Summary

The scene is Macduff’s castle in Fife. Macduff has fled to England, leaving his wife and children at home and unprotected. Lady Macduff discusses the situation with Ross, and tries to comfort her young son. Ross leaves, and a messenger appears with the news that Lady Macduff is in danger. Murderers hired by Macbeth rush in and kill everyone in sight, and kill Lady Macduff at the end.

Enter

To come on stage.

Fife

The district of which Macduff is thane.

What had he done, to make him fly the land?

What did Macduff do, to make him run away, out of the country?

He had none: / His flight was madness: when our actions do not, / Our fears do make us traitors.

Lady Macduff says that Macduff apparently had no patience. She thinks his running to England was madness, because even if we do nothing treasonous, we can still be called traitors if our fears make us run away.

You know not / Whether it was his wisdom or his fear.

It might have been wisdom, not fear, that made him leave the country. He might have had a good reason for going.

Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes, / His mansion and his titles in a place / From whence himself does fly?

How can you call it wisdom? He left his wife, his children, his castle, and all his lands — left them all there and ran away.

He loves us not; / He wants the natural touch . . .

He must not love us. He lacks (wants) the natural instinct to protect us. Even the wren, the smallest bird, will fight the owl, when her young ones are in the nest.

Lady Macduff thinks Macduff’s apparent desertion of his family is a kind of treason. She holds loyalty to family above all other loyalties.

All is the fear and nothing is the love . . .

Lady Macduff believes Macduff acted wholly out of fear (all is the fear), and showed no love (nothing is the love) and very little wisdom, when he ran away for no reason (no reason she can think of).

My dearest coz, / I pray you, school yourself . . .

Ross and Macduff were likely related, so he calls Lady Macduff by the name of cousin, and asks her to restrain (school) herself. He also says that Macduff is noble and wise and judicious, and best knows the times (the fits o’ the season) — that Macduff certainly must have had good reason to do what he did.

cruel are the times, when we are traitors / And do not know ourselves . . .

It’s a bad time for our country when we can be traitors and not even know it — some of us are accused of being traitors, having done nothing. We believe the rumors we hear, we fear the rumors, but we’re not even aware of what we fear. We float on a wild and violent sea, and move in every direction.

I take my leave of you: / Shall not be long but I’ll be here again . . .

I’ll go now; it won’t be long before I come back. Things will not get worse from here, they’ll get better (climb upward), even as good as things were before.

Ross is not correct.

Father’d he is, and yet he’s fatherless.

Lady Macduff refers to her young son, who has a father, Macduff; but Macduff is absent, leaving him without a father.

I am so much a fool, should I stay longer . . .

Because I’m foolish, it would be dishonorable to stay here any longer; to do so would make you uncomfortable. Therefore, I go now.

Sirrah, your father’s dead; / And what will you do now? How will you live?

Lady Macduff addresses her young son, using a term which, between adults, would be insulting — sirrah (pronounced SURR-ah), but used affectionately by mother to son is an endearment.

She asks him what he will do now that his father’s dead. Macduff is not dead, but she’s probably exploring how the boy would feel if he were.

As birds do, mother.

I’d get along just as easily, he says, as birds do. The boy seems unconcerned about the possibility that his father might be dead.

With what I get, I mean; and so do they.

I mean I’ll get along with whatever I get, just like birds do.

Poor bird! thou’ldst never fear the net nor lime, / The pitfall nor the gin.

Lady Macduff calls her son by another endearment, “poor bird!” She suggests that he need never fear getting caught in a net, nor with a snare (a line with a noose at the end was called a lime), nor in a pit covered with leaves (a pitfall), nor with any other means of catching a bird. She wants to assure him that he won’t have to worry about anything.

Why should I, mother? Poor birds they are not set for. / My father is not dead, for all your saying.

The son is wiser than his years, as minor characters often are in Shakespeare. He asks his mother why he should be afraid, since no one hunts or lays traps for birds not worth catching (poor birds). He knows, too, that Macduff is not dead, in spite of what his mother says.

Yes, he is dead; how wilt thou do for a father?

Lady Macduff again says that his father is dead, and asks what the boy will do for a father.

Nay, how will you do for a husband?

The boy, again wiser than his years, asks his mother rather what she will do for a husband.

Why, I can buy me twenty at any market.

Lady Macduff, caught a little off guard by the boy’s unexpected question, tries to make light of the situation by claiming that husbands can be bought anywhere.

Then you’ll buy ’em to sell again.

The son answers his mother, telling her she can always sell back any husbands she doesn’t want, if they’re so easy to come by.

Thou speak’st with all thy wit: and yet, i’ faith, / With wit enough for thee.

You speak with wit beyond your years, but it’s right for you (wit enough for thee).

Was my father a traitor, mother?

Notice that the boy is now speaking of his father in the past tense.

Ay, that he was.

Yes, he was a traitor.

Lady Macduff has no more information than she had before, but she’s probably not ready to try to explain to her son why Macduff wasn’t really a traitor.

What is a traitor?

The son may be asking for a more detailed definition, or he may be setting the tone of the conversation, as we shall see momentarily.

enow to beat / the honest men and hang up them.

There are enough (enow) people who lie and swear to beat up any honest men and hang them.

poor monkey!

Another term of endearment.

But how wilt thou do for a father?

Lady Macduff asks the boy again what he will do for a father, or how he will get along without one.

If he were dead, you’ld weep for / him . . .

The boy figures out that if his father was actually dead, his mother would be weeping, and if she will not weep, then it’s a pretty good sign that he will soon have a new father.

Poor prattler, how thou talk’st!

The mother again remarks on the child’s speech, wise beyond his years.

prattler — one who talks, or prattles

I am not to you known, / Though in your state of honour I am perfect.

You don’t know me, but I am an honorable man nevertheless.

I doubt some danger does approach you nearly

I believe (doubt) some danger is coming to you quickly.

a homely man’s advice

a simple man’s advice

Be not found here; hence, with your little ones . . .

Don’t be caught here, go away quickly with your children. I’m sorry that this news startles you, making me seem rude, but it would be far worse (fell cruelty) if I didn’t tell you that the danger is very close to you. Heaven save you! I dare not stay here (abide) any longer.

Whither should I fly? / I have done no harm.

Where should I run? I’ve done nothing wrong.

But I remember now / I am in this earthly world . . .

But here in the real world, it’s often praiseworthy (laudable) to do harm, and doing good is sometimes thought to be dangerous and foolish. Why, then, do I protest like a woman (put up that womanly defence), and say that I’ve done no harm? What good is that?

What are these faces?

Who are these people?

I hope, in no place so unsanctified / Where such as thou mayst find him.

I hope he’s not in any place so unholy that someone like you could find him.

Thou liest, thou shag-hair’d villain!

Calling someone “shag-haired” or “villain” was a great insult.

What, you egg!

What are you doing? What’s the problem?

Young fry of treachery!

Offspring (fry) of a traitor!

I pray you!

I beg 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 Lady Macduff

Lady Macduff runs off the stage, pursued by the murderers, yelling “Murder!” She is killed, offstage, as the conventions of the day would require — killing a woman onstage would have been considered too brutal. But make no mistake — Lady Macbeth is killed by the murderers.

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.