Act IV - Scene III

[England. Before the King's palace.]

Enter Malcolm and Macduff.

MALCOLM:
Let us seek out some desolate shade and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.
MACDUFF:
Let us rather
Hold fast the mortal sword, and like good men
Bestride our downfall'n birthdom. Each new morn(5)
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland and yell'd out
Like syllable of dolor.
MALCOLM:
What I believe, I'll wail;(10)
What know, believe; and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend, I will.
What you have spoke, it may be so perchance.
This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,
Was once thought honest. You have loved him well;(15)
He hath not touch'd you yet. I am young, but something
You may deserve of him through me, and wisdom
To offer up a weak, poor, innocent lamb
To appease an angry god.
MACDUFF:
I am not treacherous.(20)
MALCOLM:
But Macbeth is.
A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge. But I shall crave your pardon;
That which you are, my thoughts cannot transpose.
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.(25)
Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace,
Yet grace must still look so.
MACDUFF:
I have lost my hopes.
MALCOLM:
Perchance even there where I did find my doubts.
Why in that rawness left you wife and child,(30)
Those precious motives, those strong knots of love,
Without leave-taking? I pray you,
Let not my jealousies be your dishonors,
But mine own safeties. You may be rightly just,
Whatever I shall think.(35)
MACDUFF:
Bleed, bleed, poor country!
Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure,
For goodness dare not check thee. Wear thou thy wrongs;
The title is affeer'd. Fare thee well, lord.
I would not be the villain that thou think'st(40)
For the whole space that's in the tyrant's grasp
And the rich East to boot.
MALCOLM:
Be not offended;
I speak not as in absolute fear of you.
I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;(45)
It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash
Is added to her wounds. I think withal
There would be hands uplifted in my right;
And here from gracious England have I offer
Of goodly thousands. But for all this,(50)
When I shall tread upon the tyrant's head,
Or wear it on my sword, yet my poor country
Shall have more vices than it had before,
More suffer and more sundry ways than ever,
By him that shall succeed.(55)
MACDUFF:
What should he be?
MALCOLM:
It is myself I mean, in whom I know
All the particulars of vice so grafted
That, when they shall be open'd, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state(60)
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms.
MACDUFF:
Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn'd
In evils to top Macbeth.(65)
MALCOLM:
I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name. But there's no bottom, none,
In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters,(70)
Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up
The cistern of my lust, and my desire
All continent impediments would o'erbear
That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth
Than such an one to reign.(75)
MACDUFF:
Boundless intemperance
In nature is a tyranny; it hath been
The untimely emptying of the happy throne,
And fall of many kings. But fear not yet
To take upon you what is yours. You may(80)
Convey your pleasures in a spacious plenty
And yet seem cold, the time you may so hoodwink.
We have willing dames enough; there cannot be
That vulture in you, to devour so many
As will to greatness dedicate themselves,(85)
Finding it so inclined.
MALCOLM:
With this there grows
In my most ill-composed affection such
A stanchless avarice that, were I King,
I should cut off the nobles for their lands,(90)
Desire his jewels and this other's house,
And my more-having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more, that I should forge
Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.(95)
MACDUFF:
This avarice
Sticks deeper, grows with more pernicious root
Than summer-seeming lust, and it hath been
The sword of our slain kings. Yet do not fear;
Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will(100)
Of your mere own. All these are portable,
With other graces weigh'd.
MALCOLM:
But I have none. The king-becoming graces,
As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,(105)
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude,
I have no relish of them, but abound
In the division of each several crime,
Acting it many ways. Nay, had I power, I should
Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,(110)
Uproar the universal peace, confound
All unity on earth.
MACDUFF:
O Scotland, Scotland!
MALCOLM:
If such a one be fit to govern, speak.
I am as I have spoken.(115)
MACDUFF:
Fit to govern?
No, not to live. O nation miserable!
With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd,
When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again,
Since that the truest issue of thy throne(120)
By his own interdiction stands accursed,
And does blaspheme his breed? Thy royal father
Was a most sainted king: the queen that bore thee,
Oftener upon her knees than on her feet,
Died every day she lived. Fare thee well!(125)
These evils thou repeat'st upon thyself
Have banish'd me from Scotland. O my breast,
Thy hope ends here!
MALCOLM:
Macduff, this noble passion,
Child of integrity, hath from my soul(130)
Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts
To thy good truth and honor. Devilish Macbeth
By many of these trains hath sought to win me
Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me
From over-credulous haste. But God above(135)
Deal between thee and me! For even now
I put myself to thy direction and
Unspeak mine own detraction; here abjure
The taints and blames I laid upon myself,
For strangers to my nature. I am yet(140)
Unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
At no time broke my faith, would not betray
The devil to his fellow, and delight
No less in truth than life. My first false speaking(145)
Was this upon myself. What I am truly,
Is thine and my poor country's to command:
Whither indeed, before thy here-approach,
Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men,
Already at a point, was setting forth.(150)
Now we'll together, and the chance of goodness
Be like our warranted quarrel! Why are you silent?
MACDUFF:
Such welcome and unwelcome things at once
’Tis hard to reconcile.

