Summary

The banquet. All the nobles (except Banquo and Macduff) show up for Macbeth’s feast. Macbeth meets the murderers privately, and they tell him that Banquo’s dead, but that his son escaped. Macbeth realizes that he’s not yet safe, since Fleance still lives, but that he can probably wait a while before worrying about the boy. Macbeth pretends to miss Banquo, at the feast. In the middle of the banquet, Banquo’s ghost appears and sits in Macbeth’s chair, but only he can see it. He is full of guilty alarm, and yells at the ghost, causing great consternation among his guests. Lady Macbeth asks him what’s wrong, and Macbeth tries to recover in front of his guests, act as if nothing is wrong, and explain it all away. Just then, the ghost reappears, and Macbeth loses his control. Lady Macbeth urges the lords to leave, and they do so. Macbeth resolves to consult the witches again, for more information. He realizes that he has killed so much already that it doesn’t make any difference whether he continues to kill or just stops.

Enter

To come on stage.

The same.

Still at the castle.

A banquet prepared.

A dinner ready for the guests. The table has been set, the food is ready to be served.

You know your own degrees; sit down: at first / And last the hearty welcome.

You all know your ranks (degrees), and therefore who should sit where. Sit down, all of you. To all, first and last, welcome!

Macbeth is inviting a loose and casual atmosphere, to show himself a congenial host.

Ourself will mingle with society, / And play the humble host . . .

We (the “royal we”) will mix and mingle with the guests, and do what hosts do. Our queen, Lady Macbeth, remains seated in her throne for now, but will join us later.

keeps her state — remains seated in the chair of state, which would have a canopy above it

Pronounce it for me, sir, to all our friends; / For my heart speaks they are welcome.

Tell all our guests, from me, that they are welcome.

See, they encounter thee with their hearts’ thanks . . .

Our guests meet you (encounter thee) with their hearts, and thank you for your kind words. We have an even number of guests, so I’ll sit here in the middle. Be happy (large in mirth); soon we’ll have a drink (a measure) all around the table.

There’s blood on thy face.

Macbeth is speaking privately to the First Murderer, at the door.

’tis Banquo’s then.

Then it’s Banquo’s blood.

’tis better thee without than he within. / Is he dispatch’d?

Better to see the blood on you, outside, than to see Banquo here, inside. Has he been dispatched (killed)?

that I did for him.

I did that to him.

Thou art the best o’ the cut-throats: yet he’s good / That did the like for Fleance: if thou didst it, / Thou art the nonpareil.

You ’re the best of the murderers, but whoever killed Fleance is good, too. If you did that, you really are the best.

nonpareil — French, without equal, the best. Pronounced non-pah-RELL.

Most royal sir, / Fleance is ’scaped.

My lord, Fleance escaped.

Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect . . .

I feel my sickness (my fit) again. I was otherwise secure (perfect), solid as rock, as open as the air. But now I’m closed up, confined, bound to my doubts and fears.

But Banquo’s safe?

But Banquo’s taken care of? (Safely dead?)

Ay, my good lord: safe in a ditch he bides, / With twenty trenched gashes on his head; / The least a death to nature.

Yes, my lord, he’s safely “living,” in a ditch, with twenty deeply cut (trenched) gashes on his head, the least of which would be fatal.

Thanks for that

Macbeth thanks the Murderer for the information, if not for the actual murder as well.

There the grown serpent lies; the worm that’s fled . . .

The grown serpent is Banquo, now lying dead; the worm is Fleance, who has run away. Fleance is not yet a threat to Macbeth: he will, in time, have “venom” (he hath nature that in time will venom breed), but for now he’s no danger.

Get thee gone: to-morrow / We’ll hear, ourselves, again.

Go for now. Tomorrow, we’ll cover all this again.

You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold . . .

