Accursed be the tongue which tells me so," said the trembling Macbeth, who felt his last hold of confidence give way; "and let never man in future believe the lying equivocations of witches and juggling spirits who deceive us in words which have double senses, and, while they keep their promise literally, disappoint our hopes with a different meaning. I will not fight with thee."
"Then live!" said the scornful Macduff. "We will have a show of thee, as men show monsters, and a painted board, on which all be written, 'Here men may see the tyrant!'"
"Never," said Macbeth, whose courage returned with despair. "I will not live to kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet to be baited with the curses of the rabble. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, and thou opposed to me, who wast born of woman, yet will I try the last."
With these frantic words he threw himself upon Macduff, who, after a severe struggle, in the end overcame him, and, cutting off his head, made a present of it to the young and lawful king, Malcolm, who took upon him the government which, by the machinations of the usurper, he had so long been deprived of, and ascended the throne of Duncan the Meek among the acclamations of the nobles and the people.
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Tales From Shakespeare -by- Charles and Mary Lamb