Summary

Banquo, talking to himself, is coming around to the idea that the witches may have spoken the truth — Macbeth is king, after all. But Banquo also begins to suspect Macbeth of the murder. He wonders if he will, in the end, be the father to a line of kings, as the witches predicted. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth arrive and make sure Banquo knows he’s expected at the feast planned for that evening. Banquo must ride away temporarily on an errand, but promises to be at the banquet on time. Macbeth worries that he’s not safe as king, as long as Banquo and his son live. He confers with two murderers he’s hired, making sure they believe that they have good reason to kill Banquo, and sending them out to kill him and his son.

Enter

To come on stage.

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all

Banquo is speaking to Macbeth, who is not there. This is an example of apostrophe — speaking to someone not present.

Banquo says that Macbeth now has everything he was promised — he is Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and now he’s king.

As the weird women promised

Just as the witches said.

Thou play’dst most foully for’t

You won it all by cheating (played foully) — by killing the king.

Banquo, like Macduff, already suspects that Macbeth might be the killer.

yet it was said / It should not stand in thy posterity, / But that myself should be the root and father / Of many kings.

Banquo remembers that the witches also predicted that he, Banquo, would be the father of a line of kings. The implication here is that Macbeth will not have sons sitting on the throne (stand in thy posterity).

If there come truth from them —

Banquo feels his earlier misgivings — if the witches were evil, how could they have told the truth? But truth has come from what they said (their speeches “shine” on Macbeth, who is now king), so he asks “why would they not be telling the truth about me (be my oracles, or truth-tellers), and give me hope?”

Sennet sounded.

A sennet was a kind of flourish — a brief tune played on trumpets to announce the coming and going of royalty.

Macbeth, as king, Lady Macbeth, as queen

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been crowned king and queen, and they make their first entrance here, wearing crowns and other regalia to indicate their new rank.

Here’s our chief guest.

Macbeth acknowledges Banquo, as the most important person invited to attend the banquet tonight. Macbeth is, however, already planning how to get rid of Banquo, permanently.

If he had been forgotten . . .

If Banquo were to not be at our feast, it would be a noticeable lack, and would be completely inappropriate (unbecoming).

Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are being courteous to Banquo, who must not suspect that Macbeth (at least) is plotting against him.

To-night we hold a solemn supper, sir, / And I’ll request your presence.

We’re having a banquet tonight, and we’d like you to be there.

Macbeth says that he wants Banquo there, because that’s what good manners require him to say. But Macbeth is planning something else.

solemn — high, important. Not to be confused with “serious” or “sad.”

sir — this is simply a polite form of address; it does not indicate that Banquo is superior to Macbeth in rank.

Let your highness / Command upon me; to the which my duties / Are with a most indissoluble tie / For ever knit.

This is Banquo’s first opportunity to declare to the new king that he is completely loyal; he therefore speaks somewhat elaborately.

This could be written as “Your highness commands me; following those commands is my highest duty.”

with a most indissoluble tie / For ever knit — bound together without possibility of loosing

Ride you this afternoon?

Are you going away for a while?

Macbeth sees Banquo getting ready to mount his horse, and tries to steer the conversation around to how long Banquo will be gone. Will he be at the feast or not? It’s important to Macbeth’s plans to know where Banquo will be.

We should have else desired your good advice . . .

We would have spent time talking with you in our meetings today, since your good advice is always serious and profitable, but we can wait until tomorrow.

In this speech, Macbeth uses “the royal we” — to say “we” and “us” and “our” was a way of making things more official, more kingly. Popes, bishops, kings, anyone in authority could use “the royal we” to emphasize authority and majesty. It’s still used on occasion today, by popes and royalty.

Is’t far you ride?

How far away are you going? How long will you be gone?

As far, my lord, as will fill up the time . . .

I’m going far enough away that it will take all the time between now and dinner for me to go and come back.

go not my horse the better . . .

If I can’t ride any faster, I may have to ride during the night (become a borrower of the night) for an hour or two (twain).

Fail not our feast.

Be sure not to miss our banquet tonight.

We hear our bloody cousins are bestow’d . . .

We’ve heard that Malcolm and Donalbain (our bloody cousins — remember that Macbeth was a cousin of Duncan’s and is therefore cousin to Duncan’s sons) are hiding (bestow’d) in England and Ireland, not admitting their guilt (the crime Macbeth is accusing them of is parricide, the killing of a close relative, usually a parent), lying to others, telling false stories (strange invention).

but of that to-morrow, / When therewithal we shall have cause of state / Craving us jointly.

