William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 4

— 3.4 —

In the great hall of the castle, a feast was set out on the long table. In the great hall were Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Ross, Lennox, various other members of nobility, and many servants.

“Please sit down according to your degree of nobility, and welcome, all,” Macbeth said.

“Thank you, your majesty,” all of the lords replied.

“I myself shall be the humble host and mingle with all,” Macbeth said. “For now my wife shall sit on her chair of state, and later we shall ask for her to mingle.”

“Welcome all our friends for me, sir,” Lady Macbeth said. “In my heart they are our friends and they are all welcome here.”

The First Murderer appeared at the door.

Macbeth said to his wife, “Our guests return your friendship in their hearts.”

Then he said to the guests, “Both sides — the Queen and the nobility — are equal in giving friendship. I will sit here in the midst of our guests. Be happy, all. Soon we will all drink a toast around the table.”

Seeing the First Murderer, Macbeth walked to the door and said quietly to him, “There’s blood on your face.”

The First Murderer replied, “It is Banquo’s blood.”

“I prefer it to be on your outside than in his inside,” Macbeth said. “Is he dead?”

“My lord, his throat is cut — I cut it for him.”

“You are the best of the cutthroats,” Macbeth said. “The person who cut Fleance’s throat is also good. If you did that, too, you have no equal.”

“Most royal sir, Fleance escaped.”

“Then I still have a problem that causes me fits,” Macbeth said. “If Fleance had also been murdered, my problems would be over. I would be as solid as marble, as firmly based as a boulder, as freely and widely ranging as the air. Instead, I continue to be shut up in a claustrophobic place and assailed by doubts and fears. But is Banquo truly dead?”

“Yes, my good lord. His corpse lies in a ditch, and his head bears twenty gashes, each one of them fatal.”

“Thank you for that,” Macbeth said. “The grown serpent is dead. The young serpent that escaped will grow up and become poisonous. At present it is not dangerous. Leave now. Tomorrow we will speak together again.”

The First Murderer left, and Macbeth went back to his guests and his wife.

Lady Macbeth quietly said to him, “My royal lord, you have not been making our guests feel welcome. Unless the host makes the guests feel welcome, it is as if they are paying customers rather than honored guests. If our guests merely wanted to satisfy their hunger, they could do that at their own homes. Etiquette and welcome provide the sauce to a feast. Without proper etiquette and without a proper welcoming of guests, a feast is lacking.”

Macbeth said to Lady Macbeth, “Sweet remembrancer!”

Unseen by anyone, the bloody ghost of Banquo entered the great hall and sat down in the chair reserved for Macbeth at the long table.

Macbeth turned to his guests and said, “May everyone have good appetite, good digestion, and good health.”

He added, “Here under this roof we would have nearly all of Scotland’s nobility if only Banquo, who is endowed with grace, were present. I would prefer to criticize him for forgetting to show up on time rather than to pity him for any mishap that may have occurred to him.”

Ross said, “Banquo’s absence means that he has failed to keep his promise to be present. If it would please your highness, please sit down and favor us with your company.”

“All the seats are taken,” Macbeth said.

“Here is a seat that is reserved for you, sir,” Lennox said.

“Where?”

“Here, my good lord.”

Banquo’s ghost turned in the chair indicated and looked at Macbeth, who looked at the chair and saw seated on it the bloody ghost of Banquo. Startled, Macbeth drew back, his hand on his sword hilt.

“What is it that has startled your highness?” Lennox asked.

“Which of you have done this?” Macbeth shouted.

The nobles and Lady Macbeth could not see the ghost, and they did not know that Macbeth was referring to the wounds that had bloodied Banquo’s head — Macbeth was making a feeble attempt to have someone else blamed for the wounds.

“What, my good lord?” Lennox asked.

Macbeth said to the ghost that none but he could see, “You cannot say that I did it — don’t shake your gory locks of hair at me!”

Seeing Macbeth agitated, Ross said, “Gentlemen, stand up. His highness is not well.”

Lady Macbeth tried to bring order out of chaos by saying, “Sit, worthy friends. The King is often like this, and he has been this way since his youth. Please, stay seated. His illness will end quickly. He will be himself again in a moment. If you stare at him, you will make him worse and extend the length of time his fit lasts. Eat now, and ignore the King.”

To her husband, she said under her breath, “Are you a man?”

“Yes,” Macbeth said to her. “I am a bold man, but I am looking at something that might make even Satan afraid.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” Lady Macbeth replied. “This is something conjured by your fear. This is like the dagger you hallucinated that you told me led you to King Duncan’s bedchamber. These startled outbursts of yours would be suitable for a child sitting in front of a fireplace and listening to a woman tell a story that had been told to her by her grandmother. These startled outbursts of yours are not true fear. You should be ashamed of yourself. Why are you making such wild faces! You are looking at nothing but a chair!”

