William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 6 and 7

— 1.6 —

King Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, Angus, and some attendants entered the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle.

Looking around, King Duncan said, “This castle has a pleasant site; the air immediately and sweetly soothes my senses.”

Banquo said, “The guests of summer — the birds known as the martlets that are often seen around temples — provide evidence for what you say because their hanging nests are everywhere here. Every jetty, every frieze, and every corner has its nest. Where the martlets build nests and live, there I have observed that the air is delicate.”

Lady Macbeth came outside to the courtyard to greet the group.

“See, see, our honorable hostess,” King Duncan said. “Sometimes, people who love me inconvenience me with their attention, but I accept it because of the love they have for me. I hope that you will give me the same courtesy. By coming to your castle, I am inconveniencing you, but I have come here because of the love I have for you and your husband. I often ask God to give rewards to the people who inconvenience me, and I thank them for their attentions to me. Perhaps by my visit I can teach you to do the same for me.”

Lady Macbeth replied, “All the service we provide for you is poor and trivial even if it were done twice and then done twice more. All the service we provide for you does not come even close to matching the honor you do us by coming to our castle. Because of the honors you have given to us in the past, and because of the new honors you have recently given to us, we are your hermits and pray to God to bless you, our benefactor.”

“Where is the Thane of Cawdor?” King Duncan asked. “We rode close behind him — almost at his heels — and we even thought of arriving here before him to make preparations for his arrival, but he rode his horse well, and his great love for his King and for his country — a love as sharp as the spurs he wears — helped him to reach his castle before we did. Fair and noble hostess, I am your guest tonight.”

“We are your servants,” Lady Macbeth replied, “and all we have, including our lives, we have in trust from you. We are always ready to give an accounting of all we have, and we are always ready to give back to you what is yours.”

“Give me your hand,” King Duncan said, “Take me to my host. I love him highly, and I shall continue to show favor to him. Are you ready, hostess?”

Lady Macbeth led King Duncan and the other guests inside the castle.

— 1.7 —

Inside Macbeth’s castle, servants prepared a feast for King Duncan.

Macbeth, alone, thought to himself, If it were over and done once it were done, then it would be good to do it quickly. If only I could assassinate King Duncan, and then like a net catch all the consequences that follow except for my becoming King of Scotland … if this one blow — the assassination — by itself could make me King of Scotland with no bad consequences following in this life … if that were the case, then in order to be King of Scotland now I would risk damnation in the life hereafter. But would no consequences follow? In this life and in this world, we have laws and courts and executions. Also, by committing bloody acts, we teach other people to commit bloody acts, and we can end up being the victim and not the victimizer in the next bloody act. Or we can end up being harmed in other ways. If we poison wine to offer to other people, sometimes that poisoned wine is justly offered to ourselves.

What reasons do I have to murder King Duncan? What reasons do I have to not murder him? King Duncan is my kinsman, and I am his subject. These are reasons not to kill King Duncan. In addition, I am his host. As his host, I ought to protect him against murderers, not carry a knife with which to murder him. Also, as King of Scotland, Duncan has been a good King. He has great power, but he has used his power fairly and justly. He has been free of vice. His virtues plead against his murder. Should he be murdered, pity would spread quickly to his subjects as if the news of the murder were carried by a newborn babe riding the wind, or like winged angels riding on the winds of the Earth — the tears of King Duncan’s sorrowing subjects will fall like rain and drown the wind. I have no good reason to murder King Duncan. I have only my ambition to be King of Scotland. This ambition can vault over good reasons not to do something. This vaulting ambition is like a rider who tries to leap into a saddle but overleaps and falls to the ground on the other side of the horse.

Seeing his wife enter the room, Macbeth asked, “What is the news?”

Lady Macbeth replied, “King Duncan has almost finished eating. Why did you leave the dining chamber?”

Macbeth asked, “Has King Duncan asked for me?”

“Of course he has,” Lady Macbeth replied.

“We will proceed no further in this business we have been planning,” Macbeth said. “King Duncan has greatly honored me recently. I have earned golden opinions from all sorts of people. Because they are new, I should enjoy these golden opinions for a while, not throw them away as if they were old clothes.”

Lady Macbeth replied, “You were hopeful of quickly becoming King. Was your hope drunk? Did your hope sleep off its drunkenness? Has your hope woken up with a hangover? Does it now look sickly and pale at what it wanted to acquire? From this time on, I know how to value your love. You know what you want. Are you afraid to act to get it? Will you act to get the crown you desire, or will you live like a coward and know that you are a coward? Will you allow ‘I will get what I want’ to always be followed by ‘I dare not act to get what I want’? Will you be like the cat in this old proverb: ‘The cat wants to eat fish, but it will not wet its feet’?”

“Please shut up,” Macbeth said. “I dare do all that a man may do. Who dares do more than I do is not a man.”

“When you brought up the idea of murdering King Duncan to me, were you then a beast?” Lady Macbeth asked. “No. When you dared to murder King Duncan, then you were a man. And if you actually commit the murder, then you will be even more of a man. Before, the proper time and place of the murder was not known, and you dared to think of murder. Now, the time and place — this night, here in our castle — are known. Before, you thought to make a proper time and place for murder, but now that you have them, you are afraid to commit murder. I have breastfed an infant, and I know how it is to love the babe who feeds at my breast, but I would, while the babe was smiling in my sight, have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed his brains out, had I sworn as you have sworn to commit murder.”

Macbeth asked, “What happens if we are caught?”

Lady Macbeth replied, “Why should we be caught? Call up your courage, and we will not be caught. When King Duncan is asleep — and after this day’s hard journey he will soon be asleep — I will get his two bodyguards drunk with wine. They will remember nothing, and their brains will be confused with alcohol and the drugs I will put in their wine. When they are asleep like drunken pigs, what cannot you and I do to the unguarded King Duncan? What can we do that we cannot put the blame upon his drunken bodyguards? They shall bear the blame of our great murder.”

Macbeth said, “Give birth to sons only, not to daughters, for your undaunted spirit should bring forth only sons. After we kill King Duncan, we can smear his blood on his bodyguards and on their daggers. Will that be enough to make other people think that King Duncan’s bodyguards have murdered him?”

Lady Macbeth replied, “What else will anyone be able to think? After all, you and I shall loudly grieve for the murdered King.”

Macbeth said, “I have made up my mind. I shall force every part of my body to do the terrible deed I have decided to do. Let us rejoin the feast and fool the others with our acting skills. False faces must hide what the false heart does know.”




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