Summary

The scene opens with Lady Macbeth reading a letter sent to her from Macbeth, discussing the prophecy of the witches, and pointing out that at least part of their predictions have already come true. Lady Macbeth is filled with hope and ambition to see Macbeth crowned king, but recognizes that Macbeth is not so evil as to go through with murdering Duncan and taking the throne. Not without help. Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits of darkness to help her convince Macbeth to murder Duncan. Macbeth arrives, and they discuss the fact that Duncan is coming that night for a visit. Lady Macbeth seems convinced they should kill Duncan; Macbeth is not yet sure.

Enter

To come on stage.

They met me

Lady Macbeth is reading aloud from a letter from her husband, telling her that he encountered the three witches.

day of success

Macbeth met the witches the same day as his victory (success) in battle.

Macbeth is superstitiously assuming that this is a good omen — since the day brought him military success, everything else that happens that same day must also be good. This kind of superstition would have been familiar to the average Elizabethan, and remains common in modern times.

I have / learned by the perfectest report

Macbeth learned, through the most trustworthy of sources . . .

they have more in / them than mortal knowledge

 . . . that the witches’ predictions were based on supernatural (more . . . than mortal) knowledge.

burned in desire

Urgently wanted.

they made themselves air, / into which they vanished

They disappeared into thin air.

rapt

Enthralled, amazed.

missives

Usually, letters or messages. In this case, messengers.

all-hailed

Saluted, greeted.

weird sisters saluted me

The witches had already greeted (saluted) Macbeth with his new title.

referred / me to the coming on of time, with ‘Hail, king that / shalt be!’

The witches called my attention to the future (the coming on of time) by telling me that I would be king someday.

This have I thought good to deliver / thee

I thought it would be good to send you news of these events.

partner of greatness

A woman shared her husband’s social status. Since Macbeth is Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, Lady Macbeth is now the highest-ranking noblewoman in those regions. When Macbeth becomes king, she will become queen.

that thou / mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being / ignorant of what greatness is promised thee.

So you too could rejoice in the knowledge of what lies ahead, instead of remaining ignorant of the greatness that has been promised to you.

The witches didn’t promise anything to Lady Macbeth directly, but the fact that she will rise in rank as Macbeth gains greater power is implicit in the witches’ prophecies concerning Macbeth’s future.

Lay it to thy heart

Keep this letter secret.

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor

Lady Macbeth recites Macbeth’s current and new titles, calling him Glamis and Cawdor — a shorthand way of saying Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor.

and shalt be / What thou art promised

And you shall be king, as you were promised by the witches.

yet do I fear thy nature

Lady Macbeth is not afraid of Macbeth’s nature — she’s worried that a part of his personality will keep him from greatness.

It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way

Macbeth is a good person; his nature will not allow him to take (catch) the quickest path to the throne — killing Duncan and claiming the kingdom.

thou wouldst be great; / Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it

Lady Macbeth says that Macbeth would like to be a great person, would in fact like to be king, and therefore does have ambition, but that he doesn’t have the corrupt greed (“illness”) that often accompanies ambition.

what thou wouldst highly, / That wouldst thou holily

The object of Macbeth’s ambition (what he wants greatly) he only wants if he can obtain it honorably (holily).

wouldst not play false, / And yet wouldst wrongly win

Macbeth isn’t perfect. While he wouldn’t cheat to get what he wants, if it happened to fall into his hands through wrongdoing (as long as he was not the wrongdoer), he would accept it.

thou’ldst have, great Glamis, / That which cries “Thus thou must do, if thou have it; / And that which rather thou dost fear to do / Than wishest should be undone.”

Lady Macbeth believes Macbeth would like to have the end result of this formula: This is what you must do, if you want to achieve your goal — you must do the thing you fear, even though your fear is greater than your wish that the act could be undone.

Hie thee hither

Get here (hither) quickly.

That I may pour my spirits in thine ear

So I can put some of my character (spirits) in you, through my words.

And chastise with the valour of my tongue

Persuade you, by shaming your timidity with the boldness of my speech.

All that impedes thee from the golden round

Every obstacle that stands between you and the crown.

Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem / To have thee crown’d withal.

fate and metaphysical aid — the witches.

These forces seem to have made you king for certain.

Lady Macbeth may be making the mistake of believing that the witches, or some other powers, are responsible for the course of events. In fact, only she and Macbeth are to blame for killing Duncan.

What is your tidings?

What is your news? What have you come here to say?

Thou’rt mad to say it

You must be crazy to say that!

