Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene is particularly important for the view it gives us of Lady Macbeth. We see her lamenting that the accomplishment
of her desire has not brought her content, and this inward unrest, stifled in the presence of her husband by her strong will and her
desire to be of assistance to him, prepares us for the total collapse of her mind exhibited in the sleep-walking scene. She has plunged
into guilt to give her husband his heart's desire, and now she sees that the attainment of his desire has brought him no satisfaction.
It is plain, moreover, that the relation between Macbeth and his wife is no longer what it was. He is unconsciously drawing away from
her; he conceals from her his plot against the life of Banquo; at one time (lines 30-31), indeed, he even seems to be deceiving her.
prepares us for the total separation of the two guilty souls, and for
the strangely passive way in which Macbeth receives the news of his
wife's death in the last act. As regards Macbeth, we have in this
scene stronger testimony than even the preceding has afforded us
to the guilty anguish of his mind, and to the strong compulsion
under which he feels himself to step from crime to crime.
1. Banquo is evidently on Lady Macbeth's mind. She knew of the prophecy of the witches that his descendants should be kings,
and it may be that she, like her husband, is thinking of the possibility of taking action to prevent the fulfilment of this prediction.
Her words in line 38 sound as if some such idea were in her mind.
8. alone. Lady Macbeth knows nothing of her husband's
interview with the murderers, and fancies that since he dismissed
the court he has been brooding alone over the murder of Duncan.
9. sorriest, most dismal.
10. using, cherishing.
12. Should be without regard, should not be thought of.
14. She'll close. It was a common belief that a snake, even
though mangled, would soon recover; the wounds would close.
14. poor malice, weak desire to do harm.
15. former tooth, former power to bite. "Former" refers to the
period before the snake was "[scotch'd]."
16. the frame of things, the universe.
16. both the worlds, heaven and earth.
18. terrible dreams. Already Macbeth is beginning to realize
the meaning of the prophetic voice which proclaimed that he should
sleep no more.
20. peace ... peace. The first "peace" refers to the satisfaction
of his fierce desire for power which Macbeth had hoped to gain by
killing Duncan; the second to the peace of death. Such a play on
words is very characteristic of Shakespeare. See Textual Notes,
21. on the torture of the mind to lie, as if on the rack.
22. ecstasy, madness.
25. levy, army.
22-26. Duncan ... further. Note the solemn beauty of this
passage. Macbeth nowhere gives us a clearer vision of his own
"restless ecstasy" than here where he envies the sound sleep of
the dead king.
25. Malice domestic, foreign levy. Macbeth, no doubt, is thinking of the troubles Duncan had in his lifetime, of Macdonwald's
revolt, and Sweno's invasion. Now, however, the old king is safe in death; nothing can touch him further.
26. Come on, hold, enough.
26, 27. Note how Lady Macbeth rallies to the aid of her husband. She sees that it is useless to reproach or counsel him, so she
addresses him in the tenderest tones. He responds at once, but
soon falls back into his gloomy brooding.
30. remembrance. This word must be pronounced as if it had
four syllables, "rememberance."
This line and the following may be paraphrased as follows: "Do not forget Banquo; distinguish him above his fellow-courtiers both
by your looks of favour and by your speeches." It is hard to see just why Macbeth should say this. He certainly expected that
Banquo would be dead before nightfall; how then could Lady
Macbeth "present him eminence"? Either he says this to hide
from her his plot against Banquo's life, or else he fancies that
the plot may miscarry, in which case the advice will hold good.
The former is, perhaps, the better view.
32, 33. Unsafe ... streams. This is an obscure passage. It
has been conjectured that some words have dropped out, but the
broken line may be due to Macbeth's emotion. The passage may
be paraphrased as follows: "How unsafe we are so long as we
must keep on dipping our dignities (as king and queen) in
streams of flattery."
34. visards, masks.
38. copy, a technical word, drawn from the vocabulary of the law. It is equivalent to "copy-hold," a form of lease common in
Shakespeare's day. The line means: "Their lease of life is not
eternal." Lady Macbeth has now fallen so far behind her husband
that she only hints vaguely at a crime which he has already planned
to the smallest detail.
39. There's comfort yet, there is still some comfort in that thought.
41. cloister'd flight, flight around the cloisters.
42. shard-borne, borne on scaly wings.
43. yawning, drowsy.
44. note, notoriety.
45. chuck, darling.
46. seeling. It was a common practice in Shakespeare's day to
"seel," i.e. to sew up, the eyes of hawks in order to render them
tame and manageable. So night is pictured here as a falconer
sewing up the eyes of day lest it should struggle against the deed
that is to be done.
49. bond, Banquo's lease of life, equivalent to the "copy" of
51. rooky, frequented by rooks.
52. Professor Dowden says very aptly that this line might serve
as a motto of the entire tragedy.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_3_2.html >.
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