Summary

The scene takes place in front of the palace of the King of England. Malcolm and Macduff sit and mourn the sad situation in Scotland. Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne of Scotland, pretends to be unfit to rule the country. This is a ploy — he wants to see what Macduff’s reaction is, so he (Malcolm) can judge whether he can trust Macduff. Macduff, of course, passes the test, and Malcolm is reassured.

However, news comes to Macduff that his family has been slaughtered. Macduff vows revenge on Macbeth; Malcolm is now ready to make war to depose Macbeth.

Enter

To come on stage.

Before the King’s palace.

To be clear, this is outside, in front of, the palace of Edward, the King of England. This scene does not take place in Scotland.

Let us seek out some desolate shade, and there / Weep our sad bosoms empty.

Let’s find some empty spot in the shade, and there we can let our sorrows out.

Let us rather / Hold fast the mortal sword, and like good men / Bestride our down-fall’n birthdom . . .

Instead, let’s take up swords to kill our enemies, and like good sons of Scotland, stand over our fallen kingdom (to defend it).

each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry . . .

Every new day, there are new widows and newly orphaned children, and new sorrows arise to heaven, so much so that heaven itself makes it known that it feels with Scotland and pronounced its own sounds of sorrow (syllable of dolour).

What I believe I’ll wail . . .

I’ll cry out over the things I believe, I’ll believe the things I know, and whatever I can fix, I’ll fix when I can find the time.

What you have spoke, it may be so perchance . . .

What you’ve said may be (perchance) true (so). The usurper (Macbeth) whose name alone (whose sole name) is enough to blister the tongue, was once believed to be honest: you yourself loved him. He hasn’t done a single thing wrong to you (hath not touch’d you) yet.

I am young; but something / You may deserve of him through me

I’m young; you may have a chance to betray me to Macbeth, offer up an innocent lamb to make the angry god (Macbeth) less angry.

I am not treacherous.

I would not betray you.

But Macbeth is.

We know we can’t trust Macbeth.

A good and virtuous nature may recoil / In an imperial charge.

A good man might feel disgust, even when carrying out orders from the king (imperial charge). But I ask you to forgive me; I don’t know your true nature.

Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell . . .

Angels are virtuous, but the greatest angel (Lucifer, Satan) fell into evil. Evil things (all things foul) try to look like virtuous things (wear the brows of grace), but even so, virtuous things (grace) must still look like virtuous things (even though evil tries to imitate good, good must still look like good).

I have lost my hopes.

Macduff is not convinced, and feels all hope is lost.

Perchance even there where I did find my doubts.

Maybe even in the same place where I began to doubt.

Why in that rawness left you wife and child, / Those precious motives, those strong knots of love . . .

Why did you so suddenly leave your family, and all your obligations, without even saying good-bye? Please, don’t take my suspicions (jealousies) as indicators that I find you dishonest (your dishonours). You may be right and correct (rightly just), no matter what I think.

Bleed, bleed, poor country! / Great tyranny! . . .

Our poor country bleeds! Macbeth is evil! Tyranny is solidly in control (thy basis sure), and goodness dares not interfere (cheque thee).

wear thou thy wrongs; / The title is affeer’d!

(As if to Macbeth) Go ahead and admit your wrongdoings; everything you’ve done the law has confirmed (affeer’d).

I would not be the villain that thou think’st . . .

I would not be the villain you might think I am, not even for the whole kingdom that’s in Macbeth’s hand (in the tyrant’s grasp) now, and the whole of the rich East (the Indies) as well.

Be not offended: / I speak not as in absolute fear of you.

Don’t be offended. I’m not speaking as if afraid of you.

I think our country sinks beneath the yoke; / It weeps, it bleeds . . .

Malcolm lays out for us how greatly Scotland is suffering — it sinks beneath its burden, it cries, it bleeds, and every day some new wound is added.

I think withal / There would be hands uplifted in my right . . .

But even so, there would be many people who would join my fight and help me (to depose Macbeth and take the throne), and here in England, there are many thousand who will help.

but, for all this, / When I shall tread upon the tyrant’s head . . .

But after all, in the end, when I have Macbeth’s head under my foot (tread upon the tyrant’s head), or stuck on my sword, even then Scotland will have even more evil to deal with (more vices) than before, will suffer more and in more ways (more sundry ways) than before, because of the man who will then be king (succeed).

What should he be?

Whom do you mean? And what would be wrong with this person?

It is myself I mean: in whom I know / All the particulars of vice so grafted . . .