You’re not mixing with the guests and enjoying the celebration. Banquets like this seem less enjoyable if toasts and cheers aren’t given often. To have an occasion like this, give it freely and with welcome; otherwise, we might as well have an ordinary dinner. To get from there to a banquet it takes ceremony and celebration; otherwise, a meeting of friends seems dull and lifeless.

Sweet remembrancer!

Thank you; you’re sweet to remind me!

Now, good digestion wait on appetite, / And health on both!

Macbeth addresses his guests, wishing them a good appetite and a good dinner — he’s “giving the cheer” mentioned earlier.

May’t please your highness sit.

Lennox suggests Macbeth take a seat, and join the banquet.

Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d . . .

If only Banquo were here, we would have a proper crown for our country’s honor. I hope it’s just that he was unkind or forgetful; I hope nothing bad (mischance) has happened to him!

Macbeth, lying to his guests (he knows why Banquo isn’t there), has not yet noticed the ghost; he’s still addressing the guests, who cannot see the ghost at all.

His absence, sir,
Lays blame upon his promise. Please’t your highness / To grace us with your royal company.

Banquo shouldn’t have promised to be here, if he couldn’t keep that promise. But, if it pleases your highness, come and sit with us.

The table’s full.

Macbeth sees no empty place at the table, because Banquo’s ghost is occupying the last seat, Macbeth’s seat. Only Macbeth can see the ghost, but he has not yet realized who or what it is.

Here is a place reserved, sir.

Lennox points out the seat, which he sees as empty.

Here, my good lord. What is’t that moves your highness?

Right here, my lord. Is something wrong?

Which of you have done this?

Macbeth, now recognizing the ghost, believes for a moment that someone else must be in on this, perhaps playing a trick on him.

What, my good lord?

The other guests, having no idea what Macbeth is talking about, ask him to explain.

Thou canst not say I did it: never shake / Thy gory locks at me.

Macbeth now speaks to the ghost, as if Banquo were still alive: “You can’t claim that I killed you. Don’t shake your bloody head at me!”

Macbeth hopes that Banquo cannot identify him, even from the grave, as one of the murderers, since it was dark when Banquo was killed. Macbeth is already growing desperate, greatly fearing this apparition. Elizabethans would have agreed with this; their belief in ghosts was much more immediate, more personal, more terrifying than anyone in modern times would admit to.

Gentlemen, rise: his highness is not well.

Ross suggests to the guests that they should leave — it’s apparent that Macbeth is not well.

Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus . . .

Lady Macbeth hopes to retrieve the situation, hopes that things will not get worse. She doesn’t see the ghost, and so doesn’t know what’s wrong with Macbeth, but she wants to minimize the bad impression his strange behavior is causing.

My lord is often thus — this happens all the time.

And hath been from his youth — he’s always been this way.

The fit is momentary; upon a thought / He will again be well — wait just a minute and he’ll be fine again.

if you much note him — if you pay him much attention.

extend his passion — make this behavior go on

Feed, and regard him not — Eat, and ignore this odd behavior.

Are you a man?

Are you well? Are you OK? Are you strong enough to handle this?

Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that / Which might appal the devil.

Yes, I’m a man, a bold man. I would dare to look at things that would make the devil himself afraid.

O proper stuff! / This is the very painting of your fear . . .

Nonsense! This is only an illusion (the very painting), brought on by your fear, just like the vision of the dagger (the air-drawn dagger) you saw, before killing Duncan.

Lady Macbeth must, at this point, at least understand that Macbeth thinks he sees something, even if she cannot see the ghost herself.

O, these flaws and starts, / Impostors to true fear . . .

These stops and starts, faint imitations (impostors) of true fear, belong properly in a woman’s story by a fireplace, written by her grandmother (grandam). Shame! Why do you look like this? When all is said and done, all you see is a chair.

Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo! / how say you?

I pray you (prithee, ask you), see there! See it! Look! What do you say that is?

Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too . . .

Macbeth speaks to the ghost.

