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ACT IV SCENE III England. Before the King's palace. 
MALCOLMLet us seek out some desolate shade, and there
Weep our sad bosoms empty.
MACDUFFLet us rather
Hold fast the mortal sword, and like good men
Bestride our down-fall'n birthdom: each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland and yell'd out
Like syllable of dolour.
MALCOLMWhat I believe I'll wail,
What know believe, and what I can redress,
As I shall find the time to friend, I will.10
What you have spoke, it may be so perchance.
This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,
Was once thought honest: you have loved him well.
He hath not touch'd you yet. I am young;
but something
You may deserve of him through me, and wisdom
To offer up a weak poor innocent lamb
To appease an angry god.
MACDUFFI am not treacherous.
MALCOLMBut Macbeth is.
A good and virtuous nature may recoil
In an imperial charge. But I shall crave
your pardon;20
That which you are my thoughts cannot transpose:
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell;
Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace,
Yet grace must still look so.
MACDUFFI have lost my hopes.
MALCOLMPerchance even there where I did find my doubts.
Why in that rawness left you wife and child,
Those precious motives, those strong knots of love,
Without leave-taking? I pray you,
Let not my jealousies be your dishonours,
But mine own safeties. You may be rightly just,30
Whatever I shall think.
MACDUFFBleed, bleed, poor country!
Great tyranny! lay thou thy basis sure,
For goodness dare not cheque thee: wear thou
thy wrongs;
The title is affeer'd! Fare thee well, lord:
I would not be the villain that thou think'st
For the whole space that's in the tyrant's grasp,
And the rich East to boot.
MALCOLMBe not offended:
I speak not as in absolute fear of you.
I think our country sinks beneath the yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds; and each new day a gash40
Is added to her wounds: I think withal
There would be hands uplifted in my right;
And here from gracious England have I offer
Of goodly thousands: but, for all this,
When I shall tread upon the tyrant's head,
Or wear it on my sword, yet my poor country
Shall have more vices than it had before,
More suffer and more sundry ways than ever,
By him that shall succeed.
MACDUFFWhat should he be?
MALCOLMIt is myself I mean: in whom I know50
All the particulars of vice so grafted
That, when they shall be open'd, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms.
MACDUFFNot in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn'd

