ACT III SCENE IV

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Macbeth

ACT III SCENE IV The same. A hall in the palace.
[ A banquet prepared. Enter MACBETH, LADY MACBETH, ROSS, LENNOX, Lords, and Attendants ]
MACBETH You know your own degrees; sit down: at first
And last the hearty welcome.
Lords Thanks to your majesty.
MACBETH Ourself will mingle with society,
And play the humble host.
Our hostess keeps her state, but in best time
We will require her welcome.
LADY MACBETH Pronounce it for me, sir, to all our friends;
For my heart speaks they are welcome.
[First Murderer appears at the door]
MACBETH See, they encounter thee with their hearts’ thanks.
Both sides are even: here I’ll sit i’ the midst: 10
Be large in mirth; anon we’ll drink a measure
The table round.
[Approaching the door]
There’s blood on thy face.
First Murderer ‘Tis Banquo’s then.
MACBETH ‘Tis better thee without than he within.
Is he dispatch’d?
First Murderer My lord, his throat is cut; that I did for him.
MACBETH 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.
First Murderer Most royal sir,
Fleance is ‘scaped. 20
MACBETH Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect,
Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,
As broad and general as the casing air:
But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confined, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears. But Banquo’s safe?
First Murderer Ay, my good lord: safe in a ditch he bides,
With twenty trenched gashes on his head;
The least a death to nature.
MACBETH Thanks for that:
There the grown serpent lies; the worm that’s fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed, 30
No teeth for the present. Get thee gone: to-morrow
We’ll hear, ourselves, again.
[Exit Murderer]
LADY MACBETH My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer: the feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
‘Tis given with welcome: to feed were best at home;
From thence the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.
MACBETH Sweet remembrancer!
Now, good digestion wait on appetite,
And health on both!
LENNOX May’t please your highness sit.
[ The GHOST OF BANQUO enters, and sits in MACBETH’s place ]
MACBETH Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d, 40
Were the graced person of our Banquo present;
Who may I rather challenge for unkindness
Than pity for mischance!
ROSS His absence, sir,
Lays blame upon his promise. Please’t your highness
To grace us with your royal company.
MACBETH The table’s full.
LENNOX Here is a place reserved, sir.
MACBETH Where?
LENNOX Here, my good lord. What is’t that moves your highness?
MACBETH Which of you have done this?
Lords What, my good lord?
MACBETH Thou canst not say I did it: never shake 50
Thy gory locks at me.
ROSS Gentlemen, rise: his highness is not well.
LADY MACBETH Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well: if much you note him,
You shall offend him and extend his passion:
Feed, and regard him not. Are you a man?
MACBETH Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
Which might appal the devil.
LADY MACBETH O proper stuff! 60
This is the very painting of your fear:
This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts,
Impostors to true fear, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authorized by her grandam. Shame itself!
Why do you make such faces? When all’s done,
You look but on a stool.
MACBETH Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo!
how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too. 70
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments
Shall be the maws of kites.
[GHOST OF BANQUO vanishes]
LADY MACBETH What, quite unmann’d in folly?
MACBETH If I stand here, I saw him.
LADY MACBETH Fie, for shame!
MACBETH Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time,
Ere humane statute purged the gentle weal;
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform’d
Too terrible for the ear: the times have been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again, 80
With twenty mortal murders on their crowns,
And push us from our stools: this is more strange
Than such a murder is.
LADY MACBETH My worthy lord,
Your noble friends do lack you.
MACBETH I do forget.
Do not muse at me, my most worthy friends,
I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing
To those that know me. Come, love and health to all;
Then I’ll sit down. Give me some wine; fill full.
I drink to the general joy o’ the whole table,
And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss; 90
Would he were here! to all, and him, we thirst,
And all to all.
Lords Our duties, and the pledge.
[Re-enter GHOST OF BANQUO]
MACBETH Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
LADY MACBETH Think of this, good peers,
But as a thing of custom: ’tis no other;
Only it spoils the pleasure of the time.
MACBETH What man dare, I dare:
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, 100
The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger;
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble: or be alive again,
And dare me to the desert with thy sword;
If trembling I inhabit then, protest me
The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!
[GHOST OF BANQUO vanishes]
Why, so: being gone,
I am a man again. Pray you, sit still.
LADY MACBETH You have displaced the mirth, broke the good meeting,
With most admired disorder.
MACBETH Can such things be, 110
And overcome us like a summer’s cloud,
Without our special wonder? You make me strange
Even to the disposition that I owe,
When now I think you can behold such sights,
And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks,
When mine is blanched with fear.
ROSS What sights, my lord?
LADY MACBETH I pray you, speak not; he grows worse and worse;
Question enrages him. At once, good night:
Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once.
LENNOX Good night; and better health 120
Attend his majesty!
LADY MACBETH A kind good night to all!
[Exeunt all but MACBETH and LADY MACBETH]
MACBETH It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood:
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augurs and understood relations have
By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
The secret’st man of blood. What is the night?
LADY MACBETH Almost at odds with morning, which is which.
MACBETH How say’st thou, that Macduff denies his person
At our great bidding?
LADY MACBETH Did you send to him, sir?
MACBETH I hear it by the way; but I will send: 130
There’s not a one of them but in his house
I keep a servant fee’d. I will to-morrow,
And betimes I will, to the weird sisters:
More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er:
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;
Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d. 140
LADY MACBETH You lack the season of all natures, sleep.
MACBETH 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.
[Exeunt]

