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Now o'er the one half-world/Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse/The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates/Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd Murder,/ Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,/Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,/With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design/Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,/Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear/Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,/And take the present horror from the time,/ Which now suits with it.
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Now o'er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder,
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it
These lines constitute the concluding portion of Macbeth's soliloquy in act 2 scene 1, the speech envisioning the air-drawn dagger. After the vision disappears, Macbeth reflects upon the hushed-up midnight atmosphere as he walks secretly with his real dagger towards Duncan's bed-chamber to execute the blue-print of murder.
One half of the big world-the hemisphere in which the dark night rules-is plunged in the deep silence of sleep. Nature seems dead in the sense that all living things, including men, are immersed in the death-like sleep. Yet Macbeth, himself loaded with the discomforts of guity ambition, imagines that the blessing of sleep is disturbed by the wicked dreams. Cursed thoughts encroach into the curtain-like cover of sleep. This is the darkest part of night most suitable for the rites of witchcraft and such other black arts, the queen of the witches, Hecate, presiding over those paraphernalia of evil. Visited by the witches on the heath and motivated by their prophecies, Macbeth imagines witchcraft as associated with the night and his murderous nocturnal mission.
Macbeth further imagines the murderer, as he himself is going to be, in the likeness of the wizened witches-wither'd murder. The howling wolf is imagined to be the murderer's sentinel. The murderer walks in long silent strides that resemble the movement of the rapacious Tarquin who invaded into the bed-chamber of the Roman matron, Lucretia. The heinous crime of murder is thus equalled to the detestable act of rape. But the exceedingly imaginative murderer as Macbeth is, he fears that that his ghost-like steps would be detected by the sure and firm-set earth. He therefore asks the earth and the underground stones not to hear the sound of his strides. The fear of detection and retributive justice thus remain with the secret murderer.
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