I’m referring to myself. I have in me every vice, every wicked trait, so that when they’re discovered (open’d), even evil Macbeth will look as pure as snow, and Scotland will think him as gentle as a lamb, compared with all my limitless evils.

Not in the legions / Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn’d / In evils to top Macbeth.

Macduff, surprised, protests that no one, not even the worst devil in hell, could be more evil than Macbeth.

I grant him bloody, / Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful . . .

I agree that Macbeth is bloody (willing to shed blood), lascivious (luxurious), greedy (avaricious), violent (sudden), and commits every sin there is, but there’s no end to my own wickedness (my voluptuousness).

your wives, your daughters, / Your matrons and your maids, could not fill up . . .

Not even all the wives and daughters, older women and younger women, of Scotland could satisfy the deep well of my lusts (the cistern — a large, deep well used for storage — of my lust), and my lust would overpower all restraints (all continent impediments) and people who tried to oppose me.

better Macbeth / Than such an one to reign.

Better we should live under Macbeth than have a person like that as our king.

Boundless intemperance / In nature is a tyranny . . .

Unrestrained and profligate wastefulness (boundless intemperance) is an unfortunate thing (a tyranny) in any man’s character; it has been the downfall of many kings (untimely emptying of the happy throne).

Macduff agrees that this would be an unfortunate thing to have in a king, but he’s not ready to give up on Malcolm yet. He still believes Malcolm should rule Scotland, and wants to give him every chance.

But fear not yet / To take upon you what is yours . . .

But don’t give up yet. You can still take the throne, and satisfy your desires (convey your pleasures), even to excess (in spacious plenty), and still fool (hoodwink) the people into thinking that you’re more restrained.

We have willing dames enough . . .

There are plenty of women who will gladly sleep with you; you cannot want as many as will volunteer, knowing that they’ll have a chance to sleep with the king (to greatness dedicate themselves), since he’s willing (finding it so inclined).

With this there grows / In my most ill-composed affection . . .

But that’s not all. In addition to my lust, I also have an endless, unsatisfiable greed. If I were king, I’d take all the noblemen’s lands and jewels and houses, and the more I got, the more I’d want. I’d even make the nobles fight, just so I could take their wealth.

stanchless — unstoppable

avarice — greed

This avarice / Sticks deeper, grows with more pernicious root . . .

This greed is a worse matter than the lust, and has a more seriously dangerous source, and has even been the reason for the downfall of some kings, but don’t fear — Scotland has great plenty (foisons), enough to satisfy the greed of just one man (your mere own).

all these are portable, / With other graces weigh’d.

All these issues are bearable (portable), especially when your positive points are considered as well (with other graces weigh’d).

But I have none: the king-becoming graces . . .

But I have no such positive points. Those graces that become a king, such as justice, truthfulness (verity), sobriety (temperance), stability, etc., I have none of (have no relish of them). I am bountiful in the acting of every crime, in every way.

Nay, had I power, I should / Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell . . .

More than that, if I were in power, I’d disrupt those who already agree, break up things already peaceful, and destroy all agreement everywhere.

This is a direct reference to King James’ coronation speech, in which he stated that he sought concord, peace, and unity.

O Scotland, Scotland!

Macduff cries out his despair for the sake of his country.

If such a one be fit to govern, speak: / I am as I have spoken.

Malcolm asks if such a person as he described himself to be would be fit to govern Scotland.

Fit to govern! / No, not to live . . .

Macduff says that such a person is not only not fit to govern, but is not even fit to live.

Crying his despair for his country, Macduff apostrophically asks Scotland, the nation miserable (the nation in misery) when it would ever see good days again, with an illegitimate and cruel ruler (Macbeth, the untitled tyrant bloody-scepter’d), since the true heir to the throne (Malcolm), by his accusation of himself stands guilty and even curses his own family?

Thy royal father / Was a most sainted king . . .

Your father Duncan was a good and holy king. The queen, your mother, spent more time kneeling in prayer than she did standing (was more often upon her knees than on her feet), and died every day she lived — (to die in Christ; see Philippians 1:21).

These evils thou repeat’st upon thyself . . .

These defects of character you claim in yourself prevent me from hoping ever again that I can go home. My heart’s hope is gone!

Macduff, this noble passion, / Child of integrity, hath from my soul . . .

Macduff, your righteous feeling (noble passion), your display of integrity, has wiped all the doubts (black scruples) from my heart, and reconciled me to your good character.

Devilish Macbeth / By many of these trains . . .

The evil Macbeth, using many of these ploys (trains), has tried to lure me into his power, but what little wisdom I have keeps me (plucks me) from believing him too easily or quickly (over-credulous haste).

but God above / Deal between thee and me! for even now . . .

