Summary

The knocking sound from the previous scene continues, and a Porter wakes up from a drunken sleep to answer the door. He makes several funny observations, and admits Lennox, Macduff, and other lords to the castle. Macbeth meets them, and Macduff goes to wake the king. Lennox comments on how strange the night was — unusual sounds and cries of grief, earthquakes, etc. Macduff comes back in, crying “Murder!” and waking the household in great alarm. Lady Macbeth comes in and pretends not to know what the problem is, and she and Macbeth begin to act their grief and outrage over the murder. Macbeth takes the blame for killing the king’s servants, claiming that the murder of Duncan made him so furious that he couldn’t control himself. Malcolm and Donalbain, King Duncan’s sons, decide to leave before someone blames them for the killing, or decides to kill them too. Macbeth takes the lead in getting the men of the household together to start looking for the killers.

Enter

To come on stage.

The same.

The same location as before; Inverness, in Macbeth’s castle. This scene takes place just inside the door at the castle’s main entrance.

Knocking within.

A loud knocking sound is heard from offstage.

Porter

Porters opened and closed doors for guests, carried heavy loads for their employers, and did other general work around the household.

Here’s a knocking indeed!

This part of this scene is intended as comic relief — a short break in the tension, usually with a funny character like this Porter, who is wiser than his position in society, as a servant, would indicate. Shakespeare often used this device, which was popular with the audiences of the day. The Porter’s attitude and commentary, as he takes an unreasonable amount of time to answer the door, is intended to get laughs from the audience.

If a / man were porter of hell-gate, he should have / old turning the key.

The Porter imagines himself as the porter of hell, where he would quickly grow tired (have old) of opening the door, to welcome the frequent new arrivals — because so many people are sinners, and destined for hell.

Beelzebub

Beelzebub is mentioned in the Bible as one of many alternative names for Satan.

Pronounced bee-ELL-zeh-bub.

Here’s a farmer, that hanged / himself on the expectation of plenty: come in / time; have napkins enow about you; here / you’ll sweat for’t.

The Porter pretends that the visitor might be a farmer, who expected a bumper crop (plenty) but did not get one, and who might have hanged himself because he’s now financially ruined. “Come in,” he says, “there are plenty of napkins here in hell for all the sweating you’ll do.”

enow — enough.

Who’s there, in the other devil’s
name?

The porter is probably still too drunk from last night to remember another name for the devil.

Faith, here’s an equivocator . . .

Faith — in faith — truly.

equivocator — liar.

The porter now supposes that the visitor might be a Jesuit priest (to be one was a capital offense in England at the time), who tries to avoid persecution by omitting part of the truth and letting the other person assume a truth which he never spoke, thus clearing him of the guilt of having lied. This was recognized as a special kind of lie, equivalent to perjury, also an offense for which one might be condemned to hell. The porter supposes that the priest was able to lie well enough on Earth, but not well enough to slip past God’s judgment, and is therefore now in hell.

here’s an / English tailor come hither, for stealing out of / a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may / roast your goose.

The porter now pretends that the visitor might be an English tailor, who tried to cheat French customers on their clothes, but who must now pay the penalty for dishonesty.

hither — here

hose — stocking

Goose — an iron tool tailors would heat and use to press clothes. It will be hot enough in hell to heat (roast) the goose.

this place is too cold for hell

The porter is deciding that the game is over, he’s tired of pretending to be the porter of hell, and besides, it’s too cold in here to be hell anyway.

I had thought to have let in / some of all professions that go the primrose / way to the everlasting bonfire.

But, as a last comment, he adds that as porter of hell, he would probably have had to admit people from all walks of life.

go the primrose way — walk a pleasant path, only to find that it leads to an unpleasant destination.

Anon, anon!

Literally, “soon.” In this case, “I’m coming, I’m coming!”

I pray you, remember the porter.

After all his delay, after all his grumbling, the porter still has the cheek to ask the visitors to remember him later — to give him a tip.

Was it so late, friend, ere you went to bed, / That you do lie so late?

Macduff engages the porter in a little friendly word-play. Here, Macduff jokingly asks if the porter, who took so long to answer the door, was still drunk from last night. He also accuses the porter, still jokingly, of getting ready to lie about it.

’Faith sir, we were carousing till the / second cock

Well, sir, we were partying until about 3:00 this morning . . .

