Part OneMacbeth is one of the greatest of the tragedies, swift as night and dark as spilt blood, with death and battle and witchcraft bound together in wonderful poetry to tell the story of a man and woman who destroyed themselves. Macbeth and his wife wanted the throne of Scotland, and they took it. But the act forced them into a murderer's world of sleepless torment, always struggling to find safety and always sinking deeper in their own terror. The story opens in ancient Scotland during a time of war. The king has been defied by a band of rebels and he has sent his trusted captains, Macbeth and Banquo, to defeat them. In thunder and lightning, not far from the place of battle, three witches meet on a lonely heath. They plan to meet again at twgight, to speak to Macbeth as he returns from the fighting, and then they vanish into the storm.
Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and flthy air.
The king of Scotland waits for news of the battle, and a sergeant arrives to tell him of Macbeth's valor. The victorious king also hears of the traitorous behavior of one of his noblemen, the thane of Cawdor, and decides to give the title to Macbeth instead. Macbeth is already the thane of Glamis, but this is a higher honor. The witches gather again to wait for their victim, chattering to each other in quick, slippery rhyme like evil children. They sing an incantation to wind up the charm, and when Macbeth enters, his first remark is an echo of one of theirs. "So foul and fair a day I have not seen. " With Macbeth is his fellow captain, Banquo, returning with him to report the details of the battle to the king, and it is Banquo who first sees the witches. But it is to Macbeth that the three of them speak:
"All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!"
"All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! "
"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!"
Macbeth is too startled to answer, and it is the steady and honorable Banquo who inquires if there is any more to the prophecy.
If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me ...
The witches tell Banquo that he will beget kings and then they vanish, leaving Macbeth protesting that it is impossible that he should ever become thane of Cawdor. The king's messenger arrives to announce that the title has been bestowed upon him, and the new thane of Cawdor is suddenly shaken with a vision of the throne. For a moment an image of evil comes to him--"horrible imaginings" of the one way in which he can fulfill the prophecy and become king--and then he puts the whole thing away from him. "If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me." When he reaches the palace the king treats him with the greatest courtesy and announces he will pay a visit to Macbeth's castle at Inverness, and again Macbeth is shaken by temptation. The scene moves to Inverness, where Lady Macbeth is reading the letter her husband wrote her after the battle. In cautious words he tells of the promise made by the three witches, and the mind of his wife leaps, as his has done, to the golden crown that lies waiting. But she knows her husband well. She can guess how he has been playing with the idea of murder and then shrinking back again, and she realizes it will be difficult to force him to take the final step that lies between them and the throne of Scotland.
I fear thy nature;
It Is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way....
A messenger arrives to say that the king of Scotland will be coming to the castle that night. Then, Lady Macbeth calls on all the forces of evil, asking them to remove any weakness from her and to fill her with cruelness.
Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top--full
Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between
The effect and it!
When her husband enters she is ready for him and begins to hint at the king's death. "He that's coming must be provided for." Macbeth is evasive--"We will speak further"--and his wife tells him to put on a cheerful and welcoming countenance. "Leave all the rest to me." The king arrives, accompanied by his sons and by the court, and Lady Macbeth bids him welcome with dignity and grace. Her husband is not by her side, and later, during supper, he finds it unendurable to stay in the same room with the king. He goes outside, to struggle with himself and with the thought of murder.
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly ... But Macbeth cannot face the idea of doing it quickly. He cannot face the idea of doing it at all, for the king is his kinsman and his guest and moreover a good man.
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
His wife has seen him leave and follows him out, to tell him the king has asked for him, and Macbeth gives her his final decision. "We will proceed no further in this business." Lady Macbeth has a ruthless single--mindedness that her husband can never possess, and she will not admit defeat. Instead, she picks up the two sharpest weapons in her armory and uses them without compunction, telling her husband that he is a coward and that he does not love her. Her contempt brings Macbeth back to the point where she last left him, but he has more imagination than she and it plays fearfully about the future. "If we should fail..." She interrupts him before he has finished the sentence.
But screw your courage to the sticking--place,
And we'll not fail ...
Lady Macbeth has thought of everything. The king will sleep soundly after his long journey, and she will make his guards drunk so that they will sleep too. The king can be murdered with the daggers of his guards, and when they are found, drunk and bloody, no one will dare deny that they have done it. Macbeth is convinced in spite of himself that the thing is possible and the crown of Scotland really within his grasp, and they plan the murder for that night. It is after midnight, but Banquo is too restless to sleep. In the courtyard, by torchlight, he encounters Macbeth, as restless as himself, and tries to talk with him about the three witches. Macbeth puts him off, and Banquo says good night. Macbeth is waiting for the signal from his wife, the bell that will tell him the guards are drunk and asleep, and as he waits his irnagination begins to act upon him and produces a phantom in the air.
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not and yet I see thee still ....
There is blood on the phantom dagger, and Macbeth tries to wrench his mind away from what he rationally knows to be a creation of his own imagination. "There's no such thing." His thoughts roam over the evil things of the night, over wolves, and witchcraft and murder moving like a ghost toward its prey, and when the bell rings he answers the summons as though he were himself a thing of the night. "I go, and it is done." At the foot of the stairs, in the darkness, Lady Macbeth waits while her husband commits the murder. She has done her part and now there is nothing left except to listen to the sounds of the night. Lady Macbeth is not as strong as she thought she was. She is made of flesh, not iron, and her thoughts begin to get out of control as she remembers the scene she has just left.
I laid their daggers ready;
He could not miss, them.
Had he not resembled My father as he slept,
I had done 't.
