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ACT III SCENE I Forres. The palace.
[Enter BANQUO]
BANQUO Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and, I fear,
Thou play’dst most foully for’t: yet it was said
It should not stand in thy posterity,
But that myself should be the root and father 5
Of many kings. If there come truth from them–
As upon thee, Macbeth, their speeches shine–
Why, by the verities on thee made good,
May they not be my oracles as well,
And set me up in hope? But hush! no more. 10
[ Sennet sounded. Enter MACBETH, as king, LADY MACBETH, as queen, LENNOX, ROSS, Lords, Ladies, and Attendants ]
MACBETH Here’s our chief guest.
LADY MACBETH If he had been forgotten,
It had been as a gap in our great feast,
And all-thing unbecoming.
MACBETH To-night we hold a solemn supper sir, 15
And I’ll request your presence.
BANQUO Let your highness
Command upon me; to the which my duties
Are with a most indissoluble tie
For ever knit. 20
MACBETH Ride you this afternoon?
BANQUO Ay, my good lord.
MACBETH We should have else desired your good advice,
Which still hath been both grave and prosperous,
In this day’s council; but we’ll take to-morrow. 25
Is’t far you ride?
BANQUO As far, my lord, as will fill up the time
‘Twixt this and supper: go not my horse the better,
I must become a borrower of the night
For a dark hour or twain. 30
MACBETH Fail not our feast.
BANQUO My lord, I will not.
MACBETH We hear, our bloody cousins are bestow’d
In England and in Ireland, not confessing
Their cruel parricide, filling their hearers 35
With strange invention: but of that to-morrow,
When therewithal we shall have cause of state
Craving us jointly. Hie you to horse: adieu,
Till you return at night. Goes Fleance with you?
BANQUO Ay, my good lord: our time does call upon ‘s. 40
MACBETH I wish your horses swift and sure of foot;
And so I do commend you to their backs. Farewell.
Let every man be master of his time
Till seven at night: to make society
The sweeter welcome, we will keep ourself 45
Till supper-time alone: while then, God be with you!
[Exeunt all but MACBETH, and an attendant]
Sirrah, a word with you: attend those men
Our pleasure?
ATTENDANT They are, my lord, without the palace gate.
MACBETH Bring them before us. 50
[Exit Attendant]
To be thus is nothing; (Soliloquy Analysis)
But to be safely thus.–Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep; and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be fear’d: ’tis much he dares;
And, to that dauntless temper of his mind,
He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valour
To act in safety. There is none but he
Whose being I do fear: and, under him,
My Genius is rebuked; as, it is said,
Mark Antony’s was by Caesar. He chid the sisters 60
When first they put the name of king upon me,
And bade them speak to him: then prophet-like
They hail’d him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe, 65
Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If ‘t be so,
For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murder’d;
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace 70
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come fate into the list.
And champion me to the utterance! Who’s there! 75
[Re-enter Attendant, with two Murderers]
Now go to the door, and stay there till we call.
[Exit Attendant]
Was it not yesterday we spoke together?
First Murderer It was, so please your highness.
MACBETH Well then, now
Have you consider’d of my speeches? Know 80
That it was he in the times past which held you
So under fortune, which you thought had been
Our innocent self: this I made good to you
In our last conference, pass’d in probation with you,
How you were borne in hand, how cross’d, 85
the instruments,
Who wrought with them, and all things else that might
To half a soul and to a notion crazed
Say ‘Thus did Banquo.’
First Murderer You made it known to us. 90
MACBETH I did so, and went further, which is now
Our point of second meeting. Do you find
Your patience so predominant in your nature
That you can let this go? Are you so gospell’d
To pray for this good man and for his issue, 95
Whose heavy hand hath bow’d you to the grave
And beggar’d yours for ever?
First Murderer We are men, my liege.
MACBETH Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, 100
Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves, are clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature 105
Hath in him closed; whereby he does receive
Particular addition. from the bill
That writes them all alike: and so of men.
Now, if you have a station in the file,
Not i’ the worst rank of manhood, say ‘t; 110
And I will put that business in your bosoms,
Whose execution takes your enemy off,
Grapples you to the heart and love of us,
Who wear our health but sickly in his life,
Which in his death were perfect. 115
Second Murderer I am one, my liege,
Whom the vile blows and buffets of the world
Have so incensed that I am reckless what
I do to spite the world.
First Murderer And I another 120
So weary with disasters, tugg’d with fortune,
That I would set my lie on any chance,
To mend it, or be rid on’t.
MACBETH Both of you
Know Banquo was your enemy. 125
Both Murderers True, my lord.
MACBETH So is he mine; and in such bloody distance,
That every minute of his being thrusts
Against my near’st of life: and though I could
With barefaced power sweep him from my sight 130
And bid my will avouch it, yet I must not,
For certain friends that are both his and mine,
Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall
Who I myself struck down; and thence it is,
That I to your assistance do make love, 135
Masking the business from the common eye
For sundry weighty reasons.
Second Murderer We shall, my lord,
Perform what you command us.
First Murderer Though our lives– 140
MACBETH Your spirits shine through you. Within this hour at most
I will advise you where to plant yourselves;
Acquaint you with the perfect spy o’ the time,
The moment on’t; for’t must be done to-night,
And something from the palace; always thought 145
That I require a clearness: and with him–
To leave no rubs nor botches in the work–
Fleance his son, that keeps him company,
Whose absence is no less material to me
Than is his father’s, must embrace the fate 150
Of that dark hour. Resolve yourselves apart:
I’ll come to you anon.
Both Murderers We are resolved, my lord.
MACBETH I’ll call upon you straight: abide within.
[Exeunt Murderers]
It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, 155
If it find heaven, must find it out to-night.