’Faith — in faith, truly

carousing — partying

second cock — the second crowing of the rooster, probably around 3:00 am. Obvious bawdy pun, implying at least two rounds of sex play.

drink, sir, is a great / provoker of three things

The porter is setting the listener up for a joke, setting the expectation that there will be three parts to it.

What three things does drink especially provoke?

Macduff, entertained, plays along.

Marry

Truly, certainly

nose-painting, sleep, and / urine

The porter starts out with three things that no one can deny — that drinking makes the nose red (painted), makes you sleep, and makes you urinate more frequently.

Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; / it provokes the desire, but it takes / away the performance

The porter goes on to comment on other effects of drinking. Lust, he points out, is provoked by drinking, but it’s also prevented. Drinking might make someone more lustful, but it also inhibits ability (it provokes the desire, but it takes / away the performance).

therefore, much drink / may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: / it makes him, and it mars him; it sets / him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, / and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and / not stand to

Drinking a lot makes a liar out of lust . . . drinking causes both the effect and the loss of the effect together. It makes you lustful and disables that lust, it sets you going and prevents you from getting there, it makes up your mind and discourages you, it makes you capable (erect — stand to) and makes you no longer capable (no longer erect — not stand to).

equivocates him / in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

Drink lies to you by putting you to sleep, and having done so, leaves you sober.

I believe drink gave thee the lie last night.

Macduff jokes that the porter probably got the lie from drink last night — that drink probably laid him out cold.

i’ the very throat on / me

It got me by my throat.

I requited him for his lie; and, I / think, being too strong for him, though he took / up my legs sometime, yet I made a shift to cast / him.

I got him back, though, for the lie he gave me. I was stronger than drink, even though he occasionally took my legs away (caused me to stumble or fall), I got rid of him (likely by vomiting).

Is thy master stirring?

Macduff asks the porter if the master of the house, Macbeth, is awake yet. Macbeth appears just then, which ends the conversation with the porter.

Good morrow

This was equivalent to Good morning, though morrow more properly means day.

stirring

Moving, awake.

call timely on him: / I have almost slipp’d the hour.

Call timely on him — meet him at a specific time, not one minute later.

I have almost slipp’d the hour — I’m almost late.

I know this is a joyful trouble to you; / But yet ’tis one.

Even though this is a small chore, one you may even enjoy, it’s still a chore. Sorry to bother you.

The labour we delight in physics pain.

Work we like doing doesn’t really seem like work.

physics — heals

I’ll make so bold to call, / For ’tis my limited service.

I’ll wake him myself; it’s my duty, even though it’s not much.

Goes the king hence to-day?

Lennox, making conversation with Macbeth while they both wait for Duncan to rise, asks Macbeth if the King plans to leave today.

hence — away

He does: he did appoint so.

That’s the plan; that’s what the king plans to do.

The night has been unruly  . . .

Lennox describes unusual and terrifying events that have happened in the night.

Elizabethans believed that order and disorder in nature were reflections of order and disorder in the political realm. If a kingdom was prosperous and happy, the world would experience good weather and plentiful crops. But if something unnatural or evil was at work (in this case, the murder of a king), nature would reflect this with storms and unexpected happenings. Here, the murder of Duncan is proclaimed in the kingdom with storms (chimneys blown down), unexpected lamentings in the air, screams of death, and prophecies of “dire combustion,” all related to this unhappy moment (new hatch’d to the woeful time). The “obscure bird” (the owl, heard but not seen at night — obscure) made noise all night. Even the earth trembled as if it had a fever.

More references to the world being out of order are made in the next scene.

’Twas a rough night.

Macbeth agrees that unusual things were happening in the night.

My young remembrance cannot parallel / A fellow to it.

Lennox, being younger than Macbeth, defers to Macbeth’s greater experience, saying only that he cannot remember anything like it in his own life.

O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart / Cannot conceive nor name thee!

Macduff comes back in, yelling about something horrifying. Today, we would write “Neither tongue nor heart / Can imagine or name it!” Shakespeare uses what looks like a double negative, but this was a common way to strengthen an exclamation like this.

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!