Next: Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 5
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Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 4
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
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From every point of view this superb scene is one of the most remarkable in the whole play. The poetry rises to the highest pitch, and the theatrical effects are overwhelming. But it is, perhaps, most noteworthy for the light it casts upon Macbeth’s state of mind. As, from the point of view of plot construction, the last scene marked the climax of the play, so, to the student of character, this scene is the turning-point in Macbeth’s career. Up to this time, with all his hesitation and wild fancies and gloomy suspicions, he has had strength of mind and self-control enough to push forward to his objects and to hide from public view the bloody means by which he has obtained them. In this scene, however, we see a fatal collapse of his powers.

Confronted by the spectre of his murdered victim he loses all self-control, and before the assembled nobility breaks out into speeches which must inevitably betray his guilt. It is interesting to compare his behaviour immediately after the discovery of the murder of Duncan with his actions in the presence of Banquo’s ghost. In the former case he retained all his presence of mind; his speeches, though perhaps somewhat exaggerated, conveyed the impression of wild grief for the king’s death, and his act of putting the bewildered grooms to instant death was, perhaps, the most practical thing that he could have done at such a time. In the banquet scene, after one feeble effort to play his part, he loses consciousness of the witnesses and speaks to the ghost as if they were alone together.

Equally noticeable is the fact that in this scene he passes altogether beyond his wife’s control. She had been able to brace him up to the murder of Duncan and to control and direct him in the outburst of excitement which followed. In this scene, however, she is utterly unable to restrain him, and is forced to listen helplessly to the ravings that betray his guilty secret.

In the dialogue between Macbeth and his wife which follows the retirement of the guests, we see evident signs of moral degeneration as well as of the collapse of his mental powers. His expressed determination to seek out the witches and to wade through a sea of blood to obtain his objects shows how far he has fallen from the Macbeth who was horrified by the suggestion implied in the witches’ greeting, and who needed all the powerful influence of his wife to nerve him to the murder of Duncan. The mention of Macduff and the witches serves also to link this scene to those of the next act, and so provides for continuity of action.

1. degrees, ranks.

1, 2. at first And last, from the beginning to the end of the feast, once for all.

3. Ourself, we (the royal plural).

5. keeps her state, remains in her throne; the “state” meant originally the canopy over the chair in which a king sat.

6. require, ask for.

9. encounter thee with their hearts’ thanks, meet thy greeting with hearty thanks.