But now let God be my witness as you and I speak (deal between thee and me)! For I now put myself in your charge (put myself to your direction), and take back (unspeak) everything bad I said about myself (mine own detraction), and declare (here abjure) that all those moral failings (taints and blames) are unknown to me (are strangers to my nature).

I am yet / Unknown to woman, never was forsworn . . .

I have never yet slept with a woman (am yet / Unknown to woman), or broken my word (was forsworn), and have not even coveted the things I myself own, have never betrayed the church (broke my faith), and would not even betray the devil to another devil; I take just as much delight in truth as I do in life itself (no less in truth than in life).

my first false speaking / Was this upon myself . . .

My first lie was this I spoke about myself just now. What I really am is yours and Scotland’s to command — where, before you arrived here (thy here-approach), Siward (the Earl of Northumberland), with ten thousand soldiers ready to march (already at a point), was getting ready to go.

Now we’ll together; and the chance of goodness / Be like our warranted quarrel! Why are you silent?

Now we’ll go together, and may our chances of success (goodness) be as certain as the justice of our cause (warranted quarrel)! But why don’t you say anything?

Such welcome and unwelcome things at once / ’tis hard to reconcile.

Macduff says that he finds it difficult to reconcile all that Malcolm has said; so much of it seems to contradict other parts.

Well; more anon.

We’ll speak more about this soon (anon).

Comes the king forth, I pray you?

(Malcom speaks to the Doctor) Is King Edward coming out, I ask you?

there are a crew of wretched souls / That stay his cure . . .

There are those poor people who delay him, seeking his touch to cure them (stay his cure). Their sickness defeats our doctors, but when King Edward touches them, such grace (sanctity) has heaven given his hand that they are cured right away.

What’s the disease he means?

Macduff is curious about the disease these people are being cured of.

’tis call’d the evil: / A most miraculous work in this good king . . .

The disease is called “the evil.” I’ve seen Edward do this often since I came to stay here (my here-remain) in England. How he asks heaven for help, he knows best, but I’ve seen people with strange afflictions, swollen and with running sores, pitiful to see, and the kind of case that doctors cannot help (The mere despair of surgery) — he cures them, hanging a gold coin (stamp) around their necks and praying; and it’s said that he passes this power of healing blessing (benediction) on to his heirs (succeeding royalty).

With this strange virtue, / He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy . . .

Along with this special gift (strange virtue), he also has the gift of prophecy, and many blessings surround his throne, proclaiming his state of grace.

yet I know him not.

Malcolm is sure that the person approaching, Ross, is from Scotland, but is not yet sure who he is (I know him not).

betimes remove / The means that makes us strangers!

Malcolm asks God to remove anything that keeps them from recognizing each other.

amen

Ross agrees, saying “amen” — literally, “let it be so.”

Stands Scotland where it did?

Is Scotland still in the situation it was in when we spoke last?

Alas, poor country! / Almost afraid to know itself.

Ross tells Malcolm and Macduff in what bad shape Scotland is, so afraid that it doesn’t recognize itself. We can no longer call Scotland our mother, he says, just our grave.

where nothing, / But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile .  . .

A place where nothingness itself smiles at us, where groans and shrieks tear the air apart but are not listened to, where violent sorrow is the modern mind-set, where the bell rings for the dead man but no one asks for which, and good men die before the flowers they wear in their hats.

O, relation / Too nice, and yet too true!

O how terrible is this news, so precisely told (nice), and yet too hard to bear (too true)!

What’s the newest grief?

What’s the latest bad news from Scotland?

That of an hour’s age doth hiss the speaker: / Each minute teems a new one.

News that’s only an hour old is too old: every minute something new and horrible happens.

Why, well.

She’s well.

Ross cannot bring himself to deliver the terrible news — that Macbeth has slaughtered Macduff’s entire family. He tries to evade answering Macduff, to put off having to give him the news.

Well too.

Ross doesn’t know what to say, so he continues to delay.

The tyrant has not batter’d at their peace?

The tyrant, Macbeth, hasn’t struck at them, taking away their peace?

No; they were well at peace when I did leave ’em.

Ross speaks grimly, since Macduff’s wife and children are, in fact, at peace — the peace of the grave.

Be not a niggard of your speech: how goes’t?

Don’t be stingy with your words: how are things?

niggard — stingy person, miser. No relation to any modern racial slur.

When I came hither to transport the tidings, / Which I have heavily borne . . .