In evils to top Macbeth.
MALCOLMI grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name: but there's no bottom, none,60
In my voluptuousness: your wives, your daughters,
Your matrons and your maids, could not fill up
The cistern of my lust, and my desire
All continent impediments would o'erbear
That did oppose my will: better Macbeth
Than such an one to reign.
MACDUFFBoundless intemperance
In nature is a tyranny; it hath been
The untimely emptying of the happy throne
And fall of many kings. But fear not yet
To take upon you what is yours: you may70
Convey your pleasures in a spacious plenty,
And yet seem cold, the time you may so hoodwink.
We have willing dames enough: there cannot be
That vulture in you, to devour so many
As will to greatness dedicate themselves,
Finding it so inclined.
MALCOLMWith this there grows
In my most ill-composed affection such
A stanchless avarice that, were I king,
I should cut off the nobles for their lands,
Desire his jewels and this other's house:80
And my more-having would be as a sauce
To make me hunger more; that I should forge
Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal,
Destroying them for wealth.
MACDUFFThis avarice
Sticks deeper, grows with more pernicious root
Than summer-seeming lust, and it hath been
The sword of our slain kings: yet do not fear;
Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will.
Of your mere own: all these are portable,
With other graces weigh'd.90
MALCOLMBut I have none: the king-becoming graces,
As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude,
I have no relish of them, but abound
In the division of each several crime,
Acting it many ways. Nay, had I power, I should
Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell,
Uproar the universal peace, confound
All unity on earth.
MACDUFFO Scotland, Scotland!100
MALCOLMIf such a one be fit to govern, speak:
I am as I have spoken.
MACDUFFFit to govern!
No, not to live. O nation miserable,
With an untitled tyrant bloody-scepter'd,
When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again,
Since that the truest issue of thy throne
By his own interdiction stands accursed,
And does blaspheme his breed? Thy royal father
Was a most sainted king: the queen that bore thee,
Oftener upon her knees than on her feet,110
Died every day she lived. Fare thee well!
These evils thou repeat'st upon thyself
Have banish'd me from Scotland. O my breast,
Thy hope ends here!
MALCOLMMacduff, this noble passion,
Child of integrity, hath from my soul
Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts
To thy good truth and honour. Devilish Macbeth
By many of these trains hath sought to win me
Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me
From over-credulous haste: but God above120
Deal between thee and me! for even now
I put myself to thy direction, and
Unspeak mine own detraction, here abjure
The taints and blames I laid upon myself,
For strangers to my nature. I am yet
Unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
At no time broke my faith, would not betray
The devil to his fellow and delight
No less in truth than life: my first false speaking130
Was this upon myself: what I am truly,
Is thine and my poor country's to command:
Whither indeed, before thy here-approach,
Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men,
Already at a point, was setting forth.
Now we'll together; and the chance of goodness
Be like our warranted quarrel! Why are you silent?
MACDUFFSuch welcome and unwelcome things at once
'Tis hard to reconcile.
[Enter a Doctor]
MALCOLMWell; more anon.--Comes the king forth, I pray you?140
DoctorAy, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls
That stay his cure: their malady convinces
The great assay of art; but at his touch--
Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand--
They presently amend.
MALCOLMI thank you, doctor.
[Exit Doctor]
MACDUFFWhat's the disease he means?
MALCOLM'Tis call'd the evil:
A most miraculous work in this good king;
Which often, since my here-remain in England,
I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,
Himself best knows: but strangely-visited people,150
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery, he cures,
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
Put on with holy prayers: and 'tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction. With this strange virtue,
He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy,
And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
That speak him full of grace.
[Enter ROSS]
MACDUFFSee, who comes here?
MALCOLMMy countryman; but yet I know him not.160
MACDUFFMy ever-gentle cousin, welcome hither.
MALCOLMI know him now. Good God, betimes remove
The means that makes us strangers!
ROSSSir, amen.
MACDUFFStands Scotland where it did?
ROSSAlas, poor country!
Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
Be call'd our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy; the dead man's knell170
Is there scarce ask'd for who; and good men's lives
Expire before the flowers in their caps,
Dying or ere they sicken.
MACDUFFO, relation
Too nice, and yet too true!
MALCOLMWhat's the newest grief?
ROSSThat of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker:
Each minute teems a new one.
MACDUFFHow does my wife?
ROSSWhy, well.
MACDUFFAnd all my children?
ROSSWell too.
MACDUFFThe tyrant has not batter'd at their peace?
ROSSNo; they were well at peace when I did leave 'em.
MACDUFFBut not a niggard of your speech: how goes't?180
ROSSWhen I came hither to transport the tidings,
Which I have heavily borne, there ran a rumour
Of many worthy fellows that were out;
Which was to my belief witness'd the rather,
For that I saw the tyrant's power a-foot:
Now is the time of help; your eye in Scotland
Would create soldiers, make our women fight,
To doff their dire distresses.
MALCOLMBe't their comfort
We are coming thither: gracious England hath
Lent us good Siward and ten thousand men;190
An older and a better soldier none
That Christendom gives out.
ROSSWould I could answer
This comfort with the like! But I have words
That would be howl'd out in the desert air,
Where hearing should not latch them.
MACDUFFWhat concern they?
The general cause? or is it a fee-grief
Due to some single breast?
ROSSNo mind that's honest
But in it shares some woe; though the main part
Pertains to you alone.
MACDUFFIf it be mine,
Keep it not from me, quickly let me have it.200
ROSSLet not your ears despise my tongue for ever,
Which shall possess them with the heaviest sound
That ever yet they heard.
MACDUFFHum! I guess at it.
ROSSYour castle is surprised; your wife and babes
Savagely slaughter'd: to relate the manner,
Were, on the quarry of these murder'd deer,
To add the death of you.
MALCOLMMerciful heaven!
What, man! ne'er pull your hat upon your brows;
Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak
Whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break.210
MACDUFFMy children too?
ROSSWife, children, servants, all
That could be found.
MACDUFFAnd I must be from thence!
My wife kill'd too?
ROSSI have said.
MALCOLMBe comforted:
Let's make us medicines of our great revenge,
To cure this deadly grief.
MACDUFFHe has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?
MALCOLMDispute it like a man.
MACDUFFI shall do so;220
But I must also feel it as a man:
I cannot but remember such things were,
That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on,
And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,
They were all struck for thee! naught that I am,
Not for their own demerits, but for mine,
Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now!
MALCOLMBe this the whetstone of your sword: let grief
Convert to anger; blunt not the heart, enrage it.
MACDUFFO, I could play the woman with mine eyes230
And braggart with my tongue! But, gentle heavens,
Cut short all intermission; front to front
Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself;
Within my sword's length set him; if he 'scape,
Heaven forgive him too!
MALCOLMThis tune goes manly.
Come, go we to the king; our power is ready;
Our lack is nothing but our leave; Macbeth
Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above
Put on their instruments. Receive what cheer you may:
The night is long that never finds the day.240

Next: Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 3
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)


This long scene serves at once to sum up the fourth act and to introduce the fifth. It gives us a picture of the wretched state of Scotland under Macbeth's tyranny, and by way of contrast shows us the blessings conferