Act II - Scene III

[The same.]

Enter a Porter. Knocking within.

PORTER:
Here's a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of
hell-gate, he should have old turning the key. Knock
Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who's there, i’ the name of
Belzebub? Here's a farmer that hanged himself on th’
expectation of plenty. Come in time! Have napkins(5)
enow about you; here you'll sweat for't. Knock
Knock, knock! Who's there, in th’ other devil's name?
Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the
scales against either scale, who committed treason enough
for God's sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O,(10)
come in, equivocator. Knock
Knock, knock, knock! Who's there? Faith, here's an
English tailor come hither, for stealing out of a French
hose. Come in, tailor; here you may roast your goose. Knock
Knock, knock! Never at quiet! What are you? But this(15)
place is too cold for hell. I'll devil-porter it no further. I
had thought to have let in some of all professions, that go
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. Knock
Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.

[Opens the gate.]

Enter Macduff and Lennox.

MACDUFF:
Was it so late, friend, ere you went to bed,(20)
That you do lie so late?
PORTER:
Faith, sir, we were carousing till the second cock:
and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.
MACDUFF:
What three things does drink especially provoke?
PORTER:
Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine.(25)
Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes: it provokes the
desire, but it takes away the performance. Therefore much
drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it
makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on and it takes
him off; it persuades him and disheartens him; makes him(30)
stand to and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in
a sleep, and giving him the lie, leaves him.
MACDUFF:
I believe drink gave thee the lie last night.
PORTER:
That it did, sir, i’ the very throat on me: but I
requited him for his lie, and, I think, being too strong for(35)
him, though he took up my legs sometime, yet I made a
shift to cast him.

Enter Macbeth.

MACDUFF:
Is thy master stirring?
Our knocking has awaked him; here he comes.
LENNOX:
Good morrow, noble sir.(40)
MACBETH:
Good morrow, both.
MACDUFF:
Is the King stirring, worthy Thane?
MACBETH:
Not yet.
MACDUFF:
He did command me to call timely on him;
I have almost slipp'd the hour.(45)
MACBETH:
I'll bring you to him.
MACDUFF:
I know this is a joyful trouble to you;
But yet ’tis one.
MACBETH:
The labor we delight in physics pain.
This is the door.(50)
MACDUFF:
I'll make so bold to call,
For ’tis my limited service.

Exit, Macduff.

LENNOX:
Goes the King hence today?
MACBETH:
He does: he did appoint so.
LENNOX:
The night has been unruly. Where we lay,(55)
Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird(60)
Clamor'd the livelong night. Some say the earth
Was feverous and did shake.
MACBETH:
’Twas a rough night.
LENNOX:
My young remembrance cannot parallel
A fellow to it.(65)

[Re]-enter Macduff.

MACDUFF:
O horror, horror, horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee.
MACBETH:
What's the matter?
LENNOX:
What's the matter?
MACDUFF:
Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.(70)
Most sacrilegious Murder hath broke ope
The Lord's anointed temple and stole thence
The life o’ the building.
MACBETH:
What is't you say? the life?
LENNOX:
Mean you his Majesty?(75)
MACDUFF:
Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon. Do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves. (Awake, awake!)

Exeunt Macbeth and Lennox.

Ring the alarum bell. Murder and treason!
Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm, awake!(80)
Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit,
And look on death itself! Up, up, and see
The great doom's image! Malcolm! Banquo!
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell. Bell rings.(85)

Enter Lady [Macbeth.]

LADY MACBETH:
What's the business,
That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley
The sleepers of the house? Speak, speak!
MACDUFF:
O gentle lady,
’Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition in a woman's ear(90)
Would murder as it fell.

Enter Banquo.

O Banquo, Banquo!
Our royal master's murdered.
LADY MACBETH:
Woe, alas!
What, in our house?(95)
BANQUO:
Too cruel any where.
Dear Duff, I prithee, contradict thyself,
And say it is not so.

[Re]-enter Macbeth, Lennox, Ross.

MACBETH:
Had I but died an hour before this chance,
I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant(100)
There's nothing serious in mortality:
All is but toys; renown and grace is dead;
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees
Is left this vault to brag of.

