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Knocking within. Enter a Porter.
PorterHere’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. [Knocking within.] Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty: come in time; have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t. [Knocking within.] Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven: O, come in, equivocator. [Knocking within.] Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may roast your goose. [Knocking within.] Knock, knock; never at quiet! What are you? But this place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had thought to have let in some of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. [Knocking within.] Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter. [Opens the gate.]
MACDUFFWas it so late, friend, ere you went to bed,
That you do lie so late?
Porter‘Faith sir, we were carousing till the second cock: and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.
MACDUFFWhat three things does drink especially provoke?
PorterMarry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance: therefore, much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.
MACDUFFI believe drink gave thee the lie last night. 42
PorterThat it did, sir, i’ the very throat on
me: but I requited him for his lie; and, I
think, being too strong for him, though he took
up my legs sometime, yet I made a shift to cast
MACDUFFIs thy master stirring?
Our knocking has awaked him; here he comes.
LENNOXGood morrow, noble sir.
MACBETHGood morrow, both.
MACDUFFIs the king stirring, worthy thane?
MACBETHNot yet. 50
MACDUFFHe did command me to call timely on him:
I have almost slipp’d the hour.
MACBETHI’ll bring you to him.
MACDUFFI know this is a joyful trouble to you;
But yet ’tis one.
MACBETHThe labour we delight in physics pain.
This is the door.
MACDUFFI’ll make so bold to call,
For ’tis my limited service.
LENNOXGoes the king hence to-day?
MACBETHHe does: he did appoint so.
LENNOXThe night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say, 60
Lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird
Clamour’d the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
MACBETH‘Twas a rough night.
LENNOXMy young remembrance cannot parallel
A fellow to it.
Re-enter MACDUFF.
MACDUFFO horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee!
| What’s the matter. 70
MACDUFFConfusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o’ the building!
MACBETHWhat is ‘t you say? the life?
LENNOXMean you his majesty?
MACDUFFApproach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon: do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves.
Awake, awake!
Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!
Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! awake! 80
Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit,
And look on death itself! up, up, and see
The great doom’s image! Malcolm! Banquo!
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell.
Bell rings.
LADY MACBETHWhat’s the business,
That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley
The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!
MACDUFFO gentle lady,
‘Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition, in a woman’s ear, 91
Would murder as it fell.
O Banquo, Banquo,
Our royal master ‘s murder’d!
What, in our house?
BANQUOToo cruel any where.
Dear Duff, I prithee, contradict thyself,
And say it is not so.
Re-enter MACBETH and LENNOX, with ROSS.
MACBETHHad I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for, from this instant,
There ‘s nothing serious in mortality:
All is but toys: renown and grace is dead;
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees 100
Is left this vault to brag of.
DONALBAINWhat is amiss?
MACBETHYou are, and do not know’t:
The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood
Is stopp’d; the very source of it is stopp’d.
MACDUFFYour royal father ‘s murder’d.
MALCOLMO, by whom?
LENNOXThose of his chamber, as it seem’d, had done ‘t:
Their hands and faces were an badged with blood;
So were their daggers, which unwiped we found
Upon their pillows:
They stared, and were distracted; no man’s life 110
Was to be trusted with them.
MACBETHO, yet I do repent me of my fury,
That I did kill them.
MACDUFFWherefore did you so?
MACBETHWho can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man:
The expedition my violent love
Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
And his gash’d stabs look’d like a breach in nature
For ruin’s wasteful entrance: there, the murderers, 120
Steep’d in the colours of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breech’d with gore: who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make ‘s love known?
LADY MACBETHHelp me hence, ho!
MACDUFFLook to the lady.
MALCOLMAside to DONALBAIN. Why do we hold our tongues,
That most may claim this argument for ours?
DONALBAINAside to MALCOLM. What should be spoken here,
where our fate,
Hid in an auger-hole, may rush, and seize us?
Let ‘s away;
Our tears are not yet brew’d.
MALCOLMAside to DONALBAIN. Nor our strong sorrow
Upon the foot of motion. 130
BANQUOLook to the lady:
LADY MACBETH is carried out.
And when we have our naked frailties hid,
That suffer in exposure, let us meet,
And question this most bloody piece of work,
To know it further. Fears and scruples shake us:
In the great hand of God I stand; and thence
Against the undivulged pretence I fight
Of treasonous malice.
MACDUFFAnd so do I.
ALLSo all.
MACBETHLet’s briefly put on manly readiness,
And meet i’ the hall together.
ALLWell contented. 140
Exeunt all but Malcolm and Donalbain.
MALCOLMWhat will you do?
Let’s not consort with them:
To show an unfelt sorrow is an office
Which the false man does easy. I’ll to England.
DONALBAINTo Ireland, I; our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer: where we are,
There’s daggers in men’s smiles: the near in blood,
The nearer bloody.
MALCOLMThis murderous shaft that’s shot
Hath not yet lighted, and our safest way
Is to avoid the aim. Therefore, to horse;
And let us not be dainty of leave-taking, 150
But shift away: there’s warrant in that theft
Which steals itself, when there’s no mercy left.

Next: Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 4

Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 3
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)

There is no change of scene here. As Macbeth and his wife leave the courtyard, the porter, who has been slowly wakened from his drunken sleep by the repeated knocking on the gate, staggers upon the stage. Evidently he is not quite sober yet; he is in no hurry to open the gate, and he improves the time by a whimsical speech on the duties of the porter of hell-gate. Indeed he seems for a time to fancy himself in the position of that functionary, and exhausts his ingenuity in guessing who the malefactors may be that are so clamorous for admittance to the infernal regions.