10. Both sides, of the long table at which the guests are sitting. Macbeth is playing the part of the genial king who leaves his throne to mingle with his nobles. He says he will sit down among them, but his anxiety to get news of the assault on Banquo keeps him on his feet. At this moment he catches sight of the murderer at the door, and telling the nobles that in a few moments he’ll drink a formal toast, a “measure,” with them, he turns to the door and converses in low tones with the assassin.

11. large, unrestrained.

11. anon, soon.

14. ‘Tis better … within, An ungrammatical but very emphatic way of saying, “Banquo’s blood is better on your face than in his body.”

21. my fit, Macbeth speaks as if he were subject to an intermittent fever. He had hoped to be wholly cured of it by the death of Banquo and Fleance, but with the news of the latter’s escape, his “fit” of fear attacks him again.

21. I had else been perfect, I would otherwise, i.e. if Fleance had been killed, have been completely well.

22. founded, firmly based.

23. general, free to go everywhere.

23. casing, enveloping.

24. cabin’d cribb’d, shut up in a narrow space, as in a cabin, or a hovel.

24, 25. bound in To, confined along with.

25. saucy, insolent.

27. trenched, carved.

29. worm, snake.

29. By Banquo’s death Macbeth is, at least, relieved of his present fears. Fleance, although one of the hated house to whom the witches have prophesied that the kingdom shall descend, is as yet too young to undertake anything against Macbeth.

32. hear ourselves, talk with each other.

33. the feast is sold, like a meal at an inn.

33. cheer, welcome.

37. Meeting, a formal gathering.

40. roof’d, under one roof.

40. our country’s honour, the best men in the country.

41. graced, gracious.

42, 43. who may … mischance, I hope I may rather be obliged to rebuke him as an unkind friend who forgot his engagement to sup with us, than to pity him for any misfortune which may have prevented him from keeping it. This speech is shamelessly hypocritical, for Macbeth is secretly rejoicing that his dreaded enemy will trouble him no more. All the more overwhelming is the effect when he turns and perceives the ghost.

46. The table’s full. Macbeth at first does not realize what has happened; he only sees that all the seats at the long table are occupied. When Lennox calls his attention to the seat reserved for him, Macbeth recognizes Banquo’s ghost sitting in it.

48. moves, excites.

49. Which of you have done this? At the sight of the ghost Macbeth utterly loses his self-command. He makes, however, one vain attempt to shake off the overpowering sense of guilt by shifting the burden of the crime upon some member of the company.

53, 54. my lord … youth. Note the quick tact with which Lady Macbeth comes to her husband’s help. Laying the blame of Macbeth’s sudden emotion and wild words upon a disorder which has afflicted him from his youth, she induces the nobles, who are rising excitedly from their places, to sit down again. Then she leaves the throne and hurries to Macbeth. Catching his arm, she draws him aside and attempts in low whispers to shame him into presence of mind by taunting him with cowardice.

55. upon a thought, in a moment.

56. note, pay attention to.

57. passion, suffering.

57. You shall offend him, you are bound to make him worse, do him harm.

60. proper, fine.

61. painting of your fear, an image created by your fear, like the air-drawn dagger.

62. air-drawn, drawn in the air, imaginary.

63. flaws, outbursts.

64. become, suit.

64. Impostors to true fear, mere counterfeits when compared to those caused by an object truly to be feared.

66. Authorized, the accent is on the second syllable.

68. stool, chair.

71. charnel-houses, places where the bones of the dead are stored.

72. monuments, tombs.

72, 73. our monuments Shall be the maws of kites, our graves shall be in the stomachs of carrion crows. Macbeth seems to think that if the dead body were torn to pieces by kites, it would be impossible for the ghost to rise.

73. An Alexandrine with the feminine ending.

76. Ere humane statute … weal, before laws passed by men, “humane statute,” freed the country from anarchy and rendered it civilized. “Humane” is the regular spelling for “human” with Shakespeare; “weal” means “the commonwealth,” “the nation”; “gentle” is used to characterize the nation as it was after the passage of the laws. The line is a characteristic example of the compact brevity and force of Shakespeare’s later style.