Enter Malcolm and Donalbain.

DONALBAIN:
What is amiss?(105)
MACBETH:
You are, and do not know't:
The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood
Is stopp'd; the very source of it is stopp'd.
MACDUFF:
Your royal father's murdered.
MALCOLM:
O, by whom?(110)
LENNOX:
Those of his chamber, as it seem'd, had done't:
Their hands and faces were all badged with blood;
So were their daggers, which unwiped we found
Upon their pillows:
They stared, and were distracted; no man's life(115)
Was to be trusted with them.
MACBETH:
O, yet I do repent me of my fury,
That I did kill them.
MACDUFF:
Wherefore did you so?
MACBETH:
Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,(120)
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man:
The expedition of my violent love
Outrun the pauser reason. Here lay Duncan,
His silver skin laced with his golden blood,
And his gash'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature(125)
For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murderers,
Steep'd in the colors of their trade, their daggers
Unmannerly breech'd with gore. Who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make's love known?(130)
LADY MACBETH:
Help me hence, ho!
MACDUFF:
Look to the lady.
MALCOLM:
[Aside to Donalbain.] Why do we hold our
tongues,
That most may claim this argument for ours?(135)
DONALBAIN:
[Aside to Malcolm.] What should be spoken here,
where our fate,
Hid in an auger-hole, may rush and seize us?
Let's away;
Our tears are not yet brew'd.(140)
MALCOLM:
[Aside to Donalbain.] Nor our strong sorrow
Upon the foot of motion.
BANQUO:
Look to the lady:
And when we have our naked frailties hid,
That suffer in exposure, let us meet(145)
And question this most bloody piece of work
To know it further. Fears and scruples shake us:
In the great hand of God I stand, and thence
Against the undivulged pretence I fight
Of treasonous malice.(150)
MACDUFF:
And so do I.
ALL:
So all.
MACBETH:
Let's briefly put on manly readiness
And meet i’ the hall together.
ALL:
Well contented.(155)

Exeunt [all but Malcolm and Donalbain].

MALCOLM:
What will you do? Let's not consort with them:
To show an unfelt sorrow is an office
Which the false man does easy. I'll to England.
DONALBAIN:
To Ireland, I; our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer. Where we are(160)
There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood,
The nearer bloody.
MALCOLM:
This murderous shaft that's shot
Hath not yet lighted, and our safest way
Is to avoid the aim. Therefore to horse;(165)
And let us not be dainty of leave-taking,
But shift away. There's warrant in that theft
Which steals itself when there's no mercy left.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Knocking is a motif throughout Macbeth. After Macbeth and his wife complete their hideous murder, they hear a knock within that causes them to immediately fear and begins their slow descent into guilty madness. The Porter imagines Hell's Gate and unwittingly invokes two symbols. First, Macbeth's castle begins to resemble hell as he has committed a hideous crime. Second, the Porter reminds the audience that bad deeds, such as murder and suicide, are met with punishment in hell. This foreshadows not only Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's coming end, but the promise of punishment in the afterlife for their ambition. It is unclear whether or not this line was the basis for the modern Knock, Knock joke.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Donalbain recalls how his father was welcomed into the castle with false smiles and reaffirms his suspicion of Macbeth as the culprit by saying that the closer someone is to you in a blood relationship, the more likely he or she is to kill you. Since Macbeth is the nearest relative of the two princes, Donalbain considers him their greatest threat.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Malcolm agrees with his brother and says that their sorrow can wait until they have fled somewhere safe. Their lack of tears or strong emotions show how fear has a stronger hold over them instead of grief and help to create a sense of fearful urgency on the stage surrounding the two princes.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Lady Macbeth's fainting spell in this moment signifies one of two possible interpretations: First, her husband's description of the murdered king possibly makes her recall the image of the dead man so vividly that she faints, revealing herself to be physically weaker than others. Second, Lady Macbeth may be pretending to faint in order to draw attention from her husband, who is running the risk of talking too much and arousing suspicion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. In other words, the reason that tells us to wait for a moment and not act too hastily. Macbeth says his love for Duncan was so strong that he killed the grooms in a moment of passion. Consider how this explanation of why he killed the grooms compares to Macduff's nonviolent reaction to seeing Duncan's body.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Compare this short speech with Macbeth's earlier one in lines 99-104. Whereas earlier he appeared genuine, here the word choice and poor imagery help to illustrate Macbeth's hypocrisy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. While readers know that Macbeth killed the grooms to cover his own tracks, note how Macduff assumes an oppositional attitude with this question. This challenge demonstrates how Macduff might be considering the possibility that Macbeth is guilty of the crime.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Macbeth's beautiful speech shouldn't be regarded as hypocrisy or as a lie. Recall how he did express his remorse after killing Duncan, and in this moment he takes an opportunity to vocalize his feelings, knowing that his full meaning will not be understood by those around him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Macduff momentarily restrains himself from sharing the news with Lady Macbeth because he considers the news so horrible that it would kill her. However, this moment of consideration for his hostess is quickly abandoned with the arrival of Banquo, to whom Macduff quickly tells the news.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Notice how awkward and stilted Macbeth's questions are. This is not only further evidence of how unprepared Macbeth was to be in this situation, but it is also evidence that Macduff will recall later.

