William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 3

— 2.3 —

More knocking sounded as a half-asleep, half-drunken gatekeeper came to open the gate.

The gatekeeper complained aloud to himself, “Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were the keeper of Hell-gate, he would be kept busy turning the key.”

More knocking.

“I am kept so busy that I might as well be Hell’s gatekeeper, and this castle might as well be Hell. So be it. Who’s there, in the name of Beelzebub, Prince of demons? Ah, here is the first knocker: A farmer who hoarded crops in the expectation of making a killing with high prices when a famine arrived. The famine never came; instead, crops were plentiful, and the farmer hanged himself because of low prices for his crops. I hope that he brought plenty of handkerchiefs with him because here in Hell he will sweat.”

More knocking sounded.

“Who’s there, in another devil’s name that I cannot remember? It is probably a liar who told one lie that resulted in treason and when caught he told another lie: He said that the first lie did not count because he had lied for the sake of God. This liar was talented, but he was not talented enough to lie his way into Heaven, and so he knocks at Hell’s gate, where he is welcomed in — and tortured.”

More knocking sounded.

“Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? By my faith, here’s an English tailor. For years, he stole cloth from his customers by making the garments close fitting. But he tried that trick with French stockings, which are already close fitting, and so his thievery was discovered. I hope that the tailor brought a goose with him because surely his goose will be cooked here.”

More knocking sounded.

“Knock, knock, knock! Never any silence. But I will cease to be the gatekeeper of Hell — this place is too cold for Hell! But if I had been the gatekeeper of Hell just now, I would have let in a few more workers of different jobs who travel a broad and seemingly pleasant path to everlasting fire and torment.”

More knocking sounded.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!”

The gatekeeper opened the gate and said, “Don’t forget to tip.”

Macduff and Lennox, two Scottish noblemen, entered the courtyard.

Macduff said to the gatekeeper, “Was it so late, friend, before you went to bed, that you lay asleep so long?”

The gatekeeper replied, “Truly, sir, we were drinking and partying until about 3 a.m., and drinking, sir, is a great provoker of three things.”

“What three things does drink especially provoke?”

“Nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Much use of alcohol paints one’s nose red, it makes one sleep, and it makes one pee. Alcohol both provokes and unprovokes lechery. It makes a man feel horny, and it makes a man unable to produce a horn. When it comes to horniness, alcohol is a liar. Alcohol makes a man horny, but it makes him unable to do anything about it. Alcohol persuades a man to find a partner, but it makes him unable to do anything with that partner. Alcohol makes a man attempt to get an erection, but it makes the man unable to keep that erection if he gets one. In short, alcohol lies to a man, making him horny but unable to do anything but sleep. Furthermore, once the man is asleep, the alcohol leaves him — the man pees himself.”

Macduff said, “I believe that alcohol did these things to you last night.”

“Alcohol did indeed, sir. It got me right in the throat. But I fought him. It made my legs weak and staggery, but I was too strong and cast it out of my body with my vomit.”

Macduff asked, “Is your master awake?”

Macbeth entered the courtyard.

Seeing him, Macduff said, “Our knocking has awakened him; here he comes.”

Lennox greeted Macbeth, “Good morning, noble sir.”

“Good morning to both of you,” Macbeth replied.

“Is the King stirring, worthy Thane?” asked Macduff.

“Not yet.”

“He did command me to call early on him. I am almost too late.”

“I’ll bring you to him,” Macbeth said.

“I know that entertaining the King is a trouble to you, but one that you are happy to undertake.”

“Work that we delight in is not work,” Macbeth replied. He added, “This is the door.”

“I’ll be so bold to wake him, as that is my appointed duty.”

Macduff walked through the door that led to the King’s bedchamber.

Lennox asked, “Is the King leaving here today?”

“Yes,” Macbeth said. “He did decide so.”

“The night has been wild,” Lennox said. “Last night, the chimneys were blown down in the place we slept. People are saying that they heard cries of mourning in the air, strange screams of death, and terrible voices making prophecies of dire tumult and chaotic events to come and make the world woeful. The bird of darkness, the owl, screamed all night. Some say that the Earth was fevered and did shake.”

Macbeth replied, “It was a rough night.”

For Macbeth, especially, it was.

“I am too young to remember a night as bad as this.”

Macduff ran into the courtyard and shouted, “Raise the alarm! Something has happened that is beyond words and beyond belief!”

Macbeth and Lennox asked together, “What’s the matter?”

Macduff shouted, “Evil has created a masterpiece! The King’s body was a temple, but the temple has been broken into and the life inside stolen!”

“What are you saying?” Macbeth asked. “The life?”

“Are you saying that King Duncan is dead?” Lennox asked.

“Go into the King’s bedchamber, and you will see a sight that is like a Gorgon that will make you blind and turn you into stone,” Macduff answered. “This sight will destroy anyone who sees it. I can’t speak of it. Go and see it, and speak for me.”