Next: Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 2

Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 1
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)

This act is devoted to the second great crime of Macbeth’s career, the murder of Banquo. The first scene shows us Banquo’s suspicions of Macbeth, and Macbeth’s fears of Banquo. As a result of the witches’ prediction the two old friends are wholly estranged, although outwardly they preserve the forms of a gracious king and a loyal subject. Macbeth’s dialogue with the murderers at the close of the scene informs us of the fate that is hanging over Banquo’s head. The scene is laid at the palace some time after the coronation of Macbeth.

1-10. This speech shows Banquo in a wholly different mood from that in which we last saw him. Then he declared that he placed his trust in God and stood opposed to all the designs of treason. Now, although he strongly suspects Macbeth of the treacherous murder of Duncan, he makes no threat of vengeance, but rather broods over the prophecy of the witches that his descendants shall reign, and hopes that this prophecy too may be made good. In other words, he is paltering with evil; he is not yet ready to take any step to hasten the fulfilment of the prediction, but he is content to serve the murderer and usurper in the hope that some profit may come out of it to him and his house. Perhaps if Banquo had lived he would have headed a revolt against Macbeth. This monologue of his at least explains and in part justifies Macbeth’s fears.

1. it, the crown.

4. stand in thy posterity, abide in thy line.

7. shine, are brilliantly fulfilled.

8. by the verities on thee made good, in accordance with the true prophecies fulfilled in thy case.

Sennet, a blast upon the trumpet indicating the approach of the king.

14. all-thing, altogether.

15. solemn, formal.

18. to the which, to your commands. The antecedent of “which” is understood from the verb “command.”

21. Ride you … afternoon. Under the pretense of a friendly interest, Macbeth is informing himself of Banquo’s plans, so that he may know when and where to set the ambush.

24. grave and prosperous, weighty and followed by success.

33. bestowed, settled.

36. strange invention, fantastic stories. Macbeth perhaps alludes to the reports circulated by the princes that it was he who murdered Duncan.

37. therewithal, in addition thereto.

37. cause, subject-matter.

39. Goes Fleance with you? Macbeth asks this question to see whether he can cut off father and son at one blow.

40. our time does call upon’s, our engagement demands us.

42. commend, commit.

44. seven at night, the hour for the formal supper.

45. welcome, either an adjective or a noun. If the first, “sweeter” must be taken as an adverb; if the second, “society” is the indirect object of “make.” The first seems somewhat the simpler reading.

46. while, till.

46. God be with you! Macbeth dismisses his court so as to have an opportunity to speak to the men whom he wishes to murder Banquo. This line is not an Alexandrine; the phrase “God be with you,” equivalent to our “good-bye,” is pronounced “God b’ wi’ you,” so that we have merely the feminine ending.

47. sirrah, fellow.