Enter a Doctor.

MALCOLM:
Well, more anon. Comes the King forth, I pray you?(155)
DOCTOR:
Ay, sir, there are a crew of wretched souls
That stay his cure. Their malady convinces
The great assay of art, but at his touch,
Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand,
They presently amend.(160)
MALCOLM:
I thank you, Doctor.

Exit.

MACDUFF:
What's the disease he means?
MALCOLM:
’Tis call'd the evil:
A most miraculous work in this good King,
Which often, since my here-remain in England,(165)
I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,
Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people,
All swol'n and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery, he cures,
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,(170)
Put on with holy prayers: and ’tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne(175)
That speak him full of grace.

Enter Ross.

MACDUFF:
See, who comes here?
MALCOLM:
My countryman: but yet I know him not.
MACDUFF:
My ever gentle cousin, welcome hither.
MALCOLM:
I know him now. Good God, betimes remove(180)
The means that makes us strangers!
ROSS:
Sir, amen.
MACDUFF:
Stands Scotland where it did?
ROSS:
Alas, poor country,
Almost afraid to know itself! It cannot(185)
Be call'd our mother, but our grave. Where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air,
Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy. The dead man's knell(190)
Is there scarce ask'd for who, and good men's lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or ere they sicken.
MACDUFF:
O, relation
Too nice, and yet too true!(195)
MALCOLM:
What's the newest grief?
ROSS:
That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker;
Each minute teems a new one.
MACDUFF:
How does my wife?
ROSS:
Why, well.(200)
MACDUFF:
And all my children?
ROSS:
Well too.
MACDUFF:
The tyrant has not batter'd at their peace?
ROSS:
No; they were well at peace when I did leave ’em.
MACDUFF:
Be not a niggard of your speech. How goes't?(205)
ROSS:
When I came hither to transport the tidings,
Which I have heavily borne, there ran a rumor
Of many worthy fellows that were out,
Which was to my belief witness'd the rather,
For that I saw the tyrant's power a-foot:(210)
Now is the time of help; your eye in Scotland
Would create soldiers, make our women fight,
To doff their dire distresses.
MALCOLM:
Be't their comfort
We are coming thither. Gracious England hath(215)
Lent us good Siward and ten thousand men;
An older and a better soldier none
That Christendom gives out.
ROSS:
Would I could answer
This comfort with the like! But I have words(220)
That would be howl'd out in the desert air,
Where hearing should not latch them.
MACDUFF:
What concern they?
The general cause? Or is it a fee-grief
Due to some single breast?(225)
ROSS:
No mind that's honest
But in it shares some woe, though the main part
Pertains to you alone.
MACDUFF:
If it be mine,
Keep it not from me, quickly let me have it.(230)
ROSS:
Let not your ears despise my tongue for ever,
Which shall possess them with the heaviest sound
That ever yet they heard.
MACDUFF:
Humh! I guess at it.
ROSS:
Your castle is surprised; your wife and babes(235)
Savagely slaughter'd. To relate the manner
Were, on the quarry of these murder'd deer,
To add the death of you.
MALCOLM:
Merciful heaven!
What, man! Ne'er pull your hat upon your brows;(240)
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er fraught heart, and bids it break.
MACDUFF:
My children too?
ROSS:
Wife, children, servants, all
That could be found.(245)
MACDUFF:
And I must be from thence!
My wife kill'd too?
ROSS:
I have said.
MALCOLM:
Be comforted.
Let's make us medicines of our great revenge,(250)
To cure this deadly grief.
MACDUFF:
He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?(255)
MALCOLM:
Dispute it like a man.
MACDUFF:
I shall do so;
But I must also feel it as a man.
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on,(260)
And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,
They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am,
Not for their own demerits, but for mine,
Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now!
MALCOLM:
Be this the whetstone of your sword. Let grief(265)
Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it.
MACDUFF:
O, I could play the woman with mine eyes,
And braggart with my tongue! But, gentle heavens,
Cut short all intermission; front to front
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;(270)
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too!
MALCOLM:
This tune goes manly.
Come, go we to the King; our power is ready;
Our lack is nothing but our leave. Macbeth(275)
Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above
Put on their instruments. Receive what cheer you may;
The night is long that never finds the day.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. 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."

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Notice here that Ross is reluctant to tell Macduff the news of his wife and delays giving him a truthful answer by providing an evasive one. While it is likely difficult for Ross to tell Macduff this news, it is also likely that he wants to know whether or not Malcolm and Macduff will invade Scotland before he tells Macduff.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In lamenting the current state of Scotland, Ross states that the terrible sorrow and violence are no more important than "modern ecstasy," or a typical fit of madness. While this might seem strange, at the time madness or mental issues were not regarded with much sincerity and even laughed at.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Malcolm's ability to recognize this man as a fellow Scotchmen but not know his identity is based on the style of dress, or clothes, that the man is wearing--likely a kilt with a tartan pattern.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Macduff was glad to hear that Malcolm actually disavowed any of the crimes he had charged himself with. However, he is not pleased with learning how suspicious the prince was and the motivations for this behavior. Recall that Macduff is a stalwart, loyal soldier and that such tricks are not natural to him, making the brave, honest warrior quite puzzled.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. At this point, Malcolm confesses he has lied to Macduff about his vices. Malcolm was testing Macduff's loyalty to see how he would react to such information. If Macduff were fine with Malcolm becoming king even though he was as bad (or worse) for Scotland than Macbeth, Malcolm would know that Macduff did not truly love Scotland. Since Macduff cried out about the loss of his country and how he would leave forever, he passed Malcolm's loyalty test.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Macduff's silence shows how baffled he is by the sudden change in the prince. It's possible that Shakespeare wanted the audience to think that Macduff would have reacted poorly to Malcolm's testing and abandoned him because of this; however, Ross's arrival ensures that Macduff stays regardless of any other possible action.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Even though Macbeth has the title of "King," Macduff calls him an "untitled tyrant" to reaffirm the notion that Macbeth is not a legitimate successor to Duncan's throne and is therefore not a true king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. "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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Despite the depravity that Malcolm claims to have, Macduff continues to try and persuade him that the throne rightfully belongs to Malcolm and that the country is better off with him on the throne instead of Macbeth. Notice how Shakespeare maintains conflict throughout this scene to keep the dialogue engaging: first, Malcolm questioned Macduff's loyalty, and now Macduff encourages Malcolm to take what is rightfully his.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Notice how Macduff and Malcolm both refer to Macbeth as black, evil, and a devil. Shakespeare likely used these particular words for the express purpose of giving the rebellion against Macbeth a moral and religious component. Macbeth is not just a bad king; he is an agent of the devil. This means that Malcolm and Macduff have God and righteousness on their side.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Malcolm starts to tell Macduff all the reasons why he is unfit to be king. His motivations for doing this are shortly revealed, but in this instance he states that his vices will be worse than Macbeth's when revealed. The connection with "open'd" as revealed is compounded with the idea that the "grafted" vices will one day grow into very real problems.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. In a blunt and honest retort to Malcolm's suspicions, Macduff proclaims his loyalty to Malcolm and how he would never be a traitor even if all of Macbeth's lands and the riches of the "East" were offered to him. This statement fully characterizes Macduff as the stalwart and loyal soldier.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Malcolm does not wish to dishonor or offend Macduff; rather, he states that he is only being suspicious as a way of protecting himself. Notice how Malcolm soon reveals his insecurities about confronting Macbeth and how Macduff will bolster his courage.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. Malcolm brings up a valid reason for not immediately trusting Macduff: He had difficulty believing that Macduff would leave his family defenseless if he really intended to join Malcolm and fight Macbeth. Again the audience experiences the dramatic irony of this situation, because Macduff has yet to learn that his brash decision to leave without taking care of his family has cost him their lives.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. Macduff had hoped to be perceived as an ally against Macbeth and received in a more welcoming fashion. This line illustrates how deeply hurt he is by Malcolm's suspicions, and he soon speaks out in a frank and candid way to assure Malcolm of his good intentions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. Notice the dramatic irony in this line. While the audience knows what has already happened, neither Malcolm nor Macduff yet know that Macbeth has already had Macduff's family and household killed.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  25. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  26. Notice how Malcolm behaves around Macduff at the start of this scene. Since he is suspicious that Macduff has been sent by Macbeth with ulterior motives, Malcolm pretends to be weak and not want to try and reclaim Scotland from Macbeth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  27. This is a natural thought when something tragic happens to a loved one, especially to a child. Why would heaven, or God, allow such a thing to happen? The child could not have been punished for any sin because he or she was too young and innocent. Macduff concludes that his family must have been punished for his own sins and that their punishment was his own punishment.

    — William Delaney
  28. Macduff is being careful to isolate himself from accusations of self-interest. It is clear that he wants to take the throne, but he wants to be very clear to distinguish his reasons from Macbeth's.

    — Jamie Wheeler