Act I - Scene V

Inverness. Macbeth's castle.

Enter Macbeth's wife alone, with a letter.

LADY MACBETH:
“They met me in the day of success, and I have
learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them
than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire to question
them further, they made themselves air, into which
they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in the wonder of it, came(5)
missives from the King, who all-hailed me ‘Thane of
Cawdor’; by which title, before, these weird sisters saluted
me, and referred me to the coming on of time with ‘Hail,
King that shalt be!’ This have I thought good to deliver thee,
my dearest partner of greatness, that thou mightst not lose(10)
the dues of rejoicing, by being ignorant of what greatness is
promised thee. Lay it to thy heart, and farewell.”
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness(15)
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it. What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou'ldst have, great Glamis,
That which cries, “Thus thou must do, if thou have it;(20)
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone.” Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear,
And chastise with the valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,(25)
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown'd withal.

Enter a Messenger.

What news do you have?
What is your tidings?
MESSENGER:
The King comes here tonight.
LADY MACBETH:
Thou'rt mad to say it!
Is not thy master with him? who, were't so,(30)
Would have inform'd for preparation.
MESSENGER:
So please you, it is true: our Thane is coming.
One of my fellows had the speed of him,
Who, almost dead for breath, had scarcely more(35)
Than would make up his message.
LADY MACBETH:
Give him tending;
He brings great news.

Exit Messenger.

The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan(40)
Under my battlements. 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,(45)
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances(50)
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry, “Hold, hold!”(55)

Enter Macbeth.

Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!
Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant.(60)
MACBETH:
My dearest love,
Duncan comes here tonight.
LADY MACBETH:
And when goes hence?
MACBETH:
Tomorrow, as he purposes.
LADY MACBETH:
O, never(65)
Shall sun that morrow see!
Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower,(70)
But be the serpent under't. He that's coming
Must be provided for; and you shall put
This night's great business into my dispatch,
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.(75)
MACBETH:
We will speak further.
LADY MACBETH:
Only look up clear;
To alter favor ever is to fear:
Leave all the rest to me.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Lady Macbeth worries that her husband's face will reveal their murderous intentions. She tells her husband that if they are to carry out their plan, Macbeth must act appropriately in order to deceive the king by showing himself as a gracious and welcoming host.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. This dialogue contains a lot of subtext. Shakespeare wanted the audience to understand that time was of the essence for Macbeth and his wife to carry out their plan. Macbeth’s statement implies that Duncan will be at their mercy that evening, and his wife’s question really asks whether they have enough time for their plan. They both understand that if they are going to murder Duncan, it will have to be done that night.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Ravens are typically symbols of death or bad omens, creating an ominous atmosphere in a story. Lady Macbeth suggests that the raven's voice is harsh or rough from croaking over the dead bodies on the battlefields, and that it will have reason to croak again at Macbeth's castle with Duncan's fatal arrival.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Lady Macbeth already knows that Duncan is coming to her castle but not how long he intends to stay. Shakespeare wanted the audience to understand that time was of the essence. If Duncan is going to be murdered, it will have to be done that night. That is the reason for this exchange. There is a lot going on between husband and wife in these three lines of dialogue. They understand each other very well and don't have to spell out everything they are thinking.

    — William Delaney
  10. Lady Macbeth questions the truth of this message, believing that Macbeth would have sent her a warning that King Duncan was coming so that she could prepare the castle to accommodate the king and a number of other guests.

    — William Delaney
  11. In addition to being a striking figure of speech and an insight into a wicked human character, these words are unusual in being a mixture of a simile and a metaphor. This is the sort of thing in Shakespeare that, to use Milton's words, can fill us with wonder and astonishment. Here Lady Macbeth is telling her husband to be a real serpent under an imaginary flower! As usual, Shakespeare is using the most commonplace images, in this case a flower and a snake.

    — William Delaney
  12. 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. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. 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.

    — Jill O'Brien
  14. Lady Macbeth, the strong-willed, persuasive, and charming wife of Macbeth. Some critics have argued that the character of Lady Macbeth is constructed around patriarchal fears of women who refuse to be ruled by men. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  15. Lady Macbeth wishes, figuratively, to be made into a man. Men were the ones powerful and cruel enough to murder. Women, on the other hand, were known to be nurturing and loving. Lady Macbeth believes that her husband lacks the ambitious nature to kill Duncan to get the throne, and she would rather do it herself.

    — Lorna Stowers
  16. Lady Macbeth openly states her belief that Macbeth is far too weak and/or kind to do what must be done to take the throne. She is suggesting that Macbeth's nature doe not permit him to do wrong. The reference to milk symbolizes her reference to Macbeth as being infantile (and not a man, something she challenges him with numerous times). 

    — Lorna Stowers