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

— 2.2 —

Lady Macbeth nervously paced and thought, I gave the King’s bodyguards wine to make them drunk; the same wine has made me bold. The wine that has put them to sleep has excited me and made me wide awake.

A cry sounded in the night.

What was that! It was an owl, hooting while flying over a house in which a man will die. This owl is like a bellman whose job is to ring a bell to announce that a person is dying.

Macbeth is now committing the murder. I have unlocked the doors to the King’s bedchamber, and the King’s bodyguards are snoring, not protecting the King. Their performance of their job is laughable. I drugged their drinks so much that the bodyguards are poisoned — even if Macbeth does nothing to them, they have as much chance of dying as they do of living.

She heard Macbeth’s voice calling from inside the castle, “Who’s there? What’s wrong?”

Lady Macbeth thought, I am afraid that the bodyguards have woken up and stopped the murder. My husband and I will be ruined by what we have attempted and not by what we have done. Let me listen carefully. We may yet succeed. I put the daggers where my husband could not miss them. Had King Duncan not resembled my father as he slept, I would have killed him myself.

Macbeth walked toward Lady Macbeth, who exclaimed, “My husband!”

Macbeth said, “I have done the deed. Did you hear a noise?”

Lady Macbeth replied, “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?”


“Just now.”

“As I descended from the King’s bedchamber?”


Macbeth, hearing an imaginary noise, said, “Listen!” Then he asked, “Who is sleeping in the bedchamber next to the King’s?”

“Donalbain, King Duncan’s younger son.”

Macbeth looked down at his bloody hands and said, “This is a sorry sight.”

Lady Macbeth replied, “A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.”

“As I descended from the King’s bedchamber, I heard two people. One laughed in his sleep, and the other cried, ‘Murder!’ The two woke each other. I stood quietly and listened. They said their prayers and then went back to sleep.”

“Two people are sleeping in that bedchamber: Donalbain and his attendant.”

“One cried, ‘God bless us!’ and the other cried, ‘Amen.’ It was as if they had seen me with these hands that look as if they belong to a hangman, bloody from chopping up the bodies of criminals after a public hanging. I listened to the two men’s fears, and I could not say ‘Amen’ when they cried, ‘God bless us!’”

“Don’t think about it.”

Macbeth asked, “But why couldn’t I say ‘Amen’? I had most need of blessing, and the word ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat.”

Lady Macbeth replied, “We must not think about our evil deeds in such a fashion. Thinking about them in that way will make us mad.”

“I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep’ — the innocent sleep, sleep that relieves the cares of life, sleep that ends the hard work of the day, sleep that bathes away the soreness of hard work, sleep that heals hurt minds, sleep that most substantially nourishes the body and the mind —”

“What do you mean? I can’t understand what you are saying!”

Macbeth said, “The voice cried, ‘Sleep no more!’ to everyone in the castle. It cried, ‘Glamis has murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.’”

Lady Macbeth asked, “Who was it that thus cried? Husband, you weaken yourself when you think in such a cowardly way. Go. Get some water so that you can wash away the blood from your hands.”

She looked at his hands and was startled by what she saw: “Why did you bring these daggers from the murder scene? They must lie there. They are evidence that will convict the King’s bodyguards of murder and treason. Carry them back and smear the sleepy bodyguards with blood.”

Macbeth replied, “I will not go back. I am afraid to think what I have done. Look on it again I dare not.”

Lady Macbeth exclaimed, “Coward! Give me the daggers! Sleeping people and dead people are as harmless as pictures. Only a child is afraid of a picture of a devil. If King Duncan still bleeds, I will paint the faces of the bodyguards with blood. The gilding I do to their faces will result in everyone assuming that they are guilty.”

She left.

A knocking sounded at the castle gate.

Macbeth thought, Who is knocking? What is wrong with me? Every noise I hear scares me.

He looked at his hands and said to himself, “What kind of hands are these? They seem to pluck out my eyes. Will all the water in Neptune’s ocean wash away this blood from my hands? No! Instead, the blood from my hands will turn the ocean red.”

Lady Macbeth overheard Macbeth’s final words as she returned. She said, “My hands are now the same color — red — as your hands, but I would be ashamed if my heart were as white — as cowardly — as your heart.”

A knocking sounded again at the castle gate.

She said, “I hear a knocking at the south entry. Let us go to our bedchamber. We can wash the blood from our hands and so remove the evidence that would convict us: A little water clears us of this deed, making it easy to escape punishment. You would know this, if you could keep your firmness of purpose.”

More knocking sounded at the castle gate.

Lady Macbeth said, “Listen! More knocking! Let’s go to our bedchamber so you can put on your dressing gown and robe. We can’t be seen in these, our day clothes. People will know that we have been up and about, not sleeping. Pay attention! You are lost in your thoughts!”

Macbeth replied, “To know my deed, it were best not know myself — I had rather not know myself than to realize the full enormity of what I have done.”

More knocking sounded at the castle gate.

He added, “Wake Duncan with your knocking! I wish you could!”

The Macbeths went to their bedchamber.

NOTE: Like Shakespeare, Dante knows something about evil:


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