'Thane of Cawdor;'

from William Shakespeare – Macbeth Act 1 Scene 5 on Rap Genius


The incongruity of all the passages in which the Thane of Cawdor is mentioned is very remarkable; in the second scene the Thanes of Rosse and Angus bring the King an account of the battle, and inform him that Norway

Assisted by that most disloyal traytor
The Thane of Cawdor, ‘gan a dismal conflict.

It appears that Cawdor was taken prisoner, for the King says in the same scene.

—-Go, pronounce his death,
And with his former title greet Macbeth.

Yet though Cawdor was thus taken by Macbeth, in arms against his King, when Macbeth is saluted, in the fourth scene,
“Thane of Cawdor,” by the weird sisters, he asks,

How of Cawdor? the Thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosp'rous gentleman.—–

And in the next line considers the promises, that he should be Cawdor and King, as equally unlikely to be accomplished. How can Macbeth be ignorant of the state of the Thane of Cawdor whom he has just defeated and taken prisoner, or call him “a prosperous gentleman” who has forfeited his title, and life by open rebellion? Or why should he wonder that the title of the rebel whom he has overthrown should be conferred upon him? He cannot be supposed to dissemble his knowledge of the condition of Cawdor, because he enquires with all the ardour of curiosity, and the vehemence of sudden astonishment, and because nobody is present but Banquo, who had an equal part in the battle, and was equally acquainted with Cawdor’s treason. However in the next scene, his ignorance still continues, and, when Rosse and Angus present him from the King with his new title, he cries out

—-The Thane of Cawdor lives.
Why do you dress me in his borrowed robes?

Rosse and Angus, who were the messengers that in the second scene informed the King of the assistance given by Cawdor to the invader, having lost, as well as Macbeth, all memory of what they had so lately seen and related, make this answer,

—-Whether he was
Combin’d with Norway, or did line the rebels
With hidden help and vantage, or with both
He labour’d in his country’s wreck, I know not.

Neither Rosse knew what he had just reported, nor Macbeth what he had just done. This seems not to be one of the faults that are to be imputed to the transcribers, since, though the inconsistency of Rosse and Angus might be removed, by supposing that their names are erroneously inserted, and that only Rosse brought the account of the battle, and only Angus was sent to compliment Macbeth, yet the forgetfullness of Macbeth cannot be palliated, since what he says could not have been spoken by any other.

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