But we’ll deal with that tomorrow, when we have state business that requires both our attention.

Hie you to horse: adieu, / Till you return at night.

Get going, ride, good-bye, until you return tonight.

Goes Fleance with you?

Is Fleance (your son) going along?

This seems like a casual, innocent question, but it’s vital to Macbeth’s plotting.

our time does call upon ’s.

It’s time we got going.

I wish your horses swift and sure of foot; / And so I do commend you to their backs.

I hope your horses will ride quickly and safely; I feel comfortable trusting your safety to them.

Let every man be master of his time . . .

You’re all free to do whatever you please, until seven o’clock tonight. We (the “royal we”) will keep alone and private until supper-time, to make our next meeting (at supper-time) all the better.

while then — until then.

Sirrah, a word with you: attend those men / Our pleasure?

You, sir! Let’s talk. Are those men we talked about earlier ready to meet with me?

sirrah — a contemptuous form of address, to an underling or inferior (pronounced SURR-ah).

attend those men our pleasure? — are those men waiting until I’m ready to talk to them?

They are, my lord, without the palace gate.

Yes, they are. They’re waiting outside (without) the palace gate.

To be thus is nothing; / But to be safely thus.

Just to be king is nothing; to be king safely, for certain, for the rest of my life, is everything.

Even though just crowned, Macbeth is already worried about losing his place as king; he knows better than most that there’s only one way to stop being king — to die, one way or another. It’s not enough for him to be thus (like this, a king) — he must also be safely thus, be certain to remain king.

Our fears in Banquo / Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature / Reigns that which would be fear’d

I’m very deeply afraid of Banquo. His royalty of nature (his virtue, his loyalty) is the thing I’m afraid of, because Banquo will do no wrong. Banquo dares much, and because his character is dauntless (unafraid), his wisdom guides his bravery to act safely. I fear only Banquo; his character will limit my ability to act (Genius), just as Mark Antony was limited by Octavius Caesar (see Antony and Cleopatra for a full discussion).

He chid the sisters / When first they put the name of king upon me . . .

Banquo chided (upbraided, scolded) the witches for their prophecy (a supernatural act), when they predicted I would become king, but asked (bade) them to speak to him. They addressed him as the father of a line of kings, and on my head they put a crown, but gave me no descendants (a fruitless crown, a barren sceptre; gripe is “grip”). I’ll be torn (wrench’d) from my throne by someone not of my line (unlineal), and have no son to follow me.

If ’t be so, / For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind . . .

If this is the way it must be, then I’ve defiled (filed) myself (by killing Duncan) for no purpose, since it’s Banquo’s issue (children) who will sit on the throne. It’s for them I killed Duncan, put disorder in my being just for them, and my salvation (eternal jewel) given to Satan (the common enemy of man) — damned myself — just to make them kings! The children (seed) of Banquo, kings!

Rather than so, come fate into the list. / And champion me to the utterance!

Rather than that, let’s let fate decide, and fight with me to the last!

Macbeth says that fate can decide these things, but at the same time he’s planning to make things happen the way he wants. He does not act consistently with what he says.

come fate into the list — let fate come and fight me, as knights fought each other in the lists (areas of a field marked for combat).

champion — fight.

the utterance — to the last extremity, to the end, to the death.

Who’s there!

Macbeth is startled out of his soliloquy (a speech to us and himself, pronounced so-LILL-oh-kwee), almost as if he’s not expecting anyone to approach him, even though he just ordered it.

Now go to the door, and stay there till we call.

Macbeth speaks to the attendant, whom he wants to step aside, out of earshot, but to stay in the same room. The stage directions call for the attendant to leave, but as long as he is nearby, and cannot hear the next lines of dialog, the exact performance details don’t matter.

Was it not yesterday we spoke together?

Didn’t we speak together yesterday?

Macbeth is probably asking them this to remind them of their discussion.

It was, so please your highness.

We did speak yesterday, your majesty.

The murderers speak deferentially, respectfully, to the king.

Have you consider’d of my speeches? . . .

Have you thought about what I said? Keep in mind that it was he (Banquo) who kept you down, not I. I’m innocent. I told you this (this I made good to you) last time we spoke, went over it all in detail (pass’d in probation), told you how you were strung along (borne in hand, carried along deceitfully), how you were betrayed (cross’d), showed you the means and who used them, and everything else that would convince anyone, even a crazy person, that Banquo was responsible (“Thus did Banquo.”).