Confusion — the word meant more than just “confusion.” A closer fit to modern English might be to confound. One common expression was “Confusion to our enemies!” — May their plans be wrecked!

masterpiece — in Elizabethan England, the word “masterpiece” had two meanings: the greatest work an artist ever produces, or the first important work made by an artist with a career still ahead. If Shakespeare used the word in its first sense, then confusion has created the greatest disorder possible. If he had the second sense in mind, then confusion has created a great work (of disorder) and we can expect more to follow.

Most sacrilegious murder hath . . .

Murder, the worst sin (most sacrilegious, greatest transgression of God’s law), has broken open God’s temple (the castle, since it was where Duncan was sleeping) and stolen the life out of it!

What is ’t you say? the life?

What are you talking about? What do you mean by “the life”?

Approach the chamber . . .

Go to the king’s bedroom, see what’s there, and be turned to stone by the horror of it.

Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters of Greek mythology, was supposedly so horrifying to look upon that anyone who saw her was immediately turned to stone. See the Wikipedia article for more information about Medusa.

Ring the alarum-bell.

Ringing a bell, especially early in the morning, would be sure to raise the alarm, and inform everyone that something was very wrong.

Murder and treason!

Not only has murder been done, but the murder of a king — treason. This is the most serious charge anyone could make.

Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm!

Macduff is specifically calling for these people to be roused and informed: Banquo, as one of the king’s trusted generals, like Macbeth; and Donalbain and Malcolm, Duncan’s sons. These are the people closest to the king, and most likely to be most concerned.

Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit, / And look on death itself!

Wake up!

downy — soft, inviting. Downy sleep would be hard to wake up from, but sleep is only an “imitation” of death — death’s counterfeit — and Macduff needs them to see the real thing.

The great doom’s image!

An image of doom, a symbol of doom — the murdered king.

As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites, / To countenance this horror!

Rise up as if rising from the dead (it’s that important)! Walk like spirits risen from the dead, see this horror!

What’s the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley / The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!

What’s going on? Why does such a loud, unexpected noise wake everyone? Tell me!

hideous — unpleasant, unwelcome

trumpet — the instrument used to announce important news

parley — negotiate with, speak to



Porter

Porters

’tis not for you to hear what I can speak: / The repetition, in a woman’s ear, / Would murder as it fell.

I cannot tell you what I know: if I repeated it to a woman, she would fall dead from shock.

Women were thought to be less strong than men, less able to handle things like shock. But Macduff immediately tells Banquo, and Lady Macbeth hears it anyway.

Our royal master’s murder’d!

Duncan, our king, has been murdered!

Woe, alas! / What, in our house?

Sorrow, despair! How could this have happened here, in our house?

Too cruel any where.

It would be crushing news, no matter where it happened.

Dear Duff, I prithee, contradict thyself, / And say it is not so.

Banquo, desperate, hopes Macduff will say something to make it all untrue.

Had I but died an hour before this chance, / I had lived a blessed time

If only I had died an hour ago, I would have lived a good, blessed, happy life.

from this instant, / There ’s nothing serious in mortality . . .

Macbeth says that nothing can ever be the same again, that nothing in all of life (mortality) can ever compare with the seriousness of this event, that all of life to come is as unimportant as toys. The highest things we could have aspired to, renown and grace, are no longer attainable, because this murder has taken all the joy out of life. The substance of life itself (the wine) has been poured out (drawn), leaving only the bitter dregs (lees) for us to drink. This is the most we’ll ever have.

What is amiss?

What’s wrong? What’s not the way it should be?

You are, and do not know’t: / The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood / Is stopp’d; the very source of it is stopp’d.

You are “out of place” and you don’t know it yet. Your place in the world has changed. The source of your royal blood (King Duncan’s blood) has been stopped.

Those of his chamber, as it seem’d, had done ’t . . .

His chamber guards, it seems, did it. Their hands and faces showed bloodstains (badged with blood), as you might expect a murderer’s to be, and their knives were bloody too. They hadn’t even wiped the blood from their knives. They seemed confused and unable to focus. They couldn’t be trusted to protect anyone, let alone a king.

O, yet I do repent me of my fury, / That I did kill them.

Macbeth offers an explanation for why he (just now) killed the king’s servants; he claims that he’s sorry for having killed them in his fury. He is lying, of course — he’s trying to divert suspicion away from himself, so he needs a good cover story. By blaming the king’s servants, who cannot defend themselves now that they’re dead, Macbeth is giving himself an alibi.

