Summary

Lady Macbeth worries over Macbeth’s ability to maintain the charade, to pretend that they had nothing to do with Duncan’s murder. She reminds him that you can’t change the past, and urges him not to worry about things that can’t be changed. Macbeth argues that they’re not safe as king and queen, that there is still danger. He doesn’t discuss his plans to kill Banquo, but he does confess his fears and suffering. Lady Macbeth asks what he has in mind, but Macbeth keeps it to himself. He lets us know that his world is turning darker, that he sees evil taking over his world.

Enter

To come on stage.

Say to the king, I would attend his leisure / For a few words.

Go tell King Macbeth I would like to speak with him, when it’s convenient.

Nought’s had, all’s spent . . .

Lady Macbeth echoes some of Macbeth’s earlier comments. Here she complains that they have nothing (nought’s had) and everything is lost (all’s spent), because they have what they wanted (the throne), but can’t be content with it because they’re not safe yet — because Banquo is still alive. It would be safer, she says, to be the thing they’re looking to destroy than to live in doubt about whether their happy state will last.

Scholars dispute the meaning of this text (some believe it should be spoken by Macbeth, not Lady Macbeth), but this is the only time Lady Macbeth indicates any misgivings on her part, prior to the famous sleepwalking scene in Act 5.

How now, my lord!

How are things with you, my lord?

why do you keep alone . . .

Why don’t you socialize? Why are you wrapped up in unhappy thoughts? Why do you continue to worry about things that are past and gone? Things in the past can’t be changed (and are therefore without all remedy), and therefore don’t need to be worried about (should be without regard).

We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it . . .

We have damaged (scotch’d) the thing that threatens us, not destroyed it. It’s still a threat. It will heal (close) and remain a danger to us.

Scholarly opinion is divided about these lines. Some critics think the word scotch’d should be replaced with scorch’d; others disagree.

But let the frame of things disjoint . . .

Let heaven and earth (both the worlds) be out of joint (suffer, be disordered), before we will eat or sleep in fear, before we let these nightmares disturb us. Better we should be like Duncan, dead, than to be tortured with sleeplessness.

Macbeth is already unable to sleep, and is nightly plagued with nightmares, just as the witches foretold. He acknowledges his actions — “we have sent Duncan to peace” — and that he might be better off dead than to suffer the unrest he currently must live with.

better be with the dead, / Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace . . .

There are many opinions about this text, which appears to be in doubt. Some scholars prefer the word place instead of peace (to gain our place vs. to gain our peace), and some editions of Shakespeare show it that way. There are good arguments on both sides, however, and it will probably remain impossible to know for certain which one Shakespeare intended.

After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well . . .

Duncan sleeps well in his grave, life no longer disturbs him, the way a fever would. Treason (Macbeth’s treason) has put Duncan where nothing further can touch him, neither steel, nor poison, nor plots from within the country, nor attack from outside.

Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks; / Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.

Peace, my lord, smooth out your face’s lines of worry; be happy and jovial at the banquet.

So shall I, love; and so, I pray, be you . . .

I’ll be happy and jovial tonight. Be sure you are, too. Especially remember to be this way with Banquo, who should be treated with honor (eminence), with praise in our looks and speech (eye and tongue).

Unsafe the while, that we / Must lave our honours in these flattering streams . . .

Unsafe the whole time that we’re washing our honors (of Banquo) in these streams of flattering words, and making our faces as masks (vizards, visors) to hide what our hearts really are.

You must leave this.

You must not talk like this, you must leave off speaking this way.

O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife! / Thou know’st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives.

I’m so tortured by what I feel that it’s like having a head full of scorpions! You know that Banquo and Fleance still live.

But in them nature’s copy’s not eterne.

But they won’t live forever, and neither will their descendants.

There’s comfort yet; they are assailable . . .

Well, this is good at least. They can be attacked (they are assailable).

Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown . . .

Be merry, be happy (jocund is pronounced JAH-kuhnd). Before the bat has flown among the cloisters (before dawn), before the beetle comes to evil Hecate’s summons, before the night is over, something terrible will be done (a deed of dreadful note).

What’s to be done?

What will be done? What deed?

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, / Till thou applaud the deed.

Don’t worry about the details, just wait until it’s done and you’ll like the outcome.

Macbeth is talking, of course, about his plan to kill Banquo and Fleance.

dearest chuck — a pet name, much like “honey” or “sweetheart”

Come, seeling night . . .

To seel was to blindfold, or temporarily blind.

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day — blind daylight, hide things from view

Night’s hand would naturally be invisible, but Macbeth speaks here of it being bloody too — things like murders are best done at night. Macbeth wants night, a depersonalized night, to cancel and destroy the bond that keeps him pale — the thing that still makes him afraid (Banquo and Fleance, continuing to live).

Light thickens . . .

Light itself — sight, perception, everything related to lightness and clarity — has begun to darken or thicken, drawing in upon itself, to Macbeth.

Whole term papers have been written about the meaning of these two words; the short answer is that Macbeth sees his world closing in on him, since he’s stepping further into evil.

These two words are famous enough that Ngaio Marsh used them as the title of her last novel, a mystery involving a murder during a showing of Macbeth.

the crow / Makes wing to the rooky wood

The crow flies to the woods, where many rooks (crows) live; good things, associated with daylight, begin to close up for the night; and night’s evil creatures (black agents) arise (rouse) to begin hunting their prey.

Night is generally associated with dark, evil things, like Macbeth’s plot against Banquo and Fleance.

Thou marvell’st at my words . . .

Macbeth now speaks directly to Lady Macbeth (he was speaking more to himself until just now), noting that she is amazed at what he’s been saying (remember that Lady Macbeth knows nothing, so far, of Macbeth’s plot). He asks her to wait, to “hold still” because, he tells us, things weakly begun can become strong and capable by their very evil.

So, prithee, go with me.

So, please, come with me.

prithee — I pray you, I ask you

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

The character 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.