Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Macbeth

Vocabulary Examples in Macbeth:

Act I - Scene I

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"Graymalkin..."   (Act I - Scene I)

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.

"When the hurlyburly's done;..."   (Act I - Scene I)

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.

"craves composition..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"from the western isles Of kerns and gallowglasses..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"Or memorize another Golgotha..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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's bridegroom..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"As two spent swimmers that do cling together..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"multiplying villainies..."   (Act I - Scene II)

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.

"Alarum within..."   (Act I - Scene II)

An alarum is an alarm, or a call to battle, and within indicates that it is offstage. By stating that this is the situation, Shakespeare gives the impression is that a battle is occurring close by.

"The instruments of darkness tell us truths..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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.

"What, can the devil speak true? ..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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.

"Or have we eaten on the insane root..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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..."   (Act I - Scene III)

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.

"Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould But with the aid of use...."   (Act I - Scene III)

This is a homely and characteristically Shakespearean simile. Banquo suggests that while these new honors for Macbeth are not so natural at first, Macbeth will get used to them with time, much like how new clothes can feel strange at first but become more comfortable with wear and use.

"Why do you dress me In borrow'd robes?..."   (Act I - Scene III)

This kind of reference to clothing appears throughout the play. Metaphorically, clothing references refer to the titles that people have, such as Thane or King. Here, Macbeth does not understand why Ross and Angus refer to him as the Thane of Cawdor, as he believes another holds that title.

"Would thou hadst less deserved,..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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.

"Flourish..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

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.

"you shall put This night's great business into my dispatch,..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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.

"That my keen knife..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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.

"battlements..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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.

"The illness should attend it..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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.

"holily..."   (Act I - Scene V)

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.

"That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,..."   (Act I - Scene V)

Lady Macbeth is speaking of spirits metaphorically; that is, by "spirits" she means strong language as well the taunts (many of them challenging her husband's masculinity) that she plans to use to convince Macbeth into murdering Duncan. 

"To catch the nearest way...."   (Act I - Scene V)

By the "nearest way," Lady Macbeth means the quickest means or the quickest method, which in this case, refers to killing Duncan so Macbeth can be king.

"we..."   (Act I - Scene VI)

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.

"No jutty, frieze, Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle..."   (Act I - Scene VI)

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.

"The temple-haunting martlet..."   (Act I - Scene VI)

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.

"enterprise..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

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.

"Prithee, peace!..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

"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.

"Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress'd yourself? Hath it slept since?..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

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.

"trammel up..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

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.

"this blow Might be the be-all and the end-all here..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

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.

"I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

What Macbeth means is that if a man dares to do dishonorable things he is not a real man. It is "unmanly" to do wicked deeds. While Macbeth is using "man" to mean more generally a "man of honor," he is also creating a dichotomy between himself and his wife, who is not a man in either of the two senses and acts independently of honor and morals.

"I have given suck, and know(60) How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:..."   (Act I - Scene VII)

There has long been speculation about the childless marriage of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. These lines show that Lady Macbeth has had a baby at least once (her phrase "given suck" is a reference to nursing), but whether that child was from a previous marriage or has died is left unknown.

"heat-oppressed brain..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"Tarquin's ravishing strides..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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's..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"fatal..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"Sent forth great largess to your offices..."   (Act II - Scene I)

"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.

"There's husbandry in heaven,(5) Their candles are all out...."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"Torch*..."   (Act II - Scene I)

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.

"No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine,..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"Neptune's ocean..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"surfeited..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"I have drugg'd their possets..."   (Act II - Scene II)

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.

"where our fate, Hid in an auger-hole..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"The great doom's image!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"To countenance this horror!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"Gorgon..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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 and destructive as seeing a Gorgon would be.

"physics..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"The Lord's anointed temple..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Macduff is referring to Duncan's body. Since kings were thought to be divinely appointed, then their bodies would be considered holy and sacred.

"The obscure bird(60) Clamor'd the livelong night..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"limited service..."   (Act II - Scene III)

One edition of Macbeth defines "limited service" as "appointed duty." Macduff is probably 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 lie,..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"Belzebub..."   (Act II - Scene III)

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.

"stirring..."   (Act II - Scene III)

One of the meanings of this word is to move or cause someone or something to move after being still. This would likely evoke a strong reaction in Macbeth because it suggests to him that Duncan might not be dead but could be struggling to rise all covered with blood to call for help and accuse his murderer.

"Colmekill..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

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..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

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.

"Thriftless ambition..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

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.

"Hath trifled former knowings...."   (Act II - Scene IV)

In all of his years, the Old Man has never experienced 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.

"Threescore and ten..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

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.

"the perfect spy..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"And bid my will avouch it..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"I will put that business in your bosoms..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"Shoughs, waterrugs..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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).

"Our innocent self?..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"unlineal..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"genius..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"parricide..."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"Sennet sounded...."   (Act III - Scene I)

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.

"bond..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"chuck..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"copy's..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"poor malice..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"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.

"former tooth...."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"We have scotch'd the snake..."   (Act III - Scene II)

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.

"Now spurs the lated traveller apace To gain the timely inn..."   (Act III - Scene III)

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.

