Vocabulary in Macbeth
We later learn that this is the first witch's familiar, an evil-spirit servant in the form of a cat. The word itself is likely an affectionate name for a gray cat. It was common for witches and other beings with magical power to have small animals that also had powers as companions.
The Second Witch suggests that they have no allegiance to either side of the war, do not care who wins, and know nothing important will be changed. The Second Witch trivializes the war by calling it a hurlyburly, or a very active or confused situation, and shows no sympathy for those who will be killed.
The Thane of Ross tells Duncan that the Norwegian king has asked for a truce and an end to the fighting--most likely as a result of Macbeth's victory over Macdonwald and his devastating attack against the rest of the Norwegian king's forces.
The western isles refers to the Hebrides, which are off the western coast of Scotland. The sergeant states that Celtic soldiers joined Macdonwald's forces: Kerns were lightly armed soldiers from Ireland and Scotland who carried wooden shields and a sword of bow; the gallowglass were mercenaries and armored warriors known for their strength and size.
Golgotha is known as the place of the skull and is known as the site of Christ's death upon Mount Calvary in Matthew 27:33. The sergeant uses this allusion to illustrate how violent and remorseless Macbeth's army was, wondering if they were trying to make their bloody battlefield as infamous as Golgotha.
Bellona is the Roman goddess of war, making her bridegroom the god of war. The Thane of Ross uses this metaphor to praise Macbeth's unsurpassed skill on the battlefield as he confronted the Norwegian forces.
This is the other Scottish traitor who, along with Macdonwald, joined forces with the invading army of the Norwegian king. The Thane of Ross tells Duncan that the Thane of Cawdor betrayed them by giving important information about the Scottish armies to the Norwegian king.
Shakespeare uses a simile to explain the battle between the king's forces and the invading Norwegians and their Scottish-rebel allies. The image of two tired swimmers who hold on to each other to keep from drowning reveals how the soldiers of the two armies are exhausted and neither side seems capable of winning. The soldier wants King Duncan to know that victory looked uncertain until Macbeth exerted his leadership.
Macdonwald is the leader of the rebel forces fighting against the King Duncan of Scotland and has joined forces with the Norwegians to try and defeat Duncan. He doesn't appear in the play, because the Sergeant shortly reveals how Macdonwald was defeated by Macbeth.
The word villainies refers to treacherous acts, and we can further understand this phrase as a growing force of evil. The Sergeant uses this term here to refer to Macdonwald and the Scottish traitors who have joined the Norwegian king's fight against King Duncan and Macbeth.
Although Banquo initially has some doubts as to the validity of a prophecy from witches, the fulfillment is convincing. Banquo warns Macbeth that it may be an instance of the powers of evil telling the truth in order to recruit a susceptible person to the side of darkness. Banquo's belief in "the instruments of darkness" contains a profound truth: Unexpected good fortune can sometimes influence us to make decisions that will prove harmful.
While it's possible that Banquo is using the word "devil" here for emphatic purposes, it's also possible that it's referring to the witches rather than to Ross. Considering the supernatural nature of the witches, Banquo would be most likely to associate them with evil.
The herb Banquo refers to is possibly a hemlock or henbane, both of which are deadly. He brings this up to Macbeth as a way to justify the witches sudden disappearance, suggesting that perhaps they have accidentally lost their reason.
Aleppo is a city in Syria and was under the control of the Ottoman Empire when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth. During the Middle Ages it was a center of trade and Christianity in the Middle East.
In other words, Duncan is saying that he wishes Macbeth had done something less heroic and deserving. This is not meant as an insult; rather, Duncan wishes that had this happened, his inadequate payment would have been better matched to Macbeth's deeds. Duncan feels as if he can't ever repay Macbeth for what he's done.
Here, this word means a fanfare, or a short piece of music played loudly by trumpets to announce that someone is arriving. In this case, the flourish is reserved for the entrance of the king.
With this line, Lady Macbeth reveals her intention to murder Duncan herself. The word dispatch could suggest that she might be merely overseeing the plan; however, another meaning is to kill quickly and efficiently. While Macbeth plays the role of a kind and gentle host, Lady Macbeth gets herself ready to kill Duncan.