What difference does it make? If you can nod, speak too (remember that Elizabethans believed that ghosts could not speak unless first spoken to). If burial places (charnel-houses, storehouses for bones) and graves send back the people we bury, our graveyards will be like the mouths (maws) of birds of prey (kites) — bloody with raw meat.

What, quite unmann’d in folly?

Well, so much for being a man! Are you a complete fool?

If I stand here, I saw him.

As surely as I know that I’m standing here, I know that I saw him.

Fie, for shame!

How shameful! To admit such foolishness!

Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time . . .

People have killed before, in the old days, before human (or humane) law (statute) cleansed the nation (purged the gentle weal), before civilization took hold. Yes, and since then too, murders have been done, terrifying to hear about.

the times have been, / That, when the brains were out, the man would die . . .

It used to be the case that if a man’s head was broken open (his brains were out), he would die, and that would be the end of it. But now, such men rise from their deaths, even with twenty lethal strokes (mortal murders) on their heads (crowns), and keep us from sitting in our chairs. This is stranger even than the murder itself.

Your noble friends do lack you.

You’re ignoring the guests again; they expect your company.

Macbeth has slipped off again into introspection, forgetting that he should be entertaining the guests.

I do forget.

Speaking to Lady Macbeth: I had forgotten.

Do not muse at me, my most worthy friends . . 

Speaking now to the guests: No need to wonder at me, friends. I have an unusual sickness, which is really nothing if you know me. Let’s drink a toast to love and health for all, then I’ll sit down (he means sit down at his place at the table, where the ghost had been). Let’s have some wine, fill my glass full. I drink to everyone’s happiness, and to Banquo, whom we all miss. I wish he were here! To everyone, and to him, we drink, and good wishes to all.

Our duties, and the pledge.

The noblemen speak together, promising their faithfulness to their duties, and pledging their loyalty to the king.

Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!

Get out! Get away from me! Hide in the earth!

Macbeth has just seen the ghost again, and he immediately yells at it. This can only produce more amazement in his guests, who cannot see anything unusual going on.

Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold . . .

You have no living part (your bones are marrowless), your blood is cold, you cannot see anything with those eyes you’re staring with!

Think of this, good peers, / But as a thing of custom . . .

Lady Macbeth urges the noblemen (peers) to think of this only as a strange habit (custom) of Macbeth’s. It’s nothing important, she says, but it does spoil otherwise pleasant times.

What man dare, I dare . . .

Macbeth, speaking now to the ghost again, says that he dares to do anything that any man would dare to do. Even if you come at me like a bear, or a rhinoceros, or a tiger, he says, or in any shape at all except for the one you have now (the shape of Banquo), I’ll stand firm and never shake.

or be alive again, / And dare me . . .

Or just be alive again, and dare me to fight you with a sword — if I back down or tremble then, call me a baby girl. Go, horrible shadow! Unreal fake, go!

Why, so: being gone, / I am a man again. Pray you, sit still.

Macbeth tells us that now that the ghost has gone, he’s fine again. A man, a whole man. Then he asks his guests to sit back down.

You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting . . .

You’ve upset the dinner and broken up the good time we were having, with most amazing (admired) disorder. Everyone wonders what the problem is.

Can such things be, / And overcome us like a summer’s cloud . . .

Is this kind of thing even possible? Could such a thing appear, as quickly as a summer cloud, without causing amazement (special wonder)?

You make me strange / Even to the disposition that I owe . . .

You make me seem strange even to my own character (the disposition that I owe; owe means own), now that I see you can look at such sights (the ghost), and keep your natural color when I’m scared white (blanched with fear).

What sights, my lord?

Ross asks Macbeth what “sights” he’s referring to, so we know that the speech between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot have been totally private. Remember also that only Macbeth could see the ghost.