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

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Even though they're talking about the weather, Macbeth's statement here is a perfect example of understatement. For him, the weather is of little concern considering the kind of "rough night" Macbeth has just had.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. Notice how short Macbeth's replies are to Macduff's questions. Considering his lack of sleep and the guilt weighing on his conscious, this manner of speaking comes across as a little too brief and inappropriate for speaking with a fellow Thane. Macduff will remember this behavior later in the play.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. In a scene meant for comic relief, the Porter tells Macduff how too much alcohol has deceptive effects on people. Following this line, he uses contrasting expressions to make a joke to the audience about how drink can make a man sexually aroused but leave him unable to physically perform.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. Macduff is the Thane of Fife, a nobleman of Scotland. Interestingly, his knocking at Macbeth's gate indicates that he was spending the night camped outside the castle walls. This implies that Duncan was traveling with a much larger contingent of troops and nobleman.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. Presumably, the Porter has made his way to the gate and decided to stop playing his game of imagining himself as a porter of the gate to hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. Continuing with his hell-gate fantasy, the Porter imagines the next person he would encounter. In this case, Shakespeare alludes to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in English history, when conspirators sought to overthrow the British monarchy. The “equivocator” likely alludes to a Jesuit priest named Father Henry Garnet, known as the great "equivocator" because of his ability to use unclear language to deceive others. He was eventually hanged for his role in the event.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  28. The Porter, likely still drunk, is imagining what being the gatekeeper of hell would be like and who he would meet. He imagines encountering a farmer who stockpiled his crops to sell at inflated rates during the next famine and then hanged himself when the famine never came. This imaginary farmer represents the sins of greed and suicide, which the Porter thinks would make him a perfect candidate to meet in hell.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  29. As Macbeth and his wife leave the courtyard, the scene doesn't change. The porter, slowly wakened by the knocking from his drunken sleep, makes his way to the door. His speech helps move the time along as Macbeth cleans his hands and tries to pretend that he was asleep while Duncan was murdered.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  30. Lennox is only present to give Macbeth someone to talk to while he is standing outside Duncan's chamber waiting for Macduff's outcry when he discovers the king's murdered body. Macbeth's tension while he waits would not come across effectively if he were all alone. With Lennox present, Macbeth can speak short lines which betray his guilt and fear much better than is he were just standing there alone. There must seem to be a long passage of time before Macduff's expected outburst is heard. The audience knows it is coming and shares Macbeth's horrified anticipation. Lennox is a young man. His youth and innocence are intended to contrast with Macbeth's guilt. Macbeth is strangely silent because he can't think of anything to say. Lennox does what people generally do to make conversation: he talks about the weather. 

     

    — William Delaney
  31. The fact that Macduff had to sleep outside Macbeth's castle suggests that most of the soldiers must have been encamped outside as well. That would mean that Duncan had no armed men to protect him and that he had been at Macbeth's mercy throughout that fateful night. 

    — William Delaney
  32. 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.

    — William Delaney
  33. It has been suggested that this exchange between Macduff and the Porter was inserted for comic relief.