The word keen can mean something that is very sharp, and it can also mean something or someone that is very eager to do something. In this passage, Lady Macbeth declares that she wants to kill Duncan herself.
The word battlements refers to a low castle wall that has notches (narrow windows) to fire weapons or arrows through in defense. This word adds to the idea of Macbeth's castle as a battleground for his desire to become king and replace Duncan.
By "illness," Lady Macbeth means that achieving one's ambition requires a kind of wickedness, or a lack of moral scruples, in order to succeed. This way, there will not be any feelings of regret or remorse.
Lady Macbeth considers her husband too gentle in nature to take the throne, suggesting that he would prefer to become king holily, or by the approval of god.
When talking about himself, Duncan uses the plural pronoun "we" in this section. This is known as the royal "we" and refers to a single person who holds a high office, such as a king or religious leader, and speaks for the well-being of many others.
Banquo is saying that even though there is no jutty (a projecting part of a building), frieze (a decorative band on an outside wall), or a coign of vantage (an advantageous position) the martlet likes Macbeth's castle so much that it has chosen to make its home (pendant bed) and nest (procreant cradle) there.
Martlets, or martins, are small birds related to swallows. Banquo indicates that this summer bird is attracted to Macbeth's castle and has chosen to make its nest on it. Banquo describes a quiet and idyllic summer day, which contrasts later with the storm that comes when Macbeth commits the foul deed.
Lady Macbeth responds to her husband by asking what could have possibly made him break his promise to her. In this context, enterprise refers to the bold, arduous, or momentous undertaking they have been planning: the murder of Duncan and Macbeth's ascension to the throne.
Macbeth's reaction shows how much he resents being called a coward. He states that he does all of the necessary things that make him a man--which we can read as an honorable man. He considers those who do more than these things, such as wicked or evil actions, as dishonorable, or unmanly, men. Macbeth's defense gives us some insight into the values that he has regarding proper behavior and why he does not want to carry out the plan.
"Prithee" is an archaic interjection which is used to express a wish or request. ("I pray thee," or "I beg of you.") In this instance, when Macbeth requests "peace," he is expressing a desire for his wife to stop discussing this matter altogether.
In another clothing metaphor that extends from and builds on Macbeth's previous comments, Lady Macbeth accuses him of a lack of resolution to carry out the plan. Here, "hope" initially refers to Macbeth as a person drunk with the idea of success, and then becomes the robe that Macbeth has dressed himself in that has become pale and weak.
In Shakespeare's day, a "trammel" meant a net with three layers used for catching birds or fish. Macbeth uses this expression to voice his doubt that assassinating Duncan can be done in a way that will "net up" all the consequences of that action and "catch" success.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Shakespeare coined this phrase and all other uses since then are borrowed from him. Generally, be-all means something which is or constitutes the whole, and the end-all refers to something that ends all or finishes something. Macbeth wishes that this blow, killing Duncan, could be self-contained and without consequences.
In attempting to explain his vision, Macbeth wonders if his heat-oppressed, or feverish, brain is the cause. During the Renaissance, heat in the body was considered a fluid that could actually press on the brain, causing fever and delirium.
Sextus Tarquin was the youngest son of the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, whose rape of Lucretia led to the overthrow of the Roman monarchy. The adjective ravishing here is applied to the strides to emphasize how quickly Murder moves.
Hecate is a Greek goddess who presides over magical rites and is associated with witchcraft, the night, and the underworld. Her mention here in Macbeth's soliloquy is important considering later developments in the story with the three witches.
In this context, the adjective fatal refers to the vision as something sent by fate rather than a vision that is deadly. As Macbeth struggles with this vision, he considers why he is seeing is and what it means.
"Largess" refers to gifts or generosities that the King bestowed on Macbeth and his servants. These gifts not only explain why it was so easy for the entire castle staff to drink and feast, but they also help to carry our Lady Macbeth's initial plan to get Duncan's bodyguards drunk. However, this excess of gifts and drink has repercussions for Macbeth in the morning.
Banquo might be making a joke to amuse his son to state how dark it is: Heaven is trying to be economical ("there's husbandry") with their lights (candles). This also contains an interesting idea--that the lights in the sky are all candles used by the inhabitants of heaven to light their homes.