Lady Macbeth is nervous because she’s been plotting the murder of the king, and now she hears a messenger telling her that the king will arrive here, in her own residence, tonight. She feels guilty, naturally. Almost as if she’s been caught.

Is not thy master with him? who, were’t so, / Would have inform’d for preparation.

Isn’t your master (Macbeth) with the king? If he is, he would know about the king’s plans, and would have sent word to tell us that the king was coming tonight.

Lady Macbeth is casting about for something normal to say, out of nervousness, while at the same time trying to determine if she needs to act as quickly as that same night.

had the speed of him

Rode faster than he (Macbeth) did.

almost dead for breath, had scarcely more / Than would make up his message

Almost dead for lack of breath — the messenger referred to was exhausted from riding so long and hard, to bring the important news. This servant is, of course, exaggerating when he says that the messenger had just enough breath left to speak his message — he means that the messenger was breathing so hard he could barely speak the message he had brought.

The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements.

The raven was thought to bring bad news or warn of danger. Lady Macbeth is implying that a raven, announcing the arrival of Duncan within her castle (under my battlements), would grow hoarse from all the croaking it would do.

fatal — having to do with Fate, not “fatal” as in “lethal.”

Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts

Come to me, spirits related to thoughts of death.

unsex me here

Make me less feminine, more masculine, now.

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!

Fill me with shocking cruelty, from my head to my toes!

make thick my blood; / Stop up the access and passage to remorse

Make me incapable of feeling regret; close off any chance of feeling guilt. Prevent any doubt or hesitation, and any feeling of guilt afterward.

That no compunctious visitings of nature / Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between / The effect and it!

So that no qualms or doubts will make unsteady my dark plan, or allow any calm to come between my purpose and my action.

take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers, / Wherever in your sightless substances / You wait on nature’s mischief!

Drink my milk as your corrosive juice, you who delight in killing, wherever you are, whatever you do to further harm to nature’s creatures.

Hie thee hither

Here, Lady Macbeth wants night to hide her and her plotting. Later, she will find out just how dark and terrifying the smokes of hell are.

pall — cover

dunnest — darkest

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes

Prevent the knife from knowing what it has done — make it possible to do the deed without thinking about it.

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, / To cry “Hold, hold!”

Make it so dark, so smoky, that not even heaven can see through and try to stop it.

Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!

Lady Macbeth recites Macbeth’s current and new titles, calling him Glamis and Cawdor — a shorthand way of saying Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor.

Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!

And more than that in the future, according to the last prophecy!

letters

Letter.

transported me

Given me great joy.

This ignorant present, and I feel now / The future in the instant.

The situation as it now stands, making me feel the joy of the future now, at this moment (the future in the instant.)

And when goes hence?

And when does he leave?

To-morrow, as he purposes.

Tomorrow, according to plan.

O, never / Shall sun that morrow see!

The sun will not see the next day.

Lady Macbeth is speaking figuratively, saying that the sun itself will not rise tomorrow — Duncan will be dead by then.

Your face, my thane, is as a book where men / May read strange matters.

your face . . . is as a book — your thoughts are plain to see on your face, and anyone who sees you will see that your thoughts are strange.

To beguile the time, / Look like the time

To lull suspicion (deceive others), make your face look appropriate to the events around you.

bear

bear — keep

look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under’t.

Appear innocent, while you pursue your real purpose.

He that’s coming / Must be provided for

Duncan is coming, and we must make the proper arrangements.

you shall put / This night’s great business into my dispatch

Leave everything to me.

This night’s great business — the important things we must do tonight

into my dispatch — leave for me to do

Which shall to all our nights and days to come / Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.

And the result will be that we will have complete control (sovereign sway and masterdom) over our country and our future.

We will speak further.

Macbeth still has doubts, reservations. He is not yet convinced that he should murder Duncan.

Only look up clear; / To alter favour ever is to fear

Only look up clear — just appear serene and calm.

To alter favour ever is to fear — to change your look frequently is to look guilty, which is the thing we should worry about.

Leave all the rest to me.

Just take care of the way you look and act, and I’ll do the rest.

Lady Macbeth is offering to perform the killing for him, but as we’ll see, it is Macbeth who does it.

Aside

In an aside, the character speaks privately to himself for a moment, or directly to the audience, or privately to some (but not all) of the other characters present.

As a matter of convention, an aside is always a true statement of what the character thinks. A character speaking in an aside may be mistaken, but may not be dishonest.

An aside (again as a matter of convention) cannot be heard by those not spoken to.

Exit

He leaves the stage.

Exeunt

Latin, literally “they leave.” Everyone leaves the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.