    — William Delaney
  34. These words prove that most of the characters were dressed in their nightgowns with only Macduff and Lennox fully dressed. The other nobles have rushed to the courtyard at the sound of the alarm bell. Banquo tells them to dress properly and then attend to the matter at hand.

    — William Delaney
  35. This is certainly an understatement. The weather outside the castle was rough, but what was going on inside the castle was a whole lot rougher.

    — William Delaney
  36. Lennox, a young man, is stuck with the grim and unresponsive Macbeth while Macduff goes inside the King's chamber. Like most of us when we have to try to make conversation, Lennox talks about the weather for the entire eight lines. Macbeth can only respond, "'Twas a rough night." Shakespeare makes Lennox an ingenuous, inexperienced young man to serve as contrast to the guilt-ridden, world-weary, aging Macbeth. 

    — William Delaney
  37. Macduff thinks Macbeth is being cold and angry because he woke him up with his knocking. This line about "a joyful trouble to you" is dripping with sarcasm. Macduff is also daring Macbeth to complain about having to open his gate for a man on the King's business. However, his sarcasm is wasted on Macbeth because the man is almost in a trance, consumed with mixed emotions.

    — William Delaney
  38. Although the stage directions do not say so, the knocking must be growing louder and more prolonged. We do not know who is knocking as yet, but the knocker must be growing more and more furious and insistent. Macbeth cannot continue to pretend to be asleep with all that racket. 

    — William Delaney
  39. Macduff is a proud man. He is in an extremely bad mood. He is cold and wet and hasn't slept all night. He doesn't like to apologize for his knocking, since he is on the king's business and there should have been some sober person to open the gate a long time ago. But he does offer a veiled apology here. He is saying, in effect, "I'm sorry to wake you up. I'm tired too." But Macbeth is preoccupied with his own guilt and dread and doesn't even hear what Macduff is saying. Instead of making a courteous reply, Macbeth simply says, "I'll bring you to him." Macbeth is not a real villain and does not know how to act in this situation. Macduff will surely remember Macbeth's strange behavior later on.

    — William Delaney
  40. Macbeth is frozen with guilt, dread, and remorse. He hasn't slept all night and may never sleep again. His curt replies anger Macduff and will later make him suspicious when he reflects on Macbeth's strange behavior. Macduff thinks Macbeth is angry because of being awakened by his loud and persistent knocking.

    — William Delaney
  41. Macbeth and his wife had planned to be pretending to be asleep when Duncan's body would be discovered in the morning. But Shakespeare wanted Macbeth to be present at that terrible scene. He also wanted Macduff to be the discoverer because he had to introduce him to the audience and had to show Macbeth and Macduff, protagonist and antagonist, together at least one time before their death duel in the last act. The prolonged knocking at the gate forces Macbeth to come down in his nightshirt to see why no one is responding. He arrives just as the Porter is opening the gate and explaining to Macduff that servants and guards were all dead drunk. Macbeth would probably be in his nightgown, both because he had little time to get dressed and also because he would at least try to give the impression that had been asleep in bed. Macduff naturally assumes his knocking has wakened Macbeth because it is three o'clock in the morning and Macbeth is wearing a nightgown. 

    — William Delaney
  42. In a scene of comic relief, the Porter hears knocking at the gate and imagines that he is the porter at the gates to Hell. Comic relief allows the release of emotional tensions due to serious or tragic elements in a drama. The Porter's drunken state and conversation about impotency add to the humorous nature of this scene. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  43. Macduff is stating that the sight of Duncan's murdered body will force those who look upon it to wish they had not seen it. The sight of Duncan's body will hold the men fast (stuck) as if they were turned to stone (analogy to mythology and Medusa). 

    — Lorna Stowers
  44. This is a reference to the fact that nature is "unhappy" with the death of Duncan, because his death is unnatural, and this description personifies nature to show that it is at unrest. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  45. MacDuff has been standing out in the cold, rain and wind pounding at the gate. His first words to the Porter are surprisingly mild considering how angry and frustrated he must be. No doubt he does not want to frighten the fellow because he wants to get some information out of him. MacDuff has understandably become very suspicious about what is taking so long to open the gate.

    — William Delaney