Here, a “Torch” may indicate an attendant bearing a torch, rather than the torch itself. Since the play would have been performed in broad daylight, the "torch" would be used as a prop to suggest that it was night. Additionally, Banquo and Fleance establish that the time is somewhat later than midnight.
The verb incarnadine here means "to redden." Macbeth is saying that the blood on his hands will turn the whole ocean red rather than be cleaned off. Prior to Macbeth this word's meaning was primarily associated with coloring objects red; however, since Shakespeare, the word is most often associated with blood.
In Roman mythology, Neptune is the god of the sea. Macbeth invokes this name to emphasize his belief that all the water in the world will not be enough to wash the blood (guilt) from his hands.
Since Duncan bestowed many gifts on Macbeth's company, there was much drinking and feasting earlier in the evening. This word, surfeited, tells us that Duncan's grooms, or bodyguards, overindulged in food and drink.
A posset is a hot drink of sweetened and spiced milk curdled with ale or wine. Lady Macbeth created a sleeping potion to drug Duncan's guards, and here she indicates that it was so strong that it may have half poisoned them.
An auger is a sharp tool primarily used for making holes. In this context, Donalbain means a small, unnoticeable hole. He tells his brother that fate (a violent death) could be waiting for them in any corner of Macbeth's home and that they should flee.
These words contain a subtle accusation: Banquo tells Lady Macbeth that her response is not appropriate because she should be more worried about the dead king rather than how it would affect her reputation. He also has reason to suspect that Macbeth committed the crime since he is also aware of the witches' prophesies.
Macduff compares the murder of Duncan to a picture of Judgment Day ("the great doom's image"). He calls everyone in the castle to rise up--as the dead would on Judgment Day--to witness the horror. Note how his speech is broken and truncated in this passage to emphasize his extremely agitated state.
Most likely what Shakespeare intended by the word countenance (to show or express) was that the people Macduff summons will appear in their nightgowns and therefore resemble ghosts, a sight that will "countenance" the horror of the King's murder. Shakespeare realized that if all the sleepers are summoned so urgently in the wee hours of the morning, they would have to appear in their nightgowns; therefore, he makes the most of the spectacle.
In Greek mythology, Gorgons were monsters who could turn anyone who looked at them into stone. The most famous gorgon was Medusa. Macduff uses this phrase to say that the sight of the murdered king is as terrible as seeing a Gorgon would be.
The word physics when used as a verb means to remedy or treat with medicine. In this context, Macbeth says that hosting the king is an honor and a privilege that fixes all pains.
Macduff is referring to Duncan's body. Since kings were thought to be divinely appointed, then their bodies would be considered holy and sacred.
By "obscure bird," Lennox means an owl hooting in the night. Recall that the owl is considered an omen of death and that Lady Macbeth also heard the owl shriek while her husband murdered Duncan.
One edition of Macbeth defines "limited service" as "appointed duty." Macduff is furious at having to wait so long to be let into the castle, but he is controlling his temper. Here he reminds Macbeth that he was knocking at the gate so persistently because he is obeying a royal command.
The Porter makes a pun here. The word lie, as in "lie down," sounds the same as the word lye which means "urine." The humor is in the idea that too much drink makes someone fall asleep and possibly wet themselves.
Beelzebub is a high-ranking fallen angel who served Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost. In common usage, the name Beelzebub can be used synonymously or as a nickname for the Devil or Satan.
Colmekill refers to a monastery on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. It is named after St. Columba, who converted Scotland to Christianity. Since this monastery has a reputation for holiness, it became a favorite burial place for Scottish kings: forty-eight kings are reportedly buried there. Interestingly, the historical Macbeth and Duncan were interred here.
Scone is an ancient, royal city in Scotland nor far from the present-day town of Perth. It contained a throne, on which Scottish kings, such as Macbeth, were crowned.
By "thriftless ambition," Ross refers to how the princes supposed ambition was wasteful because they gained nothing by their father's death and had to flee the land. Interestingly, note how Ross accepts Macduff's official view of the king's death without question.
