Act II - Scene IV

[Outside Macbeth's castle.]

Enter Ross, with an Old Man.

OLD MAN:
Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange, but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.
ROSS:
Ah, good father,(5)
Thou seest the heavens, as troubled with man's act,
Threaten his bloody stage. By the clock ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.
Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,
That darkness does the face of earth entomb,(10)
When living light should kiss it?
OLD MAN:
’Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last
A falcon towering in her pride of place
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.(15)
ROSS:
And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and
certain—
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ’gainst obedience, as they would make(20)
War with mankind.
OLD MAN:
’Tis said they eat each other.
ROSS:
They did so, to the amazement of mine eyes
That look'd upon't.

Enter Macduff.

Here comes the good Macduff.(25)
How goes the world, sir, now?
MACDUFF:
Why, see you not?
ROSS:
Is't known who did this more than bloody deed?
MACDUFF:
Those that Macbeth hath slain.
ROSS:
Alas, the day!(30)
What good could they pretend?
MACDUFF:
They were suborn'd:
Malcolm and Donalbain, the King's two sons,
Are stol'n away and fled, which puts upon them
Suspicion of the deed.(35)
ROSS:
’Gainst nature still!
Thriftless ambition, that wilt ravin up
Thine own life's means! Then ’tis most like
The sovereignty will fall upon Macbeth.
MACDUFF:
He is already named, and gone to Scone(40)
To be invested.
ROSS:
Where is Duncan's body?
MACDUFF:
Carried to Colmekill,
The sacred storehouse of his predecessors
And guardian of their bones.(45)
ROSS:
Will you to Scone?
MACDUFF:
No, cousin, I'll to Fife.
ROSS:
Well, I will thither.
MACDUFF:
Well, may you see things well done there, Adieu,
Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!(50)
ROSS:
Farewell, father.
OLD MAN:
God's benison go with you and with those
That would make good of bad and friends of foes!

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Macduff's quick and impolite reply to Ross likely reveals how dissatisfied Macduff is with what has been done and decided since Duncan's murder. Note how Macduff continues to speak through the rest of the scene and how his answers and choices reveal his attitude towards Macbeth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Shakespeare uses these signs and warnings to foreshadow that more unpleasantness will happen. The eclipse and the story of the owl and falcon to show how nature has become unbalanced as a result of Duncan's murder.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor