William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Cast; Act 1, Scenes 1-2


Duncan, King of Scotland

Malcolm, Donalbain, his sons

Macbeth, Banquo, generals of the King’s army

Macduff, Lennox, Ross, Menteth, Angus, Cathness, noblemen of Scotland

Fleance, son to Banquo

Siward, Earl of Northumberland, general of the English forces

Young Siward, his son

Seyton, an officer attending on Macbeth

Boy, son to Macduff

An English Doctor

A Scotch Doctor

A Captain

A Porter

An Old Man

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macduff

Gentlewomen attending on Lady Macbeth


Three Witches

Lords, Gentlemen, Officers, Soldiers, Murderers, Attendants, and Messengers; the Ghost of Banquo, and other Apparitions

CHAPTER 1: The Temptation of Macbeth

— 1.1 —

In a deserted place above which thunder sounded and lightning flashed, Three Witches were ending their meeting. Nearby, a battle raged, and soldiers and horses screamed and died.

“When shall we three meet again? Shall we meet in thunder and lightning, or in rain?” asked the First Witch.

“We shall meet again after the battle is over. The battle shall have its conquerors, and it shall have its conquered,” answered the Second Witch.

“The battle will end before the Sun sets,” said the Third Witch.

“In which place shall we meet?” asked the First Witch.

“We shall meet upon the heath,” answered the Second Witch.

“There we shall meet Macbeth,” said the Third Witch.

With the Witches were their familiars. Graymalkin was a malevolent spirit in the form of a gray cat, and Paddock was a malevolent spirit in the form of a toad. The familiars were growing restless.

“I come, Graymalkin!” exclaimed the First Witch.

“Paddock calls,” said the Second Witch.

“It is time to go,” said the Third Witch.

All together, the Three Witches chanted, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

The Three Witches and their familiars vanished.

— 1.2 —

Duncan, King of Scotland, was too old to lead his soldiers in the battle, so he stood in a camp near the battle. Macbeth and Banquo were leading his soldiers. With King Duncan were his older son, Malcolm, and his younger son, Donalbain; Lennox, a nobleman; and many servants and soldiers. A soldier who was bloody from his wounds rode into the camp.

“Who is this bloody soldier?” King Duncan asked. “By the way he looks, he can provide news of how the battle is going.”

“This good and brave soldier fought hard to keep me from being captured,” Malcolm said. “Welcome, brave sergeant and friend! Tell the King news about the battle as it stood when you left it.”

“In the middle of the battle, no one could tell who would win. The two sides seemed to be equal,” the bloody soldier replied. “They were like two exhausted swimmers who cling to each other and prevent each other from swimming. The traitor Macdonwald — the rebel who is guilty of many evil deeds — commanded both lightly armed and heavily armed foot soldiers who had come from the Western Isles known as the Hebrides. Fortune seemed to smile at him like a whore, but brave Macbeth — and well does he deserve to be called brave — ignored Fortune, and with his sword, which steamed with hot blood, he cut his way through enemy soldiers until he faced the traitor. Macdonwald had no time to shake hands with him, or to say goodbye to him, because Macbeth immediately cut him open from his naval to his jawbone. Then he cut off the traitor’s head and exhibited it to all from the top of the walls of our fortifications.”

“Macbeth is both brave and worthy. He is a true gentlemen,” King Duncan said.

“A calm morning at sea can later turn into a stormy day that can wreck ships,” the bloody soldier said. “Something that seems good can lead to something bad. Immediately after your troops had defeated the rebel and forced his troops to flee, the King of Norway sensed an opportunity to conquer Scotland and sent armed soldiers to attack your troops.”

“Did not this dismay the captains of our army: Macbeth and Banquo?” King Duncan asked.

“Yes, it did,” the bloody soldier replied, “exactly as much as sparrows dismay eagles, or rabbits dismay lions. Macbeth and Banquo were truly like cannons loaded with extra explosives as they fiercely fought the enemy soldiers. It was as if they wanted to bathe in the blood of the enemy soldiers, or to make the battlefield as memorable as Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. But I am growing faint. A physician needs to treat my wounds.”

“Your words and your wounds give you honor,” King Duncan said to the sergeant.

Then he said to an attendant, “Get him medical help.”

The attendant helped the bloody soldier walk away to a physician.

A man came into the camp, and King Duncan asked, “Who comes here?”

Malcolm recognized the man and identified him: “The worthy Thane of Ross.”

A Thane is a Scottish feudal lord.

Lennox, who was also a Thane, said, “Look at his eyes! He must have important news to tell!”

“God save the King!” Ross said.

“From where have you come, worthy Thane?” King Duncan asked him.

“From Fife, great King,” Ross replied. “That is the site of the battle that the King of Norway, assisted by a traitor, the Thane of Cawdor, has been fighting your troops led by Macbeth and Banquo. The Norwegian banners flew there as the King of Norway’s many troops began the battle. Despite the enemy’s many troops, Macbeth — wearing armor well tested in battle — fought as if he were the husband of Bellona, the goddess of war, and countered the enemy’s attacks with attacks of his own and broke both the enemy’s army and his spirit. Your troops have conquered the enemy and won the battle.”

“This is good news indeed!” King Duncan said.

“Sweno, the King of Norway, now wants a peace treaty,” Ross said. “We would not allow him to bury his dead soldiers until he gave us $10,000 and retreated to Saint Colme’s island.”

“The Thane of Cawdor acted as a traitor to me,” King Duncan said. “That will not happen again: Proclaim that he has been sentenced to death. When you meet Macbeth, greet him and tell him that he is the new Thane of Cawdor.”

“I will do so,” Ross said.

“What the Thane of Cawdor has lost, noble Macbeth has won,” King Duncan said.

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