In all of his years of experience, the Old Man has never experiences anything as dreadful or strange at the night after Duncan's murder. The use of the word trifle here as a noun means that his previous knowledge or experience seems unimpressive or not noteworthy. This opening statement and the continuing dialogue help to renew the feelings of horror, dread, and unnaturalness surrounding the death of Duncan.
The word score can mean a a group of twenty things. It is commonly used in combination with a number, as in this selection, and if it lacks another noun stating what the score consists of, then it typically refers to years. The Old Man is saying sixty and ten years ago.
While it's possible to consider that "spy" refers to the knowledge that Macbeth has regarding Banquo's whereabouts, it is also likely that "spy" could mean "scout," and that Macbeth is telling them he will acquaint the murderers with one of his best scouts to help them.
Macbeth tells the murderers that even though he could openly ("barefaced") execute Banquo for no other reason than for his royal pleasure, there are other connections and relationships that would suffer. This restraint for the sake of image and other relationships is worth noting, particularly considering the kind of tyrant Macbeth later becomes.
To put something to someone's bosom means to entrust someone with a charge or command. In this case, Macbeth states that if the murderers possess the necessary qualities, then he will give them this task. Also, notice how he subtly mocks the murders by implying that they are not men--"bosom" has connotations connected to femininity--to get what he wants, which is reminiscent of what Lady Macbeth did to him in earlier scenes.
These two types of dogs are both older, historical names and references. "Shoughs" refers to a kind of lap-dog, believed to have been originally from Iceland. "Water-rugs" refers to a type of water dog that had a rough or shaggy coat (possibly a kind of poodle).
Macbeth is using the royal "we" in this passage, referring to himself in the third passage. Now that he is king, the use is appropriate, but notice how he doesn't consistently use it. By "innocent self," Macbeth lies to the murders, saying that even though they thought that he had offended them, the real person to blame is Banquo.
In many royal families, the crown was passed down the line of descendants linearly--that is, from parents to sons or daughters or other relatives of direct descent. By "unlineal," Macbeth means that someone not related to him or Duncan's line who intends to try and take the throne.
Shakespeare learned the story of Antony and Caesar them from Plutarch's Lives, which he had read a few years before writing Julius Caesar. Macbeth's allusion to these characters represents how Caesar's genius, or spirit, overpowered Antony's even though Antony was a better man in many respects.
The word "genius" has multiple meanings. Macbeth could be referring to genius, or presiding spirit, that each person has at birth to govern their fortunes and determine personal character. Another interpretation is that he is talking about his own intellect and talents. Considering that the former definition is older than the more modern meaning in the latter, Macbeth is likely stating that Banquo's genius is more powerful than his own.
By "strange invention," Macbeth is most likely alluding to reports that the princes have been circulating that he murdered Duncan instead of them. The word choice here allows Macbeth to make such reports sound completely false and almost ridiculously absurd--which, he would be keen to do.
Parricide refers to the act of murdering one's father, mother, or a close relative. A more specific word choice would be patricide which specifically refers to the act of murdering one's father.
A "sennet" is a set of notes played on a brass instrument, such as a trumpet or cornet, that was used in stage directions of Elizabethan plays as a signal for ceremonial entrances or exits of certain actors--in this case, King Macbeth.
Macbeth calls on the coming of night to carry out the destruction of the "great bond" that worries him so. The choice of this word "bond" relates to Lady Macbeth's earlier use of "copy" to refer to the lease that Banquo has on life. Macbeth wants the night and his plans to tear up this lease (kill Banquo) to free him from worry.
A "chuck" refers to a chick or chicken and at the time was a familiar term of endearment for spouses, children, or other close companions. In addition to calling Lady Macbeth "love," these are some of the most tender words he's used with her in the play, which is conspicuous considering he has not told her his plan for Banquo.
The word "copy" in this instance has a technical meaning associated with law ("copyhold"), and refers to a kind of lease for land or property. Lady Macbeth is essentially saying that they do not have an eternal lease on life; that is, they will die eventually. Notice, however, that Lady Macbeth's suggestion here reveals just how little she knows of her husband's plans, hinting at committing a crime that he has already planned out.
"Malice" typically means a desire to cause harm to another living being. In this case, Macbeth calls it "poor" malice to signify a weak desire to do harm. The implication is that a weak will to commit necessary evils will not benefit and likely harm Macbeth and his wife.
