William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 4 and 5

— 1.4 —

In the courtyard of King Duncan’s castle in Forres, the King talked to his sons, Malcolm and Donalbain, and to Lennox. Attendants were also present.

King Duncan asked, “Has the old Thane of Cawdor been executed yet? Have his executioners returned yet?”

“My liege, they have not yet returned,” Malcolm replied. “However, I have spoken with a person who saw the execution, and he reported that the old Thane of Cawdor confessed his treasons, implored that your Highness would forgive him, and repented his sins. In life, he did nothing so well as leaving it. He died as if he had studied how to die and how to throw away the dearest thing anyone can own as if it were nothing but an unwanted trifle.”

King Duncan said, “It is impossible to look at a man’s face and know what is in his mind. I absolutely trusted the old Thane of Cawdor.”

Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus rode into the courtyard of the King’s castle.

King Duncan said to Macbeth, “Worthiest kinsman, I was just now thinking that I have not shown you enough gratitude for your service to me. You have done such great service in so little time that the evidence of my gratitude is lagging behind. Only if you had done less service would I be able to give you adequate thanks and payment. You deserve more than all I have.”

“Serving you and being loyal to you are rewards in and of themselves,” Macbeth replied. “As our King, you should receive our service to you. We — your subjects — are your children and your servants. By doing everything we can to safeguard your love and your honor, we are doing only what we ought to do.”

King Duncan said to Macbeth, “I will do much for you. I have begun to plant you, and I will work to make you full of growing.”

He added, “Noble Banquo, like Macbeth you deserve reward for your deeds. I will hold you in my heart. I also will do good things for you.”

Banquo replied, “If you make me grow, I shall give you the harvest.”

“I have so many joys that my eyes are watery,” King Duncan said. “Sons, kinsmen, Thanes, and all of you who are closest to me, know that I am establishing the succession of the kingdom upon my oldest son, Malcolm, whom I name Prince of Cumberland. This is an honor for him, and more honors will be given to all who deserve them. Now let us go to Macbeth’s castle in Inverness.”

King Duncan said to Macbeth, “I will become bound to you even further because I will enjoy your hospitality.”

Macbeth replied, “When I am not working to serve you, leisure is labor. I will tell my wife the news of your coming to our castle and so make her happy. Therefore, I humbly take my leave.”

King Duncan replied, “Farewell, my worthy Thane of Cawdor.”

As he left, Macbeth thought, Malcolm is now Prince of Cumberland! He is now the heir to the throne! I must give up my ambition or else leap over Malcolm because he stands between me and my desire to become King. Stars, hide your fires; I do not want light to see my black and deep desires. May my eye not see what my hand will do; still, let the deed occur that the eye will fear to see when the deed is done.

After Macbeth left, King Duncan and Banquo talked to each other and praised Macbeth. Now King Duncan said, “You are correct, Banquo. Macbeth is very valiant, and I enjoy hearing him praised. Your praises of him are like a banquet to me. Let us leave and ride to his castle, where he has gone to prepare our welcome. He is a peerless kinsman.”

— 1.5 —

In a room in Macbeth’s castle in Inverness, Lady Macbeth was reading a letter that Macbeth had sent to her.

She read out loud, “The Three Witches met me after my successes in battle, and I have learned that they have more than merely mortal knowledge. I wanted to question them further, but they turned themselves into air and vanished. As I stood astonished, the King’s messengers arrived and said that I am the new Thane of Cawdor — which is one of the titles the Weird Sisters had hailed me by. They also referred to a title to come when they said to me, ‘All hail, Macbeth, you who shall be King hereafter!’ I wrote this letter to you, dear, so that you may be gladdened by the prediction, and not lose happiness through ignorance of your own future title: Queen. Keep this prediction secret. Farewell.”

Having finished reading the letter, Lady Macbeth thought, You are the Thane of Glamis, and you are the Thane of Cawdor, and you will be the King of Scotland. Yet I am afraid that you do not have in you to do what it will take to make you King. Your nature is too full of the milk of human kindness to do what will most quickly make you King. You, Macbeth, would like to be a great and powerful man. You have ambition, but you lack the evil nature that so often accompanies and assists ambition. What you most want, you would like to have through honest means. You do not want to do evil, and yet you want something that belongs to someone else. Macbeth, what you need to have is a nature that tells you, “This is what you need to do to achieve your ambition.” You also need a nature that allows you to do an evil act that you fear to do rather than a nature that wishes an evil act to remain undone. Come quickly to me, so that I can talk to you and persuade you to ignore the part of your nature that can keep you from wearing the crown of the King of Scotland. Both fate and supernatural beings seem to know that you will be King.

A messenger entered the room Lady Macbeth was in.

Lady Macbeth asked, “What news do you bring me?”

The messenger replied, “The King comes here tonight.”

Lady Macbeth said, “You must be insane! Isn’t Macbeth with the King? If what you said is true, Macbeth would have sent me word to prepare the castle for the King’s arrival.”

The messenger replied, “So please you, it is true. Macbeth is coming here. Another messenger traveled faster than Macbeth to bring you news. That messenger was so out of breath that he scarcely had enough to speak his news.”

“Take care of him,” Lady Macbeth said. “He has brought us important news.”

The messenger left.

Lady Macbeth thought, The messenger is like a hoarse raven as he announces the fatal entrance of King Duncan into my castle.

She then prayed silently to unHeavenly spirits: Come, you spirits that tend on deadly thoughts. Unsex me, and make me not a woman. Fill me from top to bottom with the worst kind of cruelty. Make my blood thick, and stop my monthly periods. Make me incapable of feeling remorse. Make me a man so that nothing feminine can stop me from accomplishing the evil I plan to do. Come to my woman’s breasts, and replace my milk with gall, you murdering spirits. Come to me from wherever you, invisible, assist in the doing of evil. Come, thick night, and enshroud yourself in the darkest smoke of Hell, so that no one can see the wound my keen knife makes and so that Heaven cannot see through the darkness and shout, “Stop! Stop!”

Macbeth entered the room.

Lady Macbeth said to him, “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! You will have a title greater than both of these. I have read your letter, and it has taken me beyond this present time, which normally does not know the future. Now I know the future.”

Macbeth said, “My dearest love, King Duncan comes here tonight.”

“And when does he leave?” Lady Macbeth asked.

“He intends to leave tomorrow,” Macbeth replied.

“Never shall Sun rise on the day that King Duncan leaves here alive,” Lady Macbeth said. “Your face, Macbeth, is at present like a book on which people can read your thoughts, including your evil thoughts. To fool the people around you, look like the people around you. Your eye should welcome the King. Your hands and your tongue should welcome the King. You should look like an innocent flower, but in reality you must be the serpent under it. We must take care of the King, and I want you to let me plan how to take care of the King. What we do this night will give us during all the nights and days to come absolute power.”

Macbeth said, “We will speak further about this.”

Lady Macbeth said, “In public, look innocent. If you look anything but innocent, we have much to fear. Leave all the rest to me.”

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