Macbeth and Lennox went through the door that led to the King’s bedchamber.

Macduff shouted, “Awake, awake, everyone! Ring the alarm bell. Murder and treason! Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! Wake up! Shake off your sleep, which resembles death, and see real death itself! Get up! See an image of the Last Judgment! Malcolm! Banquo! Rise from your beds as if you were rising from your graves, and walk like ghosts to come and see this horror! Ring the bell!”

The alarm bell rang.

Lady Macbeth entered the courtyard and said, “What’s the matter? Why has the alarm sounded to wake up everyone in the castle? It sounds like a trumpet in time of war! Tell me!”

“Gentle lady,” Macduff said, “it is not for you to hear what I can speak. Such words entering a woman’s ear would kill the hearer.”

Banquo arrived, and Macduff said to him, “Banquo, Banquo, our royal master is murdered!”

Lady Macbeth exclaimed, “What, in our castle!”

Banquo pointed out, “Too cruel anywhere,” and then he said, “Dear Macduff, I pray that you contradict yourself, and say that what you said is not so.”

Macbeth, Lennox, and Ross entered the courtyard.

Macbeth said, “Had I but died an hour before this murder, I would have lived a blessed life.”

Macbeth’s words were true.

He added, “From this moment, there is nothing worthwhile in mortal life. Everything is a sick joke; renown and grace are dead. The wine of life has been drunk, and all that is left are the dregs.”

For Macbeth, his words were true.

Malcolm and Donalbain, King Duncan’s two sons, entered the courtyard.

“What’s wrong?” Donalbain asked.

“You have suffered a tragedy and do not yet know it,” Macbeth answered. “The spring, the head, the fountain of your blood has been stopped.”

“Your royal father has been murdered,” Macduff said in plain language.

“By whom?” asked Malcolm, the oldest son.

“It seems that his bodyguards committed the murder,” Lennox replied. “Their hands and faces were bloodied; so were their unwiped daggers, which we found lying on their pillows. The bodyguards were disoriented and not in possession of their senses. No man’s life should be trusted with them.”

“I am sorry that I killed them in my fury,” Macbeth said.

“Why did you kill them?” Macduff asked.

“Who can be wise and amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral, all in the same moment? No one. My love for King Duncan was stronger than my reason. I saw King Duncan dead. His silver skin was laced with his golden blood. The gashes that the knives made in his body were intrusions of evil. Near the King were his murderers, red with the color of their trade, their daggers bloody with gore. In that moment, what man who loves the King could refrain from killing the King’s murderers?”

Realizing that Macduff suspected her husband, Lady Macbeth created a distraction. She shouted, “Help me hence!”

Macduff ordered, “Look after the lady.”

Lady Macbeth pretended to faint.

Malcolm and Donalbain, who were at a distance from the others, conferred together. No one overheard them.

Malcolm asked Donalbain, “Why are we quiet? It is our father who has been murdered.”

Donalbain replied, “Why should we speak — or even be present? Our father the King is dead; those who wanted him dead will want us dead as well. I don’t believe that our father’s murderer or murderers have been killed. Let us flee — our lives are in danger. We can mourn our father’s death later — from a safe distance. If we stay here, we can be killed at any time.”

Malcolm said, “It is not yet the time to mourn — or to take action.”

Banquo said, “Look after the lady.”

Attendants came and carried Lady Macbeth away from the courtyard.

Banquo said, “Let us get out of our night clothing and put on warm clothing for the day, then let us meet and discuss this murder. Right now, we are shaken by our fears and suspicions. I will put my trust in God, and I will seek to find the reasons for this murder. I will fight whatever lies led to the secret plot that resulted in this murder.”

“So will I,” Macduff said.

“So will we all,” the others said.

“Let us quickly get dressed and arm ourselves and meet in the hall,” Macbeth said.

All left the courtyard except Malcolm and Donalbain.

Malcolm asked Donalbain, “What will you do? Let us not meet with them. I think the murderer is still alive and in the castle. I also think that anyone who is capable of committing a murder is also capable of pretending to be shocked and surprised at that murder. I will flee to England.”

Donalbain replied, “I will flee to Ireland. If we flee in different directions, both of us will be safer than if we flee together. If we stay here, a man who smiles at us may also hide a dagger that he hopes to use to kill us. Anyone who wants to be King knows that he must kill us. Men who are the closest to us in being blood relatives are also the likeliest to make us bloody.”

Malcolm said, “This treasonous plot has not yet run its course. It is as if an arrow is aimed at us. The best way for us not to be hit by the arrow is to get beyond the distance that it can travel. Therefore, let us get horses, and let us not be squeamish about leaving immediately. Let us steal ourselves away. There is no criminality in such a theft when we will meet with no mercy if we stay here.”

They left the courtyard.




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