The choice of "tooth" here implies that the snake, if left to recover, would regain its "former" (prior to being "scotch'd") power to bite. Macbeth wants to ensure that the dangers he and his wife has will not grow in strength and return to harm them.
This expression means to render something temporarily harmless or less harmful without completely destroying it. The snake serves as a metaphor for anything or anyone who is problematic, dangerous, or undesirable.
The choice of the word "lated" (belated) means that the traveller is running a little behind schedule. Notice how the words "to gain the timely inn" suggest that the traveller has spurred his horse to make it move faster. The traveller doesn't want to be out on the highway after dark because of the danger from highwaymen.
The ghost has momentarily left the room, but Macbeth continues his rant. In this line, he recalls the information the First Murderer told him about the "twenty trenched gashes" on Banquo's head as he goes on about blood, death, and the rising of the dead. Readers should remember that the assembled Lords would be watching and listening to most of what Macbeth and his wife are saying and doing.
As his vision continues to destabilize him, Macbeth starts to speculate on the nature of ghosts. In this excerpt, he wonders whether or not having a body torn to pieces by kites (a bird of prey) would make it impossible for a ghost to rise from that body.
A charnel house, or sometimes just a charnel or mortuary, is a place where the bodies and remains of the dead are kept. As an adjective, charnel has a connotation of something being deathlike or ghastly, which applies to the scene that Macbeth sees before him since Banquo's ghost is likely a terrifying sight to look at.
Macbeth had hoped that his anxiety and discontent would go away with the death of Banquo and Fleance. He refers to these problems as a "fit" and speaks of them as if he had an intermittent fever that is coming on again. If Fleance had also been killed, Macbeth believes he would have been "cured" of this fit and been completely well.
The news that Banquo is dead causes Macbeth to praise the Murderer as the best of the cut-throats; however, he refrains from complementing him as the "nonpareil" (someone without equal) when he learns that Fleance escaped.
Acheron is one of the rivers in Hades according to classical Greek mythology. Since it is associated with the underworld, then it has connections to the Christian concept of hell, evil, and the devil. The witches have been portrayed as associated with the devil, so Hecate suggesting they all meet at "the pit of Acheron" reinforces this notion that they are wholly evil.
These are some of the things that the Lord says will happen should they succeed in overthrowing Macbeth. He says "faithful homage" to contrast with the "forced homage," or forced loyalty, that the nobility gives Macbeth, and by "free honors," he means the honors that are fit for freemen to receive.
Both Lennox and the Lord have now directly referred to Macbeth as a tyrant. Shakespeare had them use this specific word to help establish context for their words and to help the audience understand what the play does not directly show: Macbeth is a cruel, unfair, and oppressive ruler.
Recall that the public often believed kings to have a divine right or connection to their position. By "pious" rage, Lennox means that Macbeth committed this act our of his loyalty to Duncan rather than for any divine reason.
Lennox was there the night Macbeth killed the two grooms, and now he reveals what he believes is the real reason why Macbeth did that: It was not done out of passion for Duncan, rather Macbeth did not want to give the grooms the opportunity to say that they were innocent.
Lennox suggests that if Macbeth had Duncan's sons "under his key" (that is, in his power) that he would have been able to charge them with the murder of their father and put them to death.
Known as Edward the Confessor, he was King of England from 1042 to 1066, the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and well known for being pious and saintly without becoming a martyr.
This county in northeastern England once was a part of the Roman Empire and then an independent kingdom for a time. It's location between England and Scotland meant that it was a location of many battles, as evidenced by the great number of castles in the area. At the time of the play, it was ruled by Earl Siward, who was a powerful leader, and the Lord states that Macduff has gone to seek aid from Siward in the coming battle against Macbeth.
This word, operating as an interjection here, is a now archaic way of expressing surprise, outrage, shock, etc., or of emphasizing someone's words. Etymologically, it is related to the the name Mary, for the Virgin Mary who was the mother of Jesus.
Even though Macbeth learned that no naturally born man may harm him, he decides to "take a bond of fate" by killing Macduff. "Fate" in this context likely means "death" and the "bond" refers to a pledge or promise. This is what Macbeth means by being "double sure": No man may harm him and he'll kill Macduff just to be certain.
