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

— 3.2 —

Lady Macbeth asked a servant in the castle, “Has Banquo gone from court?”

The servant replied, “Yes, madam, but he returns again tonight.”

“Tell the King that I would like to talk to him.”

“Madam, I will.”

The servant left the room.

Alone in the room, Lady Macbeth thought, Nothing is gained; all is spent. We have gained nothing; we have spent all we had. We have gotten what we thought we desired, but it has brought us no happiness. We would have been better off if we had been murdered instead of us murdering King Duncan. We committed murder, seeking joy, but the result for us has not been joy.

Seeing her husband enter the room, Lady Macbeth said, “Why do you reject company and stay alone by yourself? Your only companions are sad thoughts. These sad thoughts about the men you have murdered should die just like the murdered men. We can’t fix what we have done; therefore, we ought not to think about it. What has been done will stay done.”

“We have wounded the snake, but not killed it,” Macbeth said. “The snake will heal and be healthy again, and its fangs will threaten us, its feeble enemy. I wish that reality would disintegrate; I wish that Heaven and Earth would both perish. Destruction would be better than the reality of my shaking with fear as I eat and the reality of my shaking with fear from nightmares as I sleep. I would be better off dead. It is better for me to lie with the dead, whom I sent to their peace so that I could gain power, than to be tortured with this restless madness. King Duncan is in his grave. He experienced life’s fitful fever, but now he rests well. Treason has done its worst and killed him. Now, he is untouched by steel swords, deadly poison, Scottish traitors, and foreign armies — nothing can hurt him.”

“My noble lord,” Lady Macbeth said, “put on a happier face than the one you display now. Be lively and jovial among your guests tonight.”

“I will,” Macbeth replied, “and I hope that you will do the same. But let us talk a moment about Banquo. Honor him both with your eyes and your words. Show respect to him. We are still unsafe in our positions as King and Queen, and we must flatter him. We must wear a face that disguises what is in our hearts.”

“You must stop talking and thinking like this.”

“Dear wife,” Macbeth said, “my mind is full of scorpions — it is dangerous and it hurts. As you know, Banquo and his son, Fleance, are still alive.”

“Neither of them has been granted eternal life in this world.”

“I take comfort in that fact,” Macbeth said. “They can be killed. Be cheerful tonight. Before the bat takes its flight in the dark regions of our castle, before the winged beetle sounds the arrival of night for Hecate, goddess of witches, a deed of dreadful note shall be done.”

“What’s to be done?”

“I won’t tell you, dearest darling, until the deed is done. Then you may applaud it. Come, darkness, blindfold the eyes of daylight, and with your bloody and invisible hand, tear to pieces that life that makes me pale with fear. The light is fading, and the crow is flying to its home. The good beings who are active in the daytime are beginning to droop and drowse, while the black agents that are active in the nighttime are awakening. You, wife, don’t understand my words now, but wait a while longer. Evil beings can start out weak, but make themselves strong by doing more evil. Come with me now.”

They left the room.

— 3.3 —

Three murderers, including the two murderers Macbeth had talked to earlier, stood together.

The First Murderer asked, “Who told you to join with us?”

“Macbeth,” answered the Third Murderer.

“We need not mistrust him,” the Second Murderer said. “He knows exactly what Macbeth told us to do and how Macbeth told us to do it.”

“Then join with us,” said the Second Murderer to the Third Murderer. “The setting Sun still sends forth some rays of light. Now travelers urge their horses to go faster so that they may soon reach an inn to stay at, and soon the man we have been waiting for will appear.”

“I hear horses,” the Third Murderer said.

The Third Murderer heard the voice of Banquo saying to a servant, “Give us a torch to light our way.”

“This is the man we have been waiting for,” the Second Murderer said. “Macbeth’s other guests are already in the castle.”

“They have dismounted from their horses,” the First Murderer said.

“They are still about a mile from the castle,” the Third Murderer said. “It is the custom for the servants to walk the horses by a longer route to the castle to cool them off, while the masters walk from here to the castle.”

“I see a light!” the Second Murderer said.

Banquo and Fleance stood revealed by the light cast by the torch that Fleance carried.

“It is Banquo,” the Third Murderer said.

“Get ready,” the First Murderer said.

Banquo said, “It will rain tonight.”

“Then let the rain come down,” the First Murderer said.

The three murderers attacked, concentrating on Banquo, who was an older, experienced warrior and much more dangerous than his son. In the confusion, the First Murderer extinguished the torch and the darkness made seeing difficult.

“We are under attack!” Banquo shouted. A good father, he shouted, “Run, Fleance! Save yourself, and avenge me later!”

The three murderers succeeded in cutting down Banquo, but Fleance succeeded in escaping.

“Who put out the torch?” the Third Murderer asked.

“Wasn’t that the right thing to do?” the First Murderer asked.

“We have killed Banquo only,” the Third Murderer said. “His son has escaped.”

“We have failed in half of our mission,” the Second Murderer said.

“Let’s leave,” the First Murderer said, “and tell Macbeth what has happened.”

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