ACT III SCENE II

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Macbeth

ACT III SCENE II The palace.
[Enter LADY MACBETH and a Servant]
LADY MACBETH Is Banquo gone from court?
Servant Ay, madam, but returns again to-night.
LADY MACBETH Say to the king, I would attend his leisure
For a few words.
Servant Madam, I will.
[Exit]
LADY MACBETH Nought’s had, all’s spent,
Where our desire is got without content:
‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.
[Enter MACBETH]
How now, my lord! why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died 10
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard: what’s done is done.
MACBETH We have scotch’d the snake, not kill’d it:
She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice
Remains in danger of her former tooth.
But let the frame of things disjoint, both the
worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly: better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, 20
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave;
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well;
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.
LADY MACBETH Come on;
Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night.
MACBETH So shall I, love; and so, I pray, be you:
Let your remembrance apply to Banquo; 30
Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue:
Unsafe the while, that we
Must lave our honours in these flattering streams,
And make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disguising what they are.
LADY MACBETH You must leave this.
MACBETH O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!
Thou know’st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives.
LADY MACBETH But in them nature’s copy’s not eterne.
MACBETH There’s comfort yet; they are assailable;
Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown 40
His cloister’d flight, ere to black Hecate’s summons
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.
LADY MACBETH What’s to be done?
MACBETH Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens; and the crow 50
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvell’st at my words: but hold thee still;
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.
So, prithee, go with me.
[Exeunt]

Next: Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 3
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Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
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This scene is particularly important for the view it gives us of Lady Macbeth. We see her lamenting that the accomplishment of her desire has not brought her content, and this inward unrest, stifled in the presence of her husband by her strong will and her desire to be of assistance to him, prepares us for the total collapse of her mind exhibited in the sleep-walking scene. She has plunged into guilt to give her husband his heart’s desire, and now she sees that the attainment of his desire has brought him no satisfaction. It is plain, moreover, that the relation between Macbeth and his wife is no longer what it was. He is unconsciously drawing away from her; he conceals from her his plot against the life of Banquo; at one time (lines 30-31), indeed, he even seems to be deceiving her.

This prepares us for the total separation of the two guilty souls, and for the strangely passive way in which Macbeth receives the news of his wife’s death in the last act. As regards Macbeth, we have in this scene stronger testimony than even the preceding has afforded us to the guilty anguish of his mind, and to the strong compulsion under which he feels himself to step from crime to crime.

1. Banquo is evidently on Lady Macbeth’s mind. She knew of the prophecy of the witches that his descendants should be kings, and it may be that she, like her husband, is thinking of the possibility of taking action to prevent the fulfilment of this prediction. Her words in line 38 sound as if some such idea were in her mind.

8. alone. Lady Macbeth knows nothing of her husband’s interview with the murderers, and fancies that since he dismissed the court he has been brooding alone over the murder of Duncan.

9. sorriest, most dismal.

10. using, cherishing.

12. Should be without regard, should not be thought of.

14. She’ll close. It was a common belief that a snake, even though mangled, would soon recover; the wounds would close.

14. poor malice, weak desire to do harm.

15. former tooth, former power to bite. “Former” refers to the period before the snake was “[scotch’d].”

16. the frame of things, the universe.

16. both the worlds, heaven and earth.

18. terrible dreams. Already Macbeth is beginning to realize the meaning of the prophetic voice which proclaimed that he should sleep no more.

20. peace … peace. The first “peace” refers to the satisfaction of his fierce desire for power which Macbeth had hoped to gain by killing Duncan; the second to the peace of death. Such a play on words is very characteristic of Shakespeare. See Textual Notes, p. 257.

21. on the torture of the mind to lie, as if on the rack.

22. ecstasy, madness.

25. levy, army.

22-26. Duncan … further. Note the solemn beauty of this passage. Macbeth nowhere gives us a clearer vision of his own “restless ecstasy” than here where he envies the sound sleep of the dead king.

25. Malice domestic, foreign levy. Macbeth, no doubt, is thinking of the troubles Duncan had in his lifetime, of Macdonwald’s revolt, and Sweno’s invasion. Now, however, the old king is safe in death; nothing can touch him further.

26. Come on, hold, enough.

26, 27. Note how Lady Macbeth rallies to the aid of her husband. She sees that it is useless to reproach or counsel him, so she addresses him in the tenderest tones. He responds at once, but soon falls back into his gloomy brooding.

30. remembrance. This word must be pronounced as if it had four syllables, “rememberance.”

This line and the following may be paraphrased as follows: “Do not forget Banquo; distinguish him above his fellow-courtiers both by your looks of favour and by your speeches.” It is hard to see just why Macbeth should say this. He certainly expected that Banquo would be dead before nightfall; how then could Lady Macbeth “present him eminence”? Either he says this to hide from her his plot against Banquo’s life, or else he fancies that the plot may miscarry, in which case the advice will hold good. The former is, perhaps, the better view.

32, 33. Unsafe … streams. This is an obscure passage. It has been conjectured that some words have dropped out, but the broken line may be due to Macbeth’s emotion. The passage may be paraphrased as follows: “How unsafe we are so long as we must keep on dipping our dignities (as king and queen) in streams of flattery.”

34. visards, masks.

38. copy, a technical word, drawn from the vocabulary of the law. It is equivalent to “copy-hold,” a form of lease common in Shakespeare’s day. The line means: “Their lease of life is not eternal.” Lady Macbeth has now fallen so far behind her husband that she only hints vaguely at a crime which he has already planned to the smallest detail.

39. There’s comfort yet, there is still some comfort in that thought.

41. cloister’d flight, flight around the cloisters.

42. shard-borne, borne on scaly wings.

43. yawning, drowsy.

44. note, notoriety.

45. chuck, darling.

46. seeling. It was a common practice in Shakespeare’s day to “seel,” i.e. to sew up, the eyes of hawks in order to render them tame and manageable. So night is pictured here as a falconer sewing up the eyes of day lest it should struggle against the deed that is to be done.

49. bond, Banquo’s lease of life, equivalent to the “copy” of line 38.

51. rooky, frequented by rooks.

52. Professor Dowden says very aptly that this line might serve as a motto of the entire tragedy.

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