Wherefore did you so?

Why did you do that?

Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious . . .

Who can be wise, amazed, even-tempered, furious, loyal, and neutral, all at once? No one. My love for Duncan was so great that I acted without stopping to think about it first. Over here was Duncan, bloody, wounded, his gashes looking like breaches in Nature itself, openings for Ruin itself to enter; over there were the killers, covered with blood (the colours of their trade, the blood identifying them as the ones engaged in murderous business), their knives rudely and plainly dripping with blood. Who could stop himself, if he loved Duncan, and had the courage to make that love known?

Help me hence, ho!

Oh, help me away from this place!

Lady Macbeth joins in the act, pretending to be so shocked she can no longer stand. She pretends to need help, is almost fainting, from the shock.

Look to the lady.

Take care of Lady Macbeth. See that she’s taken care of.

Macduff falls for Lady Macbeth’s play-acting. As far as he knows, both she and Macbeth are innocent.

Why do we hold our tongues, / That most may claim this argument for ours?

Why don’t we speak up, we who are most closely concerned with these events?

Malcolm and Donalbain are the king’s sons. They would naturally be the ones the king’s murder would affect most strongly.

What should be spoken here . . .

Donalbain suggests, privately, to Malcolm, that they should not speak up at this point, when things are still confused, and their fate, until now lying hidden (hid in an auger-hole, a small hiding place), could suddenly take over their lives (rush, and seize us). He suggests they slip away and hide, until they’ve had time to grieve properly.

Nor our strong sorrow / Upon the foot of motion.

Malcolm agrees, saying that his grief, too, is great, great enough to keep him from moving, at first.

And when we have our naked frailties hid . . .

Banquo continues, suggesting that when they have had a chance to get more fully dressed (hidden their naked frailties . . . that suffer in exposure) — everyone had come straight from their beds — they should meet to discuss the murder (this most bloody piece of work). He points out that even though these things are frightening (fears and scruples shake us), God will protect him, and from that protection he will fight any further, hidden manifestations of treason or malice.

All

All the characters, speaking more or less at the same time, saying more or less the same thing.

So all.

So we all will (spoken more or less together).

Let’s briefly put on manly readiness, / And meet i’ the hall together.

Let’s all quickly get dressed (and armed), and meet in the hall.

Well contented.

We all agree (spoken more or less together).

Let’s not consort with them: / To show an unfelt sorrow is an office / Which the false man does easy.

Malcolm says the two brothers should not join in with what the others are going to do (consort with them). After all, anyone can pretend to be grieving (show an unfelt sorrow); liars do it easily.

Malcolm may be worried that they will be thought false if they show their grief.

I’ll to England.

I’ll go to England, at least for now.

To Ireland, I

I’ll go to Ireland.

our separated fortune / Shall keep us both the safer

If we split up, we’ll both be safer. No one will be able to kill both of us.

The sons of Duncan have every reason to be concerned — they know they didn’t kill the king, so someone else did. Therefore, whoever it was may well be planning to kill them, in order to get to the throne.

where we are, / There’s daggers in men’s smiles: the near in blood, / The nearer bloody.

Here, men smile to hide their evil intentions (daggers in men’s smiles); you can’t trust anyone.

Those close to the murdered king are suspects, but those most closely related to him (we, his sons) might be even more suspect because we will be seen as having the most to gain by killing Duncan. We might be suspected precisely because we are next in line to the throne; anyone else would also have to kill us before he could become king.

This murderous shaft that’s shot / Hath not yet lighted, and our safest way / Is to avoid the aim.

The arrow (the murderous shaft) that has been shot has not yet landed (lighted) — has not yet done all that it will do — so our safest course is to get out of its way.

Therefore, to horse; / And let us not be dainty of leave-taking . . .

Let’s ride now. And no need for fancy ceremonies to say good-bye; let’s just get going (shift away).

there’s warrant in that theft / Which steals itself, when there’s no mercy left — when it’s no longer possible to act with grace and virtue (there’s no mercy left), it’s acceptable to do things like run away.

warrant — justification

that theft / Which steals itself — taking oneself away, running away

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 Macbeth and Lennox

Latin, literally “they leave.” Macbeth and Lennox leave the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt

Latin, literally “they leave.” Most of the players leave the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt

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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.