Macbeth comes down to her, the murder completed, and there is the terrible whispering scene between the two of them, first the short, broken sentences of conspiracy and then Macbeth's gathering agony as he looks at his bloody hands. As he crept downstairs, someone stirred in his sleep in one of the rooms and said a little prayer, and Macbeth, listening, had tried to say Amen. He could not, and it troubles him. His wife implores him not to think about it, but he cannot stop himself.
But wherefore could I not pronounce Amen?
I had most need of blessing, and Amen
Stuck in my throat.
His wife tells him they dare not let their minds move in that direction. "It will make us mad." But Macbeth cannot control his own imagination, and the man who saw a "dagger of the mind" has also heard a voice crying through the castle. "Methought I heard a voice cry, 'Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder Sleep!' . . ." Lady Macbeth does not know what her husband means, but the voice that haunts him goes on.
Still it cried, '
Sleep no more!' to all the house: '
Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.'
Macbeth is almost in a state of trance with the horror of what he has done, and his wife tries to jerk him back to a more practical and matter--of--fact state of mind. She tells him to go and wash his hands and to put the daggers into the hands of the sleeping guards, but Macbeth shrinks from going back to the place of so much blood. "I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on 't again I dare not." His wife snatches the daggers from him and goes back to do it herself, leaving Macbeth to stare at his hands.
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
His wife returns, her hands like his, for she has used the dead king's blood to smear his innocent guards. There has been a knocking at the south gate but Macbeth is powerless to move, and his wife gets him off to bed, talking to him reassuringly. "A little water clears us of this deed; How easy is it, then! ... " The castle porter has heard the knocking, but he is drunk and sleepy and slow to answer. He would rather amuse himself with the idea of how hard he would work if he were the porter at the gate of hell. "But this place is too cold for hell. I'll devil--porter it no further." The knocking has been done by two noblemen, arriving early to visit the king, and when Macbeth enters to greet them he is in full command of himself. One of the noblemen, whose name is Macduff, goes in to see the king and finds him dead, and the whole castle is thrown into an uproar. Macbeth quickly kills the two guards before they can explain the bloody daggers on their pillows, and then justifies the deed on the plea that he could not endure to have such evil murderers alive. Both he and Lady Macbeth play their parts well, but the sons of the dead king are not deceived. They know their own lives are in danger--"'Mere's daggers in men's smiles"-- and they steal away in the night and leave Scotland. The act makes them appear guilty of having planned the murder, and since Macbeth, thane of Cawdor, is next in line to the throne, he is made king. The scene shifts to the royal palace on the day of a great feast. Among the invited guests is Banquo, the man who knows the new king better than anyone else and has the strongest reason to suspect him of murder. Macbeth inquires carefully where his old friend will be during the day, and Banquo answers that he and his son will go riding, returning just in time for the banquet. Macbeth cannot feel safe on the throne as long as Banquo is alive, and he persuades two lawless men to kill him. His son must die too, for the three witches promised the throne of Scotland to Banquo's descendants, and Macbeth is resolved that this last part of the prophecy must never be fulfilled. Neither Macbeth nor his wife has been sleeping well, and they are both tortured by "terrible dreams." Macbeth can almost find it in his heart to envy Duncan, the king whom they killed.
Better be with the dead
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstacy. 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.
They have managed to convince themselves that if Banquo and his son were dead they would at last find peace, and as night falls the murderers that Macbeth has sent move to their place of ambush. Banquo and his son leave their horses and walk toward the palace gate, talking of the weather and with the boy carrying the torch. When the murderers attack, Banquo shouts a warning and his son escapes. The cutthroats know they have done only half their task, and one of them goes to report to Macbeth. Macbeth sees the murderer standing by the door just as the company is sitting down to the banquet, and he goes over to speak to hint. "There's blood upon thy face." For a moment he permits himself the hope that the crime has been a complete success and then learns that the son is still alive and the task only half done. "But Banquo's safe?" Banquo is safe enough, dead in a ditch with twenty deep gashes in his head, and Macbeth turns back to the feast. Banquo, at least, will trouble him no more. He looks for the empty seat that should be waiting at the table, but it seems to be taken. "The table's full." He stares at his empty seat, and the ghost of the murdered Banquo stares back at him, with blood in its hair. Before his bewildered guests, Macbeth speaks to the man he killed, "Thou canst not say I did it." His wife reminds him in a fierce whisper of the dagger he once saw, which he also thought to be real. But nothing can unfix her husband's desperate attention until the ghost vanishes, and even then he cannot shake his thoughts loose again.
The times have been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again ...
His wife reminds him of his guests and Macbeth at last recollects himself. For he is a host, and a good one.
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 ...
He should not have spoken Banquo's name. The corpse returns again that should be safe in a ditch, and the bloody image drives Macbeth half-crazed with fear. He is a notable warrior and can fight anything that is alive, but he cannot war with shadows. The ghost vanishes again but the feast is ruined, and Lady Macbeth gets rid of the guests as quickly as she can. Macbeth thought he could get what he wanted by murder, and now he has found that no amount of killing can keep him safe. His wife returns to find him in the grip of a terrible truth. "It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood." But almost at once he forgets it, for he is a practical man and must consider the problem of Macduff. Macduff has refused to come at his bidding, and from the spies he has planted in that nobleman's house, Macbeth knows there is danger from him. At once, and seeing it as the obvious solution, the murderer's thoughts go back to murder again. As for the ghost he thought he saw that evening, the whole thing can surely be explained by lack of sleep. When he and his wife are a little more accustomed to killing, things will go more smoothly and easily for them.