This is a difficult scene to stage, requiring good direction and good acting. Either the actor playing Macbeth must pretend to see a ghost we cannot see, or we must pretend not to see a ghost that’s obviously visible to us as well as to Macbeth. Further, deciding just how much of the characters’ speeches will and won’t be overheard, and by which other characters, is a matter of stage­craft, which requires judgment and experience.

I pray you, speak not; he grows worse and worse; / Question enrages him.

Lady Macbeth is desperate to prevent things from getting worse, so she asks the guests to speak no more to Macbeth.

At once, good night: / Stand not upon the order of your going, / But go at once.

Good night, now! Do not wait to leave until the most important person has left, and then the next most important, and so on, but leave now, all of you, please!

In normal court functions, there was a protocol for coming and going, and more important people did things first; others waited until it was their turn. Lady Macbeth asks the nobles to dispense with all such ceremony, and just go.

Good night; and better health / Attend his majesty!

Good night. We hope the king gets better soon!

It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood

Murder will be avenged. Blood will be shed for shedding blood. Macbeth is worrying over the price he’ll have to pay for his killing.

Stones have been known to move and trees to speak . . .

Nothing can conceal the fact of murder, or the murderer. Stones will move, trees will speak, and prophecies (augurs) and things related have used birds (magot-pies — magpies, choughs — jackdaws, and rooks — crows) to find out the murderer, the secret’st man of blood.

What is the night?

What time is it? How late at night is it?

Almost at odds with morning, which is which.

The night and the morning are now so close together (at odds with), that it’s hard to tell which is which.

It’s very late, possibly near dawn.

How say’st thou, that Macduff denies his person / At our great bidding?

What do you think it means that Macduff refused to come to this celebration, as we commanded?

It is significant that Macduff was not present. He suspects Macbeth already, and likely feels no loyalty to him. His absence is a protest, and sends a message to Macbeth.

Did you send to him, sir?

Did you ask him what kept him from the banquet?

I hear it by the way; but I will send: / There’s not a one of them but in his house / I keep a servant fee’d.

I have heard rumors, but I will also ask him directly. In every noble’s household, I keep a servant paid (fee’d) to report to me.

I will to-morrow, / And betimes I will, to the weird sisters . . .

Tomorrow I’ll go and visit the witches (the weird sisters), and get more information from them (more shall they speak). Now I must know (I am bent to know), no matter what the cost (by the worst means), the information I need about the future, no matter how bad the news is.

For mine own good, / All causes shall give way . . .

Unless it helps me, everything else (all causes) will be treated as unimportant (shall give way).

I have killed so many already (I am in blood / Stepp’d in so far) that it no longer makes any difference whether I stop (wade no more), repent (return), or continue to kill (go o’er).

Macbeth is comparing the killings to crossing a river by wading it — he has already gone so far that now it doesn’t matter whether he goes forward or comes back.

Strange things I have in head, that will to hand; / Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.

I have strange ideas in my head (likely more murders), that I want to perform (that will to hand); they must be acted out before I have a chance to think about them (ere they may be scann’d).

Macbeth feels pressure to move and act quickly, before he can properly think about it, and possibly decide not to kill. In Act 4, he’ll remind us of the pressure he feels, and we’ll see him act quickly, perhaps too quickly.

You lack the season of all natures, sleep.

Lady Macbeth hopes that sleep will help Macbeth recover, feel better. As we know, however, Macbeth is unable to sleep, haunted by nightmares.

Come, we’ll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse / Is the initiate fear that wants hard use: / We are yet but young in deed.

Macbeth agrees to go to bed. But he says that the strangeness and delusion (self-abuse) he suffers is only the first beginning of fear (initiate fear, with “initiate” used as an adjective, not a verb), and that he’ll likely have to endure much more (wants hard use).

We are yet but young in deed.

Finally, Macbeth reminds us, chillingly, that he is only just getting started, that he has much more to do, many more killings to carry out.

(This should not be read as “young indeed.”)

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 Lady Macbeth.

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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.

Exeunt

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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.