Act III - Scene II

[The palace.]

Enter Macbeth's Lady, and a Servant.

LADY MACBETH:
Is Banquo gone from court?
SERVANT:
Ay, madam, but returns again tonight.
LADY MACBETH:
Say to the King I would attend his leisure
For a few words.
SERVANT:
Madam, I will.(5)

[Exit]

LADY MACBETH:
Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
’Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.

Enter Macbeth.

How now, my lord! Why do you keep alone,(10)
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What's done is done.
MACBETH:
We have scotch'd the snake, not kill'd it.(15)
She'll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice
Remains in danger of her former tooth.
But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams(20)
That shake us nightly. Better be with the dead,
Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace,
Than on the torture of the mind to lie
In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well;(25)
Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing,
Can touch him further.
LADY MACBETH:
Come on,
Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;(30)
Be bright and jovial among your guests tonight.
MACBETH:
So shall I, love, and so, I pray, be you:
Let your remembrance apply to Banquo;
Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue:
Unsafe the while, that we(35)
Must lave our honors in these flattering streams,
And make our faces vizards to our hearts,
Disguising what they are.
LADY MACBETH:
You must leave this.
MACBETH:
O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!(40)
Thou know'st that Banquo and his Fleance lives.
LADY MACBETH:
But in them nature's copy's not eterne.
MACBETH:
There's comfort yet; they are assailable.
Then be thou jocund. Ere the bat hath flown
His cloister'd flight; ere to black Hecate's summons(45)
The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums
Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done
A deed of dreadful note.
LADY MACBETH:
What's to be done?
MACBETH:
Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,(50)
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day,
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale! Light thickens, and the crow(55)
Makes wing to the rooky wood:
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvell'st at my words, but hold thee still:
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.(60)
So, prithee, go with me.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Lady Macbeth uses this speech to calm Macbeth's guilty conscious. However, her flippant response to Macbeth's worries, essentially there's no changing what has happened so forget about it, comes back to haunt her when she begins to feel pangs of guilt. Her "what's done is done" later transforms into "what's done cannot be undone," as Lady Macbeth becomes overrun with guilt.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. That is, dangerous and threatening thoughts plague Macbeth's mind and the fact that Banquo and Fleance live is a constant reminder of the witches' prophesy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The reasons for why Macbeth tells his wife to heavily praise and favor Banquo are unclear. He has not told her about his plans to have Banquo murdered, so these words are possibly designed to deceive her. Another reason, although less likely, is that he knows there is a chance the plot would fail, and he wants her to act naturally.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Despite her own worries, Lady Macbeth rallies to support her husband. She addresses him in tender tones to try and ease his mind. While he initially responds well to this, he resumes brooding shortly after.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. In a way very characteristic of his style, Shakespeare plays on the word "peace" by putting two instances close together with multiple meanings. The first instance refers to the satisfaction of Macbeth's desire for power that he had hoped to gain by killing Duncan; and the latter instance refers to the peace of death.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Recall how on the night he murdered Duncan, Macbeth claimed to hear a voice proclaiming that he would sleep no more. It appears as if he is realizing the prophetic meaning or that imaginary voice, as his worries prevent him from sleeping.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Notice how these lines parallel Lady Macbeth's earlier in the scene. It is clear that the both of them constantly worry about their security and almost envy the peace of the dead. Nowhere else does Macbeth give us a clearer vision of his own "restless ecstasy," by which he means "madness," than here where he envies the peaceful sleep of Duncan.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. "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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. This line represents a common belief at the time that snakes, even those that were severely harmed, could eventually recover from the injuries and the wounds would close. Macbeth is saying that their "snake" will return to full strength unless it is fully destroyed.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. In the second rhyming couplet of these four lines, Lady Macbeth continues to express her discontent with their situation. She states that sharing the same fate as those they have destroyed (killed) would be better than endlessly worrying about their future and never being truly happy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. This scene gives us an important look at Lady Macbeth. She reveals herself as less confident when not around her husband, wondering why she is not content even though they have achieved their goal. They have invested everything to get the throne, but it has no meaning unless they are happy and satisfied.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. This line indicates that Lady Macbeth has no knowledge of Macbeth's plans to have the murderers kill Banquo. She likely believed that he dismissed the court in order to have time alone to think about the murder of Duncan. She shortly chastises him for doing so, saying that nothing can be changed about it, so it is not worth thinking about. ("What's done is done.")

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Notice how Banquo is on Lady Macbeth's mind. Since she knows his part of the witches' prophesy, it's possible that she also fears for the security of Macbeth's throne and is thinking of ways to prevent the prophesy from coming true.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. What Macbeth says seems paradoxical: life itself is a sickness from which we recover by dying, after which we will sleep comfortably. Note the alliteration of "F" sounds in "after," "life's," "fitful," and "fever," intended to emphasize the stress, anxiety, and wasted effort, i.e., the fitfulness and feverishness, involved in living. There are actually six "F" sounds in "after life's fitful fever," because the "V" in "fever" will sound like an "F."

    — William Delaney