William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scene 4

— 2.4 —

Outside Macbeth’s castle, Ross and an old man talked.

The old man said, “I can remember well seventy years. During those years I have seen dreadful hours and strange things, but what I have seen this dark night makes those hours and things seem like trifles.”

“Old man,” Ross said, “the Heavens seem to be troubled by the actions of Humankind and so threaten the world in which men live. Look at a clock, and you will know that it should be daylight now, yet night strangles the Sun. Is the night too strong, or is the day too ashamed, that the result is that darkness makes the Earth dark like a tomb at a time when sunshine should enlighten it?”

“This darkness is unnatural,” the old man said, “like the regicide that just occurred. Last Tuesday, an owl that normally kills mice instead attacked and killed a falcon — a bird of prey.”

Ross replied, “King Duncan’s horses did something that is strange. Beauteous and swift, the best of their race, these horses turned wild in nature, broke out of their stalls, and ran away. They refused to be obedient to their human masters, but instead seemed to war against them.”

The old man said, “It is said that the horses cannibalized each other.”

“They did,” Ross said. “I myself witnessed them eating each other’s flesh. Here comes a good man: Macduff.”

Ross said to Macduff, “How goes the world, sir, now?”

“Don’t you know?” Macduff replied.

“Is it known who did this bloody, terrible regicide?”

“The bodyguards whom Macbeth has slain.”

“Such evil is difficult to believe,” Ross said. “In what way would the bodyguards benefit by King Duncan’s murder?”

“They were paid to commit the murder. Malcolm and Donalbain, the King’s two sons, have fled, and so they are being blamed for bribing the bodyguards to kill their father the King.”

“Patricide and regicide! Patricide is even more against nature than regicide! Ambition can be so strong that it causes the destruction of everything in its path, including one’s own father. Most likely, I suppose, Macbeth will become King. He is a close kinsman of the late King.”

“He has already been chosen King, and he has gone to Scone, where he will be crowned.”

“Where is the body of King Duncan?”

“It has been carried to Colmekill, where is the tomb that protects the bones of his ancestors.”

“Will you go to Scone?” Ross asked.

“No, I will return to Fife, my home,” Macduff replied.

Ross thought, Macbeth could take your absence as an insult to him. He said aloud, “I will go to Scone to see Macbeth crowned.”

“I hope that all goes well there. Let me say farewell to you now. The old King was generous and merciful, and things may not go nearly as well under the new King.”

Ross said, “Farewell, old man.”

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