William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scene 1

CHAPTER 5: The Fall of Macbeth

— 5.1 —

In an anteroom in Macbeth’s castle at Dunsinane, a doctor and a gentlewoman — a woman of high social standing — talked together.

The doctor said, “I have for two nights stayed up and watched with you, but I have seen nothing of what you have reported to me. When was it Lady Macbeth last sleepwalked?”

The gentlewoman replied, “Ever since Macbeth took his soldiers out to try to stop the rebellion of the nobles, I have often seen her rise from her bed, throw her nightgown upon her body, unlock her chest, take out paper, fold it, write upon it, read it, afterwards seal it, and again return to bed. She has done all these things despite being in a deep sleep.”

“This is a great perturbation in nature, to receive the benefit of sleep and yet at the same time to do many things that are normally done while awake. Have you ever heard her say anything while she is sleepwalking?”

“Yes, sir, I have heard her say things that I will not repeat to you.”

“You may tell me,” the doctor said. “It is the right thing for you to do.”

“I will not tell you or anyone else — not until I have a witness to confirm what I would say,” the gentlewoman said.

Holding a candle, Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking, entered the room.

The gentlewoman said, “Look! Here she comes! This is what she often does. She is asleep — watch her, but stay hidden.”

“Where did she get the candle?”

“It was by her bed. She always has candles lit by her at night. She has ordered that this be done.”

“Her eyes are open,” the doctor said.

“Yes, but she does not see anything. She is still asleep.”

“What is she doing now?” the doctor asked. “Look how she rubs her hands.”

“Seeming to wash her hands is a habit of hers. I have seen her do this for a quarter of an hour.”

Lady Macbeth, thinking she saw King Duncan’s blood on her hands, said, “Yet here’s a spot.”

The doctor said, “I will write down what she says. It will help me to remember her words.”

Reliving the night that her husband and she murdered King Duncan, the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth said, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”

Reliving hearing the bell strike two the night of King Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth said, “One. Two. Why, then, it is time to do it. Hell is murky! My husband, are you a soldier and afraid? What need we fear who knows what we will have done, when none will have the power to bring us to justice?”

Reliving when she smeared King Duncan’s blood on the faces of his bodyguards, Lady Macbeth said, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.”

“Did you hear that?” the doctor said.

Reliving the murder of Lady Macduff, Lady Macbeth said, “The Thane of Fife had a wife — where is she now?”

Reliving trying to wash her hands after she had smeared King Duncan’s blood on the faces of his bodyguards, Lady Macbeth said, “What, will these hands never be clean?”

Reliving the banquet at which her husband had been startled when he thought he saw Banquo’s ghost, Lady Macbeth said, “No more of that, my lord, no more of that — you will mar all unless you can appear to be innocent.”

“For shame,” the doctor said. “You have known what you should not.”

“She has spoken something that she should not, I am sure of that,” the gentlewoman said. “Heaven knows what she has known.”

Lady Macbeth said, “Here’s the smell of the blood still! All the perfumes of Arabia will not take away the smell of this blood!”

She sighed heavily.

“What a sigh she made!” the doctor said, “Her heart is gravely burdened.”

The gentlewoman said, “I would not have such a heart in my bosom even if I were Queen.”

The doctor said, “Well, well, well.”

“Pray God all be well, sir,” the gentlewoman said.

“This disease is beyond my medical knowledge, yet I have known some people who have walked in their sleep who have died holily and without guilt in their beds.”

Lady Macbeth said, “Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, don’t look so pale. … I tell you yet again, Banquo is buried — he cannot come out of his grave.”

“This is something new,” the doctor said.

Lady Macbeth said, “To bed, to bed! There is knocking at the gate. Come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed!”

Still asleep, Lady Macbeth walked out of the room.

“Will she go now to bed?” the doctor asked.

“Yes. Immediately,” the gentlewoman said.

“Foul whisperings and evil rumors are abroad,” the doctor said. “Unnatural deeds do breed unnatural troubles such as sleepwalking and sleeptalking — guilty minds will tell their secrets to their deaf pillows. Lady Macbeth needs a priest more than she needs a physician. May God forgive us all!”

He ordered the gentlewoman, “Look after her. Take away from her anything she can use to hurt herself. Watch her carefully.”

He added, “Now, good night. She has baffled my mind and amazed my sight. I dare not tell anyone what I think.”

“Good night, good doctor,” the gentlewoman said.

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