Summary

Ross and an Old Man discuss how unusual the recent events have been. They mention that things seem unnatural, out of order in the natural universe — it’s dark when it should be light, horses act unusually wild, etc. Macduff appears and discusses the murder with Ross. It becomes clear that Macduff has suspicions about who the killer is, even though Malcolm and Donalbain have run away, which makes them look guilty. Macduff does not say that he suspects Macbeth, but there must be a reason why Macduff refuses to attend the coronation ceremony at Scone, where Macbeth has gone to be crowned king.

Enter

To come on stage.

Threescore and ten

A score is 20, so threescore is 60, plus 10, equals 70. The Old Man is telling us how old he is — about 70 years old — by referring to the biblical measure of a normal lifespan (Psalms 90:10). He has therefore lived about as long as he has any right to expect; he has, therefore, great experience and knowledge of the way the world works. Since he can remember all 70 years well, we can assume that he’s a little older than 70.

Within the volume of which time I have seen . . .

But in all my years of having seen strange things, things dreadful, I’ve never seen anything like this last night — it makes all other experience seem unimportant by comparison.

good father

Ross addresses the Old Man as “good father,” meaning both his belief that the man is a virtuous person, and showing his respect for the man’s age.

Even today, in Europe, older people are often called “grandfather” or “grandmother” as a sign of respect and affection. Such terms do not indicate a blood relationship.

Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act . . .

You can see for yourself: the heavens themselves are aware of what has happened (the murder of a king), and show their disapproval by striking the earth (the bloody stage) with storms. It should be daytime, according to the clock, but it’s so dark that the lamp we use to travel with can hardly provide any light. Is it because night is more powerful, or because day is ashamed, that darkness wraps the face of the earth, when it should be full daylight?

’tis unnatural, / Even like the deed that’s done.

It’s a sign that unnatural things are happening — just like the murder of the king (the deed that’s done). Last week, a falcon (a superior hunting bird) was killed by a common owl; this is not the natural order of things.

And Duncan’s horses — a thing most strange and certain . . .

Even the king’s horses, the best of horses (the minions of their race — the very best examples of their kind), went wild, broke out of their stalls, refused to obey, and acted as if at war with humans.

This is, of course, another sign that the natural order, what the Elizabethans thought of as the “Great Chain of Being,” had been disrupted by the murder of the king. Horses had always gotten along well with men; to see them at war is another sign that things are not as they should be.

’tis said they eat each other.

You can almost see the Old Man leaning forward, whispering, confiding something unbelievable, to Ross. Horses trying to eat each other? Not in any world we have ever known.

They did so, to the amazement of mine eyes / That look’d upon’t.

The horses really did try to eat each other (probably they were just trying to bite each other), which I was amazed to see.

Ross confirms the rumor the Old Man has heard.

Why, see you not?

Macduff’s abrupt question may indicate his impatience, his frustration, with the whole situation. He may already have suspicions about the murder. He may even believe that others should arrive at the same conclusions he’s leaning toward. This line could be written today as “Can’t you see for yourself?”

Is’t known who did this more than bloody deed?

Does anyone know yet who killed Duncan?

Those that Macbeth hath slain.

Macduff indicates the king’s personal guard, lending support to the belief that they were the killers. Macbeth killed them, and blamed them, for the murder of Duncan; Macduff may be agreeing with this idea, but he also has other ideas.

Alas, the day!

What an awful day!

What good could they pretend?

How could they have hoped to get away with it? Would anyone have believed them, if Macbeth had not killed them?

They were suborn’d . . .

They were used. Since Malcolm and Donalbain, the king’s sons, have run away, they begin to look guilty of the crime.

’Gainst nature still!

Ross continues his description of things out of order in the world. It’s also against nature for sons to kill their fathers. It’s an unthinking ambition that destroys its own life’s means of support.

Thriftless — wasteful

ravin — to hunt or destroy

Then ’tis most like / The sovereignty will fall upon Macbeth.

Then it’s most likely that the kingship will fall to Macbeth.

sovereignty — position of being a ruler

He is already named, and gone to Scone / To be invested.

Macbeth has already been named the new king (by consent of the nobles), and has gone to Scone (pronounced skoon; the place where Scottish kings had been crowned for centuries) for the ceremony giving him the throne (to be invested).

See the Wikipedia article regarding the Stone of Scone for more information about the history of Scone and the crowning of Scottish kings.

Carried to Colmekill, / The sacred storehouse of his predecessors, / And guardian of their bones.

Long tradition surrounded the reverent treatment of the body of a king, regardless of how he died. Centuries-old practices were observed, placing the remains in special places, accompanied by ceremonies, music, newly written histories, etc. The tombs at Colmekill are the “guardians” of their bones.

Will you to Scone?

Will you go to Scone, to see the ceremonies investing Macbeth as the new king?

This may seem an innocent question, but it’s possible that it has political implications. Going to Scone, participating in the ceremonies, was a way of showing acceptance of a new king — staying away might indicate resistance, disapproval, or even disloyalty.

No, cousin, I’ll to Fife.

Macduff states that he’s going to go to Fife, his home district (he is Thane of Fife), rather than go to Scone. He may be implying a lack of support, or even suspicion, of Macbeth. But it might be unwise to say so directly, or it might be unwise for Ross to respond, either in agreement or disagreement.

It was important to be careful in these matters, because what you did was noticed by others, and remembered.

Well, I will thither.

Ross indicates that he will go to Scone. He is likely playing it safe, not indicating whether or not he supports Macbeth, but going along for now.

thither — there

Well, may you see things well done there: adieu! / Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!

Macduff says he hopes that the ceremonies done there will be properly done (may you see things well done there) — that Macbeth is worthy to be king, and things will settle down after the coronation.

Good-bye for now. I worry that things might be worse now, under King Macbeth, than they were before (our old robes may fit us better than our new ones).

adieu! — French, good-bye

Farewell, father.

Ross also bids the Old Man good-bye (Ross is also leaving, to go to Scone), and courteously addresses him as “father” out of respect for his age.

God’s benison go with you; and with those / That would make good of bad, and friends of foes!

May God’s blessings go with you, and with anyone who wants to improve things (make good of bad), and turn enemies into friends!

benison — blessing

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.” Most of the players leave the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt

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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.