Macbeth must have gone over his story with these men in elaborate detail. We can assume that he has put a great deal of effort into his plot, to frame Banquo so thoroughly.

You made it known to us.

That’s what you told us.

I did so, and went further, which is now / Our point of second meeting.

Right, and I said more than that, which is what we’re here to talk about now.

Do you find / Your patience so predominant in your nature . . .

Are you so forgiving and patient that you can overlook (let this go) what Banquo has done to you? Are you so Christian (gospell’d) that you actually pray for Banquo and his children (issue), Banquo who has oppressed you and pushed you toward the grave, and made you and your family poor forever?

We are men, my liege.

We are real men, not weaklings, my lord.

liege — lord (pronounced leezh)

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men . . .

You’re men, in the general sense, just as any kind of dog is still called a dog.

clept — called.

the valued file / Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle . . .

It’s their individual natures that make them valuable, in their various ways. Some are quick, some are good hunters, all according to the gifts their nature has given them.

in him closed — placed within him.

whereby he does receive / Particular addition . . .

He gains some particular good from the list that calls them all the same, and so do men.

Now, if you have a station in the file . . .

Now, if you know your position, and it isn’t the lowest position, say so, and I’ll give you work to do — work that will get rid of your enemy and bind you to our love, we who are sick as long as he’s healthy, but who would be healthy if he were dead.

I am one, my liege . . .

I’m the kind of man, my lord, who no longer cares what I do in anger, so enraged am I by the way the world has treated me.

vile blows and buffets — unlucky and unwelcome events

incensed — enraged

reckless — careless

And I another / So weary with disasters . . .

I, too, am so tired of life and its misfortunes that I’m willing to bet on anything, take any chance, if doing so would either make things better or kill me. I’m so unhappy with my life that I’ll take any chance to improve it (mend it) or end it (be rid on’t, be rid of it).

Both of you / Know Banquo was your enemy.

Banquo, of course, was never the enemy of these men, but Macbeth has convinced them that Banquo was responsible for all their misfortunes.

So is he mine; and in such bloody distance . . .

Banquo is also my enemy, and he’s not far from me, close enough that every minute he’s alive it grates against my heart (near’st of life). I could, just using my power as king (barefaced power), sweep him away, and make myself agree with that, but I can’t do that — some people, friends to both of us, whose support I need, will mourn his fall (and the fact that I caused it). Therefore, I need your help (I to your assistance do make love), hiding the whole thing from most people, for various (sundry) important reasons.

Though our lives —

The First Murderer starts to say something, probably along the lines of “Though our lives be forfeit, we’ll keep our word.” — “Even if we lose our lives in the process, we’ll still do what we promise.” But Macbeth is impatient, and cuts him off.

Your spirits shine through you.

Your nature shows itself in your words and promises.

Within this hour at most . . .

In less than an hour, I’ll let you know where I want you to stand (where to plant yourselves), and give you all the information I have (acquaint you with the perfect spy o’ the time), and when you should act (the moment on’t), for it must be done tonight, and must happen at least some distance from the palace (something from the palace). Keep in mind that I must always look blameless (require a clearness).

Opinion on the exact meaning of parts of this passage is divided. For example, some believe that perfect spy refers to the Third Murderer, who will appear in Scene 3; others disagree.

with him — / To leave no rubs nor botches in the work

Along with Banquo — so that there are no defects or mistakes in the killing (no rubs nor botches in the work) — you must also get Fleance, his son, who will be with him (keeps him company). His (Fleance’s) removal (absence) is just as important (no less material) as his father’s, and they must die at that time (embrace the fate of that dark hour).

Resolve yourselves apart: / I’ll come to you anon.

Step away now and make up your minds to do this (resolve yourselves apart). I’ll come back to you in a few minutes (anon).

We are resolved, my lord.

We have already made up our minds, my lord.

The Murderers do not speak exactly the same words at exactly the same time, but speak similar sentences at approximately the same time.

I’ll call upon you straight: abide within.

I’ll call for you right away (straight away). Stay (abide) here, in this room (within).

It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, / If it find heaven, must find it out to-night.

It is finished (arranged, settled). Banquo, if your soul is going to go to heaven, it must be prepared this night (because you’re going to be killed tonight).

Souls were thought to rise from the body, like flying, in order to travel to heaven.

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 Murderers.

Latin, literally “they leave.” The Murderers leave the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt all but Macbeth and an attendant.

Latin, literally “they leave.” Most of the players leave the stage, leaving Macbeth alone with an attendant.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt

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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.