For reasons that are significant later on, it is important to note that by "woman born" the Second Apparition means someone born naturally. Macbeth understands this apparition's prophesy to mean that no naturally born man has the power to harm him.
While the ingredients that have been added to the cauldron thus far have been grotesque, these additions prior to the spirits rising to answer Macbeth's questions are even more vile: the blood of a sow (pig) that has eaten nine of her young (farrow) and the body fluids from a murderer that have soaked into the wood of the hang-man's gallows (gibbet). Such ingredients help to fully portray the unholy, magical atmosphere of the scene.
The glass that the eighth holds is not a container for liquid; it is a magical looking glass that one could see the future within. The eighth king is likely James VI of Scotland who was ruling England King James I when Macbeth was written. Shakespeare's inclusion here likely represents a compliment and praise for the king and the future of his heirs.
This word represents a non-standard spelling of "harpy." In Greek and Roman mythology, harpies are horrifying monsters that have women's faces and the bodies of birds. They are regarded as filthy and covetous, always preying on others and wanting more. While they sometimes supposedly administer divine vengeance, commonly their mention or presence contributes to a dangerous or evil atmosphere or theme, as in this case with the witches.
To a modern audience, the main association with this word refers to someone whose features are plain or unattractive. However, in this context the messenger wants to come across as friendly and unthreatening, so the connotation here is that he is plain and simple in an appealing kind of way.
This is an example of verbal irony in which Lady Macduff says one thing but intends to be understood as meaning something that contrasts with what she says. In this case, she tells her son that Macduff is dead even though the boy knows this is not the case.
By "ourselves," Ross means that they do not know one another. Because of Macbeth's spy network throughout the country, it's likely that many innocent and good people have been denounced as traitors, and this would make everyone suspicious of each other. This line helps to reaffirm the tyrannical qualities of Macbeth's leadership.
Ross uses a shortened form of the word "cousin" to fondly address Lady Macduff. While "coz" can maintain its connotations of fondness and endearment without specifically referring to a family member, it is clear that Ross is actually related to Lady Macduff when he calls her cousin later in this speech.
Lady Macduff means that even though she believes Macduff took no direct actions that revealed him as a traitor, the fact that he ran away in fear makes it seem as if he were a traitor to others.
By "fee-grief" Macduff means whether Ross's news is about someone's personal sorrow or troubles. Interestingly, even though the horrible news affects Macduff personally, news of this crime would affect many people throughout the land, as Ross says with "No mind that's honest but in it shares some woe."
Macduff is telling Ross to not withhold information from him. This word means a stingy, cheap, or ungenerous person. However, due to its similar spelling and pronunciation to the highly offensive word "nigger," it has greatly fallen out of modern usage.
The disease is called scrofula, a form of tuberculosis, and was known as the "king's evil" because the English Kings were believed to be able to cure it by putting their hands on the victim. This ability to cure this disease is believed to have originated with Edward the Confessor, the current King of England in Macbeth.
Macduff claims that Malcolm's confession acts as an "interdiction," which in this case means a kind of ecclesiastical, or church-related, injunction that forbids a king from performing royal duties. Malcolm's confession essentially forbids him, or declares him unfit, from becoming king.
Even though Macbeth has the title of "King," Macduff calls him an "untitled tyrant" to reaffirm the notion that Macbeth is not a legitimate successor to Duncan's throne and is therefore not a true king.
"Graces" here likely refers to "virtues" or the opposite of vices. However, since Macduff is speaking to a prince and future king, this word has divine connotations of godly virtues or qualities. Recall that kings were considered to rule with divine right. Macduff says that the divine grace that Malcolm has will balance out the vices he claims to possess.
Macduff continues to try and reassure Malcolm that his vices will not prohibit him from being king. Here, he says that the King of Scotland has more than enough possessions ("foisons") to satisfy even the boundless cravings that Malcolm claims to have.
A cistern is a large tank or underground reservoir for storing water. Malcolm depicts himself as a licentious and promiscuous man whose depravity knows no bounds. It's possible that these reasons for why he's unfit to rule represent deeper doubts about his ability to rule and may shed light on why he fled Macbeth's castle that night.