"twenty mortal murders on their crowns..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"our monuments Shall be the maws of kites..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"charnel houses..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"nonpareil..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

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.

"faithful homage, and receive free honors..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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.

"tyrant..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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.

"pious..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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 out of his loyalty to Duncan rather than for any divine reason.

"under his key..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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.

"Northumberland and warlike Siward..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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.

"marry..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

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.

"take a bond of fate..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

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.

"Her nine farrow; grease that's sweaten..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

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 eighth appears, who bears a glass..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

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.

"homely..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

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.

"when we are traitors And do not know ourselves..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

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.

"coz..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

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.

"fee-grief..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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."

"niggard..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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 evil:..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"interdiction..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"graces..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

"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.

"Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will(100) Of your mere own...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"The cistern of my lust..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"yoke..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"A good and virtuous nature may recoil In an imperial charge...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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.

"At one fell swoop?..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

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 are abroad...."   (Act V - Scene I)

"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.

"Arabia..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"taper..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"perturbation..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"into the field..."   (Act V - Scene I)

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.

"LADY MACBETH:..."   (Act V - Scene I)

Lady Macbeth is reliving the details surrounding Duncan's murder. The "spot" refers to Duncan's blood; "hell is murky" may reflect the certainty of her fate for the murder; "soldier, and afeard" reminds us of Lady Macbeth chastising Macbeth when he doubted killing the King. "Fear who knows it" is a reference that they need not be concerned for the consequences of this deed for it cannot be traced to them. The last line regarding "the old man" directly responds to the blood Lady Macbeth saw on Duncan's body when she returned the daggers to his room and spread his blood on his servants' clothes. All of these things prove that they have been eating away at Lady Macbeth's conscience, as she moves closer to losing her mind.

"medicine..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"faith-breach..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"sticking on his hands..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"buckle..."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"Protest their first of manhood...."   (Act V - Scene II)

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.

"This push Will cheer me ever or disseat me now...."   (Act V - Scene III)

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.

"goose look..."   (Act V - Scene III)

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.

"loon..."   (Act V - Scene III)

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.

"epicures..."   (Act V - Scene III)

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.

"lily-liver'd..."   (Act V - Scene III)

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."

"My way of life(25) Is fall'n into the sear..."   (Act V - Scene III)

Here, Macbeth is considering all that he has given up as a man, things that would have been his as he grew older: titles, homage, and close friendships that grow closer with a lifetime of shared experiences. However, his choices have given him a "sear" (withered and dry) life with no opportunities for these other things.

"Industrious soldiership...."   (Act V - Scene IV)

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.

"Let every soldier hew him down a bough..."   (Act V - Scene IV)

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 Birnam would move against Macbeth.

"Cousins..."   (Act V - Scene IV)

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.

"the equivocation of the fiend..."   (Act V - Scene V)

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.

"Out, out, brief candle!..."   (Act V - Scene V)

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.

"have lighted..."   (Act V - Scene V)

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.

"petty..."   (Act V - Scene V)

The adjective "petty" means that something is trivial or unimportant. Macbeth considers the endless march of days to be meaningless, without purpose or direction.

"ague..."   (Act V - Scene V)

"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.

"(20)..."   (Act V - Scene V)

The word "should" can be misleading for many modern readers. Macbeth does not mean that he would have preferred to have his wife die later, that she "ought to" have died hereafter, or that it would have been more convenient if she had died later. He is using the subjunctive mood, which is gradually disappearing from the English language. According to the article in Wikipedia on "Subjunctive":

The subjunctive is a grammatical mood found in many languages. Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, necessity, or action that has not yet occurred; the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language. The subjunctive is an irrealis mood (one that does not refer directly to what is necessarily real) – it is often contrasted with the indicative, which is a realis mood.

A modern American would say:

"She would have died hereafter" or perhaps "She would have died sooner or later."

Macbeth is not showing the slightest concern about his wife. No doubt he once loved her, but it seems as if he has no love for her at all anymore. In fact, he probably hates her because she talked him into killing King Duncan when he really didn't want to do it. If he hadn't listened to her he could now be enjoying a comfortable and honorable old age. He holds her responsible for the mess he is in. Their marriage has evidently fallen apart. The fact that that share the same guilt does not bring them together but drives them apart. Each reminds the other of their shameful deed. Everybody in Macbeth's kingdom hates him. He will probably lose the coming battle with the English army, in which case his own death is inevitable.


"methought..."   (Act V - Scene V)

The messenger is frightened and confused, afraid to tell Macbeth what he saw and still bewildered by the sight of what appeared to be a moving forest. He tells Macbeth, "I look'd toward Birnam, and anon, methought..." The word "methought" indicates that he still doesn't know whether he saw the trees moving or whether he was having an hallucination. Macbeth can't believe it either and immediately calls the Messenger a liar.

"harbingers..."   (Act V - Scene VI)

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...."   (Act V - Scene VI)

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.

"the castle's gently render'd...."   (Act V - Scene VII)

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.

"one of greatest note..."   (Act V - Scene VII)

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.

"kerns..."   (Act V - Scene VII)

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.

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