I have observed some notes of time in Macbeth that appear to me strongly to confirm the date I have assigned to it--1606. They occur in II, iii, 4, 5: 'Here's a farmer that hang'd himself on th' expectation of plenty.' That in the summer and autumn of 1606 there was a prospect of plenty of corn appears from the audit-book of the College of Eton; for the price of wheat in that year was lower than it was for thirteen years afterwards, being thirty-three shillings the quarter. In the preceding year (1605) it was two shillings a quarter dearer, and in the subsequent year (1606) three shillings a quarter dearer. In 1608 wheat was sold at Windsor market for fifty-six shillings and eight pence a quarter; and in 1609 for fifty shillings. In 1606 barley and malt were considerably cheaper than in the two years subsequent.
In the following words in the same scene there is a still stronger confirmation of the date of this tragedy: 'here's an equivocator, that could swear in both scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God's sake; yet could not equivocate to heaven.'
Warburton long since observed that there was here an allusion to the Jesuits as 'the inventors of the execrable doctrine of equivocation.' If the allusion were only thus general, this passage would avail us little in settling the time when Macbeth was written; but it was unquestionably much more particular and personal, and had direct reference to the doctrine of equivocation avowed by Henry Garnet, Superior of the order of Jesuits in England, on his trial for the Gunpowder Treason, on the 28th of March, 1606, and to his detestable perjury on that occasion, or, as Shakespeare expresses it, 'to his swearing in both scales against either scale,' that is, flatly and directly contradicting himself on oath.
This trial, at which King James himself was present incognito, doubtless attracted very general notice; and the allusion to his gross equivocation and perjury thus recent, and probably the common topic of discourse, must have been instantly understood, and loudly applauded.
In a letter from Mr. John Chamberlain to Mr. Winwood, April 5, 1606, concerning the trial, it is stated, '... that by the cunning of his keeper, Garnet, being brough into a fool's paradise, had diverse conferences with Hall, his fellow priest, in the Tower, which were overheard by spials set on purpose. With which being charged, he stiffly denyed it; but being still urged, and some light given him that they had notice of it, he persisted still with protestation upon his soul and salvation, that there had passed no such interlocution: till at last, being confronted with Hall, he was driven to confess. And being asked in this audience how he could solve this lewd perjurie, he answered, "that, so long as he thought they had no proof, he was not bound to accuse himself; but when he saw they had proof, he stood not long in it." And then fell into a large discourse defending equivocation, with many weak and frivolous distinctions. The other example was of Francis Tresham, who .... protested that he had not seen him [Garnet] these sixteen years last past. Whereas it was manifestly proved both by Garnet himself, Mrs. Vaux, and others, that he had been with him in three several places this last year, and once not many days before the blow should have been given. And [Garnet] being now asked what he knew of this man, he smilingly answered that he thought he meant to equivocate.'
A few extracts from Garnet's Trial, printed by authority, will still more clearly show that the perjury and equivocation of the Jesuit were here particularly alluded to by Shakespeare.
In stating the case, Sir Edward Coke, the Attorney General, observed that, '...Mr. Lockerson, who being deposed before Garnet, delivered upon his oath that they heard Garnet say to Hall, "They will charge me with my prayer for the good success of the great action, in the beginning of Parliament." ... "It is true, indeed (said Garnet), that I prayed for the good success of the great action; but I will tell them that I meant it in respect of some sharper laws, which I feared they would make against Catholics; and that answer will serve well enough."' Again: 'Garnet having protested that "When Father Greenwell made him acquainted with the whole plot,... he was very much distempered, and could never sleep quietly afterwards, but sometimes prayed to God that it should not take effect; the Earl of Salisbury replied, that "he should do well to speak clearly of his devotion in that point, for otherwise he must put him to remember that he had confessed to the Lords that he had offered sacrifice to God for stay of that plot, unless it were for the good of the Catholic cause."' Further: Lord Salisbury reminded Garnet, 'after the interlocution between him and Hall, when he was called before all the lords, and was asked, not what he said, but whether Hall and he had conference together (desiring him not to equivocate), how stiffly he denied it upon his soul, retracting it with so many detestable execrations, as the Earl said, it wounded their hearts to hear him; and yet as soon as Hall had confessed it, he grew ashamed, cried the lords mercy, and said he had offended, if equivocation did not help him.'
Here certainly we have abundant proofs of 'an equivocator that could swear in both scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, and yet could not equivocate to heaven.'
If it should be maintained that in strict reasoning these observations only prove that Macbeth was written subsequently to the trial of Garnet, it may be remarked that allusions of this kind are generally made while the facts are yet recent in the minds of the writer and of the audience, and before their impression has been weakened by subsequent events.
The third circumstance mentioned by the Porter is that of 'an English tailor stealing out of a French hose,' the humour of which, as Warburton has rightly remarked, consists in this, that the French hose being then very short and straight, a tailor must be master of his trade who could steal anything from them. From a passage in Henry V, and from other proofs, we know that about the year 1597 the French hose were very large and lusty; but doubtless between that year and 1600 they had adopted the fashion here alluded to; and we know that French fashions were very quickly adopted in England. The following passage occurs in The Black Year by Anthony Nixon, 1606: 'Gentlemen this year shall be much wronged by their taylors, for their consciences are now much larger than ever they were, for where [whereas] they were wont to steale but half a yeard of brood cloth in making up a payre of breeches, now they do largely nicke their customers in the lace too, and take more than enough for the new fashions sake, besides their old ones.' The words in italics may relate only to the lace, but I rather think that the meaning is, that whereas formerly tailors used to steal half a yard of cloth in making a pair of breeches, they now cheat in the lace also; and steal more than enough of the cloth for the sake of making the breeches close and tight, agreeably to the new fashion.
In July, 1606, the King of Denmark came to England on a visit to his sister Queen Anne, and on the third of August was installed a Knight of the Garter. 'There is nothing to be heard at court,' says Drummond of Hawthornden in a letter dated on that day, 'but sounding of trumpets, hautboys, musick, revellings and comedies.' Perhaps during this visit Macbeth was first exhibited.
[The date of Macbeth thus assigned to 1606 by Malone was accepted by Steevens and Chalmers (the latter placed it the twenty-eighth in the order of composition), and other commentators, until the appearance in 1836 of Collier's New Particulars regarding the Works of Shakespeare. In this volume mention is made of the discovery among the Ashmolean MSS of notes on the performance of some of Shakespeare's plays written by one who saw them acted during the lifetime of the poet. These notes bear the following title: "The Books of Plaies and Notes thereof, Formans, for common Pollicie," and they were written by Dr. Simon Forman, the celebrated Physician and Astrologer, who lived in Lambeth, the same parish in which Elias Ashmole afterwards resided. Forman was implicated in the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, but died in 1611, before the trial. The last date in his Book of Plays is the 15th of May, 1611, so that he was a frequenter of the theatres until a short period before his sudden decease in a boat on the Thames. On the 20th of April, 1610, which happened on a Saturday, the astrological Doctor was present at the performance of Macbeth, the production of which on the stage malone fixed in 1606. This may be the right conjecture, and Forman may have seen the tragedy for the first time four years after it was originally brought out; but it is by no means impossible that 1610 was its earliest season, and it is likely that in April that season had only just commenced at the Globe, which was open to the weather; the King's Players acted at the covered theatre of the Blackfriars during the winter. Malone's reasoning to establish that Macbeth was written and acted in 1606, is very inconclusive, and much of it would apply just as well to 1610.]