Malcolm starts to tell Macduff all the reasons why he is unfit to be king. His motivations for doing this are shortly revealed, but in this instance he states that his vices will be worse than Macbeth's when revealed. The connection with "open'd" as revealed is compounded with the idea that the "grafted" vices will one day grow into very real problems.
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece used for farming that sits across the neck of two animals and then attached to a plow that the animals pull. Malcolm symbolically uses the word to say how the country is suffering under the weight of Macbeth's tyranny.
Malcolm does not wish to dishonor or offend Macduff; rather, he states that he is only being suspicious as a way of protecting himself. Notice how Malcolm soon reveals his insecurities about confronting Macbeth and how Macduff will bolster his courage.
Still suspicious of Macduff, Malcolm continues to test him and see whether or not Macduff is honest. Malcolm plainly suggests that Macduff's character may have been compromised, saying that even a virtuous man may fall from grace and give in to the will of a royal, "imperial," authority.
While to a modern audience this phrase means "suddenly" or "all at once," Shakespeare's audience would have interpreted this original expression as a more savage extension of Macduff's bird metaphor. "Fell" can mean cruel or savage, and the word "swoop" can refer to an attack pattern from a bird of prey--such as the kite just mentioned.
"Foul whisperings" can mean bad rumors or terrible gossip. It's possible that the Doctor has heard talk of rebellion or spies, much like in the conversation between Lennox and the Lord in Act III Scene VI. If this is the case, then Lady Macbeth's speech confirms much of what the Doctor would have heard.
While this word in general use refers to the lands of the Arabian peninsula, in poetry it often has connotations of a mysterious place known for many exotic items, such as spices and perfumes.
While the verb "taper" means to steadily lessen or diminish something over time, as a noun it originally refers to a small wax candle that was used for devotional or penitential purposes--like prayer candles used in some churches. This small candle and what it signifies add much to how the audience relates Lady Macbeth's illness and struggles with guilt.
In this context, "perturbation" refers to a systematic imbalance or disorder with nature, which the Doctor uses to describe Lady Macbeth's natural sleep cycle. However, recall that since the death of Duncan, an imbalance in the natural world has symbolically coincided with Macbeth's reign.
The expression "into the field" typically refers to the field of battle. Considering what we learned about the rebellion of the Scottish nobles (alluded to in Act IV Scene iii), it is likely that Macbeth is trying to suppress the revolt against him. Macbeth has likely done this many times in the past without his wife, but it appears to have singularly affected her this time.
Caithness uses the word "medicine" to mean a "doctor" who will cure the "weal," or commonwealth. This refers directly to Malcolm who is also referred to as a "sovereign flower" by Lennox.
When nobles and others swear allegiance to a king, their loyalty is equated to good faith--that they will protect and honor their sovereign and not cross or challenge his interests. Since Macbeth murdered the one he swore allegiance to, he breached, or broke, his oath of loyalty.
Angus states that mutiny and the tyrannical rule of Macbeth have revealed him for what he is. This descriptive line reveals that the nobles all know that Macbeth committed the crimes against Duncan and Banquo because they stick to his hands--he cannot pin their murders on others anymore.
Caithness uses this metaphor to describe Macbeth losing control of his forces. "Buckle" here refers to the rule or control he has over his party, and since he cannot buckle his metaphorical belt, he cannot possible rule over his discontented army.
While a modern audience understands "protest" as negatively denouncing another action, in this context Lennox says the youths are "claiming" or "demanding" to call themselves men by joining the campaign against Macbeth.
While we haven't met these characters yet, their presence with Lennox and the discussion they have reveal them to be Scottish Nobles joining the revolt against Macbeth's rule.
In this context, "dear" has a connotation of closeness; that is, the reasons for their revenge are personal. Mentieth quite descriptively says that these causes for their revenge are so strong that they would even raise a dead man to fight for their cause.
Shakespeare uses an abstract, plural noun to show how multiple people are affected by the quality or feeling that the noun denotes. In this instance, even though they have a common target for their revenge, they are all affected differently and have different motivations for pursuing their revenge.