The authenticity of this scene has been denied by some famous critics and editors; but there seems no good ground for any such suspicion. In the first place an intervening scene of this kind is absolutely necessary to give Macbeth time to wash his hands and change his dress; in the second the porter’s speech contains several distinctly Shakespearean phrases, “old turning of the key,” “devil-porter it,” and “the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.” The jokes about the farmer, the equivocator, and the tailor, seem rather flat to us, but they are topical ‘gags’ which likely enough set the audience in a roar when first spoken. A ‘gag’ can hardly be expected to retain its charm for three centuries.

53. this is a joyful trouble, your entertaining the king is a trouble that you are glad to take upon you.

61. heard. “Were” is understood before this participle.

62. prophesying. This word is here used, not as a participle, but as a noun, the subject of “were heard” in line 61.

64. the obscure bird, the bird of darkness, the owl. “Obscure” is accented on the first syllable.

73. The Lord’s anointed temple, the temple of the Lord’s anointed, that is, the body of the king.

77. Gorgon. The Gorgons were monsters of Grecian mythology whose aspect turned all who saw them into stone. Macduff means that the figure of the murdered king is as terrible a sight as a Gorgon would be.

81. death’s counterfeit, the picture, or likeness, of death.

83. The great doom’s image, a picture of the Judgment Day. Macduff compares the horror of the murder of Duncan to those of the last day itself, and calls on all within the castle to rise up, as the dead will on the last day. Note how his extreme excitement finds utterance in broken ejaculations and startling figures.

87. hideous trumpet. Lady Macbeth compares the bell which has so suddenly roused the sleepers of the house to a trumpet in war time.

90, 91. The repetition … fell. The mere recital to a gentle lady of what has happened would be enough to kill her. Note how Macduff restrains himself for a moment out of consideration for his hostess, and then, overmastered by his horror, bursts out with the news to Banquo.

96-101. Had I but died, etc. This beautiful speech of Macbeth’s is by no means to be regarded as a piece of pure hypocrisy. He has no sooner committed the murder than he has been seized with remorse (cf. ii. 2. 74) and he seizes the opportunity to give vent to his feelings, well knowing that his hearers will not understand the full meaning of his words.

101. this vault, the world, here compared to an empty cellar from which the wine has been taken.

110. were distracted. The distraction of the grooms was no doubt due in part to the sleeping-potion with which their possets had been drugged.

113. wherefore, etc. Note how Macduff here assumes the attitude of opposition to Macbeth which characterizes him to the very end. It seems as if he already suspected him of the murder.

114-124. Who can be wise, etc. The pompous diction and strained imagery of this speech of Macbeth’s is Shakespeare’s way of indicating his hypocrisy. Compare this speech with lines 96-101, where Macbeth is really lamenting his own ruined life, not the death of Duncan.

117. the pauser reason, reason which bids us pause and not act hastily.

122. Unmannerly breech’d. The naked daggers had put on breeches of blood. But these breeches, instead of being decent coverings, were “unmannerly,” i.e, indecent.

124. Macbeth’s description of the murdered king recalls to his wife so terrible a remembrance of the chamber of death into which she had stolen barely an hour before that she is unable to endure it and faints. This is another indication of her slight physical strength.

128. an auger-hole, a small unnoticeable hole. Donalbain thinks that fate, i.e. a bloody death, may be lurking for him and his brother in any corner of Macbeth’s castle.

130. upon the foot of motion, ready to move and show itself. These speeches of the princes are exchanged in swift whispers while the nobles are crowding about Lady Macbeth. The young men are not heartless, but their fear overmasters their sorrow, and their one thought is flight.

132. our naked frailties, our half-dressed, weak bodies. The nobles have rushed half-dressed from their rooms at the sound of the alarm bell, and the courtyard where they have gathered is bitter cold.

134-138. And question … malice, Banquo realizes that there is something behind the murder of the king that calls for investigation. He feels that the company of nobles is shaken with fears and suspicions; but he puts his trust in God and declares himself the foe of whatever secret intention the treason that has slain the king may yet have in store. If Banquo suspected Macbeth, this was a direct declaration of hostilities; but he did nothing to make his words good, for when next we find him he is the most submissive servant of the new king.

139. manly readiness, the dress, perhaps the armour, that suits a man.

140. Well contented, agreed. When the nobles go out the princes remain to consult about their flight. Malcolm seems to distrust all the nobles; Donalbain’s words, lines 145, 146, show that he suspects Macbeth. The flight of the princes is one of the fortunate accidents that help Macbeth in the first part of the play. It shifts the suspicion upon them and opens the way for his election to the throne.

146. daggers in men’s smiles, Donalbain is thinking of the smiles with which his father had been welcomed into the castle.

146. near. This is an old comparative form of the adjective “nigh.” The phrase may be paraphrased as follows: “The nearer a man stands to you in blood relationship, the likelier he is to shed your blood.” The reference, of course, is to Macbeth, the nearest relative of the princes.

147, 148. This murderous shafts etc. This murderous plot is not yet fully accomplished. So long as the princes lived they stood between Macbeth and the throne.

151, 152. There’s warranty etc. That theft is justifiable which steals itself away from a place where it can expect no mercy. This is one of the many sententious rhyme tags that abound in Macbeth.


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