William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 1

Act 2: Macbeth Turns Evil

— 2.1 —

In the darkness of night, Banquo and Fleance, his son, entered the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle. To provide light, Fleance carried a burning torch.

Banquo asked, “Fleance, what time of night is it?”

Fleance replied, “The Moon has set. I have not heard the clock.”

“I believe that the Moon sets at twelve.”

“I am sure that it is later than that.”

Banquo said, “Hold my sword for me.”

He thought, We are in Macbeth’s castle, and we ought to fear nothing while we are here. I should have no need to carry a sword.

He said out loud, “The Heavens tonight are practicing frugality. The candles that are the stars are not burning. I do not wish to carry anything tonight. I am so tired that I ought to go to bed, and yet, I do not want to sleep. I pray that God and the saints will keep from me the nightmares that come while men sleep.”

Macbeth and a servant made a slight noise as they entered the courtyard.

Startled by the noise, Banquo ordered Fleance, “Give me my sword!” Then he called out, “Who’s there?”

Macbeth replied, “A friend.”

Banquo said, “I am surprised that you are not yet in bed. The King is at his rest. He is very pleased with your hospitality and with your recent heroism, and he has given to you and your lady many gifts. Here is a diamond that he gave to me to give to you as a present for Lady Macbeth in gratitude for the hospitality he has received here. He called her ‘a most kind hostess,’ and when he went to bed he was most content with your reception of him here.”

Macbeth replied, “We were unprepared for King Duncan’s visit to our castle, and so although we greatly desired to entertain him well, we were unable to do all that we had wished.”

“All is well,” Banquo said, and then he changed the subject. “I dreamed last night of the three Weird Sisters. Some of what they said about you has proved to be true. You are now the Thane of Cawdor.”

“I have not been thinking about them,” Macbeth lied, then he added, “And yet, if sometime you and I can spare an hour, we could meet and talk about the Weird Sisters, if you are willing.”

“I will be happy to do so whenever you like,” Banquo said.

“Sometime in the future, I will desire your support,” Macbeth said. “If you give me that support, you will benefit by so doing.”

“I will be happy to support your cause, as long as I do not lose honor by so doing,” Banquo said. Thinking of the Weird Sisters’ prophecy that Macbeth would in the future be King of Scotland, Banquo added, “I would hate to lose the honor I already have by attempting to gain more honor. I will be happy to support your cause as long as I can keep my conscience clean and my loyalty to King Duncan unspotted.”

“Sleep well,” Macbeth said.

“Thank you, sir,” Banquo said. “You do the same.”

Banquo and Fleance left the courtyard, leaving Macbeth and the servant behind.

Macbeth ordered the servant, “Go to Lady Macbeth. Tell her that when she has finished mixing my drink to ring a bell. Then go to bed.”

The servant left, leaving Macbeth alone.

Macbeth then saw something that nobody else, if anyone had been present, would have seen.

Macbeth thought, Is this a dagger that I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch it.

He made a motion to grab the dagger, but his hand closed on nothing.

I do not have it in my hand, and yet I see it clearly. Is this fatal vision unable to be touched as well as to be seen? Is this dagger simply a creation of my mind? Is it a hallucination produced by my fevered brain? I see the dagger, and it appears to be as solid as the dagger that now I draw.

Macbeth drew a dagger from his belt.

The dagger I cannot touch leads me in the direction that I must go to kill the King. The dagger I cannot touch is like the dagger that I will use to kill the King. My eyes are not working correctly although my other senses do work, or perhaps my eyes work even better than my other senses. I see the dagger clearly. On it I now see splashes of blood that were not on it previously.

No bloody knife is here. My thinking of murdering King Duncan has caused me to hallucinate this knife. Half of the world is now asleep and lying as if they were dead, and nightmares prey upon them in their beds that are curtained in an attempt to keep out the cold. Now is the time that witches give offerings to their goddess: Hecate with her dark and unsavory ways. Now is the time that the old man who is Murder, called to action by his guard the wolf, walks like the ancient Roman King Tarquin walked to rape Lucretia and cause her to commit suicide. Old man Murder walks like a ghost. Earth upon which I walk, I pray to you that you do not hear my steps. The stones I walk on ought not to reveal my presence with noise. The deed that I will do requires silence. I am thinking now, and as long as I keep thinking, King Duncan remains alive. The more I think, the more afraid I am.

A bell rang.

I go now to do the deed. The bell is my signal. Hear not the bell, King Duncan, for it is a knell that summons you to Heaven or to Hell.

Macbeth walked toward the King’s bedchamber.

David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s 11 Tragedies: Retellings in Prose (Amazon Kindle)


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