Macbeth declares that this approaching battle will forever give him peace of mind or remove him from the throne. The use of the word "push" here adds to the finality of the statement; that the English forces have one opportunity to dethrone Macbeth.
A "goose look" is a look of foolish fear. Consider the irony in this statement: Macbeth asks the servant why he has this look of fear on his face, and Macbeth doesn't realize that he himself is the source of such fear.
This word represents a characteristically Scottish term of abuse. Generally, it means someone who is considered a worthless person. Notice the other insults Macbeth hurls at his servant and how they contribute to the overall image of his character in this scene.
Since he follows this word with "let them fly all," Macbeth's reports detail the revolt of his subjects. Notice how different his attitude is in this scene: no longer does he worry about threats or troubled sleep; his stubborn belief in the witches' prophesies have reinforced his will to fight to the end.
An "epicure" is someone who takes pleasure in fine food and drink. Macbeth, a hardy Scotsman, uses this word as an insult to express how he despises the extravagant and luxurious manners of the English.
A lily is a white flower, and in this context "white" means "bloodless." Since the liver was thought to be a source of courage, the combination of these two words create an insult that means "cowardly."
Pragmatic as ever, Macduff enters the conversation by expressing his belief that not all Macbeth's soldiers are likely going to desert, and that the battle will demand all of their effort. By "industrious soldiership," Macduff means that they must perform their roles as competent soldiers first and foremost.
To hew means to cut something (typically wood or a tree) with an axe. With these orders to create bows to conceal the numbers of the army, Malcolm is actually fulfilling part of the witches' prophesy: That the Wood of Burnam would move against Macbeth.
In this context, the word "cousins" means "kinsmen," and Malcolm uses it as a broad term of endearment to emphasize the close relationship and purpose they all share.
Here, Macbeth realizes that the witches and the fiend, or devil, who inspired them to raise the apparitions for Macbeth, have deceived him. "Equivocation" refers to language that is ambiguous in order to conceal the truth, and while Macbeth considered the Woods of Birnam moving against him an impossibility, he sees now that it was merely symbolic and that Malcolm's army "moves" the forest with their covering branches.
Macbeth is considering the meaning of life and thinks back on all of his "yesterdays" and what they have led to. In a moment where he is possibly contemplating suicide, Macbeth compares his life to that of a candle--a brief amount of time that is now spent.
Continuing with his nihilistic view on life, Macbeth uses this expression to say how all past events have "lighted" (that is, guided) fools to their death.
The adjective "petty" means that something is trivial or unimportant. Macbeth considers the endless march of days to be meaningless, without purpose or direction.
Many critics have contended the meaning of this line, whether Macbeth is callously indifferent to his wife's death or whether he is so sunk in misery by the news that he finds life not worth living. Perhaps the most plausible reading of this is connected to the latter and that Macbeth wishes that she had died after the battle, when there would have been time to mourn her properly.
"Ague" in this context can either refer to a kind of high fever or a disease characterized by fever, intense cold, and shivering, or it refers to a state of fear, distress, or other strong emotion. The association with famine perhaps indicates that former definition is the more likely, but in either case, both would make soldiers abandon a castle siege.
A "harbinger" is a thing or person who signals the approach of something else. Macduff says the the trumpets will speak and become their harbingers, announcing to Macbeth and others that his doom approaches.
Boughs are large branches from trees. These are from the Birnam Wood, used by Malcolm to hide the number of troops he has while simultaneously fulfilling part of the witches' prophesy that harm shall not come to Macbeth until the Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.
That is, the castle has surrendered without much fight. Siward's statements here suggest that many of Macbeth's soldiers either deserted and ran away or simply laid down their arms against Malcolm's army.
While he can't see Macbeth, Macduff recognizes where he is by the sound of the heavy battle raging around him. The fighting against Macbeth is strongest with, as Siward says below, the rest of the fighting not being taken very seriously.
As mentioned in the first act of the play, Kerns were lightly armed Irish or Scottish mercenaries who fought with swords, bows, and carried wooden shields. Macduff considers them wretched because they are mercenaries; that is, their honor and loyalty can be bought. This sentiment further reinforces Macduff as an honorable man, sparing his own wrath for Macbeth instead of others.