When I came here (hither) to bring the news, by which I have been been greatly saddened, there was a rumor that many soldiers were turning out and gathering, which I can bear witness to, because I saw Macbeth’s forces getting ready (a-foot). Now’s the time for help; your intelligence (eye) in Scotland would create soldiers and make even our women fight, to throw off (doff) their great distress.

Be’t their comfort / We are coming thither . . .

They can be comforted: we are coming there (thither). The gracious king of England has lent us Siward and ten thousand troops, and a more experienced and better soldier you won’t find in all of Christendom.

Would I could answer / This comfort with the like! . . .

I wish I could reply to this good news with more good news!

But I have words / That would be howl’d out in the desert air, / Where hearing should not latch them.

But what I have to say should properly only be howled out in the desert, where no one could hear (latch) it.

What concern they? / The general cause? . . .

What do your words concern? The war in general? Or is the subject a single grief that belongs to one person only (a fee-grief due to some single breast)?

No mind that’s honest / But in it shares some woe; though the main part / Pertains to you alone.

Anyone who’s honest will share in the sorrow of hearing these words, but it mostly pertains to you yourself.

If it be mine, / Keep it not from me, quickly let me have it.

If its news for me, don’t keep if from me, let me have the news quickly.

Let not your ears despise my tongue for ever, / Which shall possess them . . .

Please don’t despise me for bringing this news, which will be the worst you’ve ever heard.

Hum! I guess at it.

Macduff thinks he knows what the news must be, especially since Ross has prepared him as well as possible for the worst news imaginable.

Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes / Savagely slaughter’d . . .

Your castle was attacked without warning (surprised) and your wife and children were brutally murdered. To tell you the manner of their death would rip you like deer gutted after the hunt, and kill you as well as them.

ne’er pull your hat upon your brows; / Give sorrow words . . .

Don’t hide your grief. Give words to your sorrow. The grief that doesn’t speak whispers to the over-burdened heart and causes it to break.

My children too?

Macduff cannot believe what he’s heard, so he repeats the question in his grief.

And I must be from thence! / My wife kill’d too?

And I had to be away from there! My wife, too?

Again, Macduff cannot absorb the whole picture, and cries out in grief, both for his wife and the fact that he was not there to defend his family.

I have said.

Ross, in confirming what he’s already said, says the only thing he can think of. There’s not much anyone could say, in the circumstances.

Be comforted: / Let’s make us medicines of our great revenge . . .

Malcolm attempts to comfort Macduff by saying that they’ll convert their grief into revenge, like a medicine to cure a disease.

He has no children.

Macduff bitterly points out that Macbeth has no children, and so cannot be made to feel what Macduff feels.

All my pretty ones? / Did you say all?

All my children dead? All? All the little chickens, and their mother (dam) all at once?

He calls Macbeth a hell-kite — a bird of prey from hell.

Dispute it like a man.

Fight this. Fight it like a man. (Implied here is “Fight Macbeth for this.”)

I shall do so . . .

I will do that, but I must also grieve, as any man would (feel it as a man). I cannot help remembering the things that were most precious to me.

Did heaven look on, / And would not take their part? . . .

Did heaven allow this to happen (look on), and not act in their defense (would not take their part)? It must be because I’ve been sinful — they were struck down because I’ve sinned! Not because of any fault of theirs, but because of my own flaws, were they killed (fell slaughter on their souls). Heaven grant them rest!

Macduff, attempting to lay the blame on himself, may be recognizing that this is at least partly his fault — he wasn’t at home to defend his family.

Be this the whetstone of your sword . . .

Let this be the thing that sharpens your resolve, as well as your sword (a whetstone is used to sharpen, or whet, a blade). Malcolm suggests that Macduff keep this memory in his heart, to drive him in battle. Convert your grief to anger, he says — don’t let your heart become used to this pain (blunt not the heart), but stay enraged.

O, I could play the woman with mine eyes / And braggart with my tongue!

I could weep (like a woman would), or boast of what I plan to do to Macbeth (as a braggart would).

But, gentle heavens, / Cut short all intermission . . .

But let heaven make the time short (cut short all intermission) before I can confront (front to front) Macbeth (this fiend of Scotland). Set him within the reach of my sword, and if he then escapes, let heaven forgive him!

This tune goes manly.

These are good, manly words. Let’s go to King Edward, our troops are ready, we lack nothing except the word to go (our lack is nothing but our leave).

Macbeth / Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above / Put on their instruments.

Macbeth is ready to be overthrown, and the heavenly powers are on our side.

Receive what cheer you may: / The night is long that never finds the day.

Take what encouragement you can from the situation: suffering seems much longer without something to look forward to.

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.