Macbeth looked again, and again he saw the bloody ghost of Banquo seated on the chair. He said to his wife, “Look! How can you say that nothing is there except a chair?”

Then he said to Banquo’s ghost, “Why should I care anything about you? I can see you moving your head. If you can do that, then speak to me. If tombs and graves are going to eject their corpses instead of hiding them, then the corpses ought to be eaten by birds and hidden in their stomachs.”

The ghost of Banquo vanished.

“Has your fear turned you into a weak woman?” Lady Macbeth asked her husband.

“Just as surely as I am standing here, I saw a ghost.”

“You should be ashamed,” Lady Macbeth said.

“Blood has been spilled before now — back in the ancient times before we had laws to restrain people and make them gentler,” Macbeth said. “Even now, terrible murders are committed that are horrifying to hear about. But it used to be true that when a man’s brains were dashed out of his skull, the man would die and stay dead. That is no longer true. Now the dead man will rise and walk again despite twenty mortal wounds to his head. What I just saw is more abnormal than even murder.”

Macbeth had much recovered from seeing the ghost, and Lady Macbeth said to him, “My worthy lord, your noble friends lack your company.”

“I do forget,” Macbeth said. “Do not mind me, my most worthy friends. I have a strange infirmity, but people who know me well don’t fuss about it. I wish love and health to all of you. I will sit down. Give me some wine — fill the goblet full. I drink to the general joy of the whole table and to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss. All of us wish that he were here. To all, and to Banquo, let us drink.”

“Hear, hear,” said the nobles.

As Macbeth and the others drank a toast, the ghost of Banquo entered the great hall again.

Catching sight of the ghost, Macbeth shouted, “Go away! Get out of my sight! Let the dirt cover you in your grave! Your bones have no marrow! Your blood is cold! Your eyes are blind although you glare at me!”

Lady Macbeth said to the nobles, “Think of this, good peers, only as a common effect of my husband’s illness. It is not dangerous, although it spoils the pleasure of the feast.”

Macbeth shouted at the ghost, “I am brave. What any man dares, I dare. Approach me in the shape of a rugged Russian bear, a thick-hided rhinoceros armed with a horn, or an Asian tiger. Take any shape but the shape you have now, and I will not tremble in fear. Or be alive again and challenge me to fight you in a deserted place. If I stay home and tremble in fear, then say that I have the courage of the doll of a girl. Get away from me, horrible shadow! Leave now, unreal mockery! Go!”

The ghost of Banquo vanished.

Macbeth said, “Now that the ghost has left, I am a man again. Please, everyone, sit down.”

“Your actions have ruined the feast and made everyone uncomfortable,” Lady Macbeth said to her husband.

“How is it possible that such visions can appear and come over us like a cloud without everyone being amazed?” Macbeth said to his wife. “I see such visions and am no longer myself — my face turns white with fear. But you see such visions and your cheeks stay red with their natural color. When I see such visions, I feel like a stranger to my true — that is, my brave — nature.”

Ross, who had overheard the conversation between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, said, “What visions, my lord?”

Lady Macbeth said to the nobles, “I beg you, don’t speak to the King. He grows worse and worse, and question enrages him. At once, please leave and good night. Do not take the time to leave in the order of your rank, but please leave at once.”

Lennox said, “Good night, and better health attend his majesty!”

“A kind good night to all!” Lady Macbeth said.

The nobles departed with much to talk about.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth stood alone in the great hall.

“Blood will have blood,” Macbeth said. “The murdered will have their revenge. Gravestones have been said to move and trees to speak, all to bring murderers to justice. Predictions and psychic evidence reveal murderers. Even the actions of magpies and jackdaws and crows have brought forth evidence to reveal a murderer. What time is it?”

“It is so close to morning that it is difficult to tell whether it is night or morning,” Lady Macbeth replied.

“Macduff declines to come to me when I send for him. What is your opinion of that?”

“Did you send to him, sir?”

“I am reporting to you what I have heard, but I will send for him. Actually, I have already sent for him once — he refused to come and attend our banquet. In every noble’s household I have at least one servant whom I pay to be a spy. Early tomorrow, I will seek the Weird Sisters. I want more information. I am resolved to know the worst even if I have to consult evil witches to know it. I will satisfy my curiosity — to me, nothing is more important than that I get the information I seek. I have waded into a river of blood. I have waded so far and so deep into the river that I might as well keep going rather than return to the bank from which I started. I have in mind strange plots, and I intend to act on them before I think about them too much.”

“You need to get some sleep,” Lady Macbeth said.

“Let’s go to bed,” Macbeth agreed. “My vision of the ghost was simply the fear of a novice to the doing of evil. I need to be more evil and do more evil. I am still much too inexperienced in the doing of dirty deeds.”

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