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ACT III SCENE VI Forres. The palace.
[Enter LENNOX and another Lord]
LENNOX My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,
Which can interpret further: only, I say,
Things have been strangely borne. The
gracious Duncan
Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead:
And the right-valiant Banquo walk’d too late;
Whom, you may say, if’t please you, Fleance kill’d,
For Fleance fled: men must not walk too late.
Who cannot want the thought how monstrous
It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain
To kill their gracious father? damned fact! 10
How it did grieve Macbeth! did he not straight
In pious rage the two delinquents tear,
That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?
Was not that nobly done? Ay, and wisely too;
For ‘twould have anger’d any heart alive
To hear the men deny’t. So that, I say,
He has borne all things well: and I do think
That had he Duncan’s sons under his key–
As, an’t please heaven, he shall not–they
should find
What ’twere to kill a father; so should Fleance. 20
But, peace! for from broad words and ’cause he fail’d
His presence at the tyrant’s feast, I hear
Macduff lives in disgrace: sir, can you tell
Where he bestows himself?
Lord The son of Duncan,
From whom this tyrant holds the due of birth
Lives in the English court, and is received
Of the most pious Edward with such grace
That the malevolence of fortune nothing
Takes from his high respect: thither Macduff
Is gone to pray the holy king, upon his aid 30
To wake Northumberland and warlike Siward:
That, by the help of these–with Him above
To ratify the work–we may again
Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights,
Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives,
Do faithful homage and receive free honours:
All which we pine for now: and this report
Hath so exasperate the king that he
Prepares for some attempt of war.
LENNOX Sent he to Macduff?
Lord He did: and with an absolute ‘Sir, not I,’ 40
The cloudy messenger turns me his back,
And hums, as who should say ‘You’ll rue the time
That clogs me with this answer.’
LENNOX And that well might
Advise him to a caution, to hold what distance
His wisdom can provide. Some holy angel
Fly to the court of England and unfold
His message ere he come, that a swift blessing
May soon return to this our suffering country
Under a hand accursed!
Lord I’ll send my prayers with him.

Next: Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 6
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)

This scene is a counterpart to the closing scene of the second act. The dialogue between Ross and the old man in the former scene represents public opinion which regards the murder of Duncan as something dreadful and unnatural, but does not in the least suspect Macbeth. So in this scene the conversation between Lennox and the unnamed lord shows the attitude of the Scotch nobility toward Macbeth. Beginning with bitter irony Lennox finally calls Macbeth outright a tyrant; the lord agrees and tells of the attempt that is being made to raise an army to overthrow him.

Both of them join in prayers for the speedy success of this attempt, thus preparing us for the revolt of the lords in Act V. The change of public opinion may be plausibly assigned to Macbeth’s behaviour at the banquet. When it became known on the following day that Banquo had been killed on his way to the palace, no man who had heard Macbeth’s ravings on the previous night could have any doubt as to who had planned the murder. The fact that Macbeth took advantage of the flight of Fleance to charge him with the murder of his father threw a new light on the accusation that Malcolm and Donalbain had murdered Duncan. Thus Macbeth’s second crime instead of securing him upon the throne served only to reveal his first.

1. My former speeches … thoughts, what I have said has only been what you have already suspected. We may imagine that this lord had been absent from Scotland at the time of the murder of Duncan and of Banquo; and that Lennox has just told him all the details.

1. hit, agreed with.

3. borne, managed.

4. of, by.

4. marry, by the Virgin Mary. In Shakespeare’s time this phrase was no longer regarded as an oath.

4. he was dead, and so Macbeth’s pity couldn’t help him. The implication is that Macbeth did not pity the king till after he had killed him.

8. monstrous, pronounced like a word of three syllables, “monsterous.”

8. want, lack.

10. fact, deed.

12. pious rage, rage inspired by his pious loyalty to Duncan.

12. tear, mangle.

15, 16. Lennox here reveals the real reason of Macbeth’s murder of the grooms.

18. under his key, in his power. If Macbeth could lay hands on the princes he would put them to death on the charge of having murdered their father.

21. from, on account of.

21. broad, frank.

21. fail’d, refused.

25. the due of birth, the throne due to him as his birthright.

25. holds, withholds.

27. the most pious Edward, Edward the Confessor, the last of the old line of Saxon kings of England, famous for his sanctity.

28, 29. That the malevolence … respect, his ill fortune, as an exiled prince, in no way diminishes the honour with which he is received.

30. upon his aid, in aid of Malcolm. The phrase depends not upon “pray” but on “to wake.”

31. wake, call to arms.

31. Northumberland, a great district, once an independent kingdom, in northern England. It was governed at this time with almost kingly powers by Earl Siward, the descendant of a famous line of Vikings.

33. ratify, sanction.

34, 35. Give to our tables … knives. Lennox is thinking of Duncan killed in his sleep and Banquo murdered on the way to a banquet. “Free,” line 35, means “banish.”

36. faithful homage, in contrast with the forced homage which the thanes render to Macbeth.

36. free honours, honours fit for freemen.

37. this report, the report of this condition of things in Scotland.

38. their king, the English king, Edward.

40. absolute, positive.

41. cloudy, sullen.

42. Professor Manly says: “‘Hums‘ is not the word hums, it represents an inarticulate sound, well-known, but not easily expressed in letters.” The messenger did not dare to utter his anger in the presence of Macduff, but left him with an inarticulate growl of rage.

43-45. that well … provide, that anger on the part of the messenger might warn him to shun the more terrible wrath of Macbeth.

46. unfold, tell.

47. His, Macduff’s.


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