81. mortal murders, deadly wounds. Macbeth is thinking of the murderer’s report in line 27.

83, 84. My worthy lord … lack you. Lady Macbeth sees that it is useless to try to shame Macbeth back to his senses. She returns to the throne, and, speaking to him quietly as if nothing had happened, calls his attention to the fact that he is neglecting his guests. The appeal succeeds in rousing him, and he turns to the company with an excuse for his strange behaviour, and proposes a toast. In the effort to play his part, however, he overdoes it, drinks to the health of Banquo, and expresses the wish that he were present. This piece of bravado is promptly and effectively punished by the return of the ghost.

85. muse, wonder.

91. we thirst, we are eager to drink.

92. all to all, all good wishes to all of you.

92. Our duties, and the pledge, a formula equivalent to “we pay our homage to you as king, and drink the health you propose.”

93. Avaunt! Note the change in Macbeth’s tone. He is no longer overcome with fear at the sight of the ghost, but rather roused to wild anger. Lady Macbeth does not dare to address him, but devotes herself to the almost impossible task of inducing the peers to treat his words and actions as things of no importance.

95. speculation, power of sight.

101. arm’d, clad in armour. The reference is to the thick hide of the rhinoceros.

101. Hyrcan, Hyrcanian. Hyrcania was a district in central Asia supposed to be full of tigers.

102. nerves, muscles.

105. If trembling I inhabit then. There has been an immense amount of discussion over this passage. If “inhabit” is taken intransitively in the sense of continuing in a certain place, the meaning of the passage is plain enough. “Come to life again,” says Macbeth, “and challenge me to a duel. If I remain trembling at home, call me a coward.”

105. protest, declare.

106. The baby of a girl, a little girl’s doll, or, perhaps, the baby of a girlish mother, i.e. a puny infant.

109. displaced, driven away.

110. disorder. The word applies to Macbeth’s conduct, not to any disorder among the nobles.

110. admired, amazing.

111. overcome, pass over.

112-115. You make me … cheeks, you make me seem a stranger to myself, i.e. forget my natural quality of manhood, when I see that such a sight has no effect on you. Macbeth is addressing his wife, not the guests, whom he no longer notices.

113. disposition, character.

113. owe, own, possess.

117. speak not. Lady Macbeth interposes hastily lest Macbeth should tell the nobles plainly what it was he saw. She herself has not seen the ghost, but from what she knew of her husband and his hatred of Banquo, and from the hints he had dropped in the afternoon, it was not difficult for her to guess what the vision was that had so affected him.

119. stand not … going, do not depart ceremoniously in the order of your ranks.

122. It will have blood. With the departure of the guests Macbeth relapses into melancholy brooding over the consequences of his deed. He feels sure that the murder of Banquo will be discovered and that he will have to pay the penalty. Note that Lady Macbeth makes no effort either to reproach or to comfort him; she sees plainly that her influence over him is gone. All she can do is to try to get him to sleep and forget his thoughts.

124. Augures, auguries.

124. understood relations, the secret relations between things, understood by diviners and soothsayers.

125. maggot-pies, magpies.

125. choughs, jack-daws.

126. What is the night? What time of the night is it?

127. Almost at odds with morning, so near day that you can hardly tell whether it is night or morning.

128, 129. How say’st thou … bidding? What do you say to Macduff’s refusing to accept our royal invitation to the feast.

130. by the way, incidentally, i.e. I have not received a direct refusal from Macduff, but I know that he will not come. Macbeth explains the source of his information in the following reference to the paid spies he keeps in the houses of his nobles.

139. Strange thirds. Macbeth is perhaps referring to his designs against Macduff.

142. My strange and self-abuse, my strange self-deception. Macbeth speaks as if he were now convinced that the vision of Banquo was only a deception of his senses,

143. the initiate fear, the fear of the novice.

144. young in deed, inexperienced in deeds of bloodshed.

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