51. To be thus … safely thus, to be king is nothing unless I am secure in that position. This soliloquy of Macbeth’s deserves the most careful study. It gives us a fine characterization of Banquo, and shows what cause Macbeth had to fear him. It shows how far from content Macbeth is with the crown that he had won by murder, and it reveals the distinct deterioration of Macbeth’s character. Over his first crime he hesitated and faltered; possibly he would never have committed it except for the influence of his wife. But no pity nor remembrance of their old friendship holds him back from plotting the treacherous murder of Banquo. It is no sooner thought than done.

53. royalty of nature, kingly nature.

54. would be fear’d, naturally inspires fear.

55. to, in addition to.

59. rebuked, checked, restrained.

59. Genius, the demon, or presiding spirit, of a man. Shakespeare got this story about Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar from Plutarch’s Lives, which he had read a few years before when preparing to write his play, Julius Caesar. In Antony and Cleopatra, written shortly after Macbeth, he makes an augur say to the hero:

Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side:
Thy demon, that’s thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar’s is not; but, near him, thy angel
Becomes a fear, as being overpowered.
— Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 3. 18-22.

66. with, by.

66. an unlineal hand, a hand belonging to some other family than Macbeth’s.

67. No son. It seems plain that Shakespeare regarded Macbeth as childless; but not too old to be without the hope of having a son to succeed him.

68. filed, defiled.

70. Put rancour … peace. Put poisonous drugs into the cup from which I drank peace, i.e, his conscience.

74. fate, death.

75. champion me to the utterance, take my part in a mortal duel. Macbeth calls upon fate, or death, to enter the lists as his champion against Banquo.

Two murderers. From what Macbeth says to them, it is plain that these men are not common murderers whom he could hire to kill any one he pleased. On the contrary, they seem to have been soldiers with some claims to promotion which were set aside in a way that had deeply offended them. They had thought that Macbeth had been responsible for this; but at his first meeting with them, he had succeeded in diverting their suspicions from himself to Banquo, and he now proceeds to urge them to revenge themselves.

81. he, Banquo.

83. made good, showed clearly.

84. probation, proving.

84. pass’d in probation, which was spent with you in proving; “pass’d” is a participle agreeing with “conference.”

85. cross’d, thwarted.

85. borne in hand, deluded with false hopes.

88. notion, mind.

94. gospell’d, full of the spirit of the gospel.

98. We are men. The murderer’s answer is spoken in a grim tone, implying that they are still men enough to be eager to revenge an injury….

101. shoughs, shock dogs.

101. water-rugs, poodles.

101. demi-wolves, crosses between a dog and a wolf.

101. clept, called.

102. the valued file, a file, or catalogue, showing the value of the different objects contained in it.

104. housekeeper, watch-dog.

107. particular addition, special distinction,

107, 108. bill That writes them all alike, a list or catalogue which puts them all down as “dogs” without specifying their qualities. It is interesting to note in this connection that Shakespeare was so fond of dogs, horses, and falcons, that he never misses an opportunity to expand on these topics.

109. in the file, in the list of values referred to in line 95.

110. To scan this line “worst” must be pronounced as a dissyllable.

111. put … your bosoms, entrust a charge to you.

112. Whose execution, the performance of which.

114. wear our health, possess our health. “Health,” of course, refers to Macbeth’s mental, not his physical well-being.

114. This line is an Alexandrine. The necessary emphasis on “I” forbids any such contraction as occurs in line 98.

121. tugg’d with, hauled about by.

127. distance, enmity.

129. my nearest of life, my most vital parts.

130. barefaced, open.

131. bid my will avouch it, bid my royal will warrant it; i.e. give no other reason for the execution of Banquo than my royal pleasure.

132. For, on account of.

133. Whose loves … drop, and it is impossible for me to drop their friendship.

133. but wail his fall, but I must lament the fall of him.

134. Who, whom, as often in Shakespeare.

143. the perfect spy. There has been much discussion over this phrase. Some commentators take “spy” in the sense of “knowledge obtained by spying”; but there is no authority for this. It seems better to take “spy” as equivalent to “scout” and paraphrase the line: “I will acquaint you with the time by means of the best of my scouts.”

145. something from, some distance away from.

146. require a clearness, must be kept clear, must not be involved.

147. rubs, rough places.

151. Resolve yourselves apart, make up your minds in my absence.

153. An Alexandrine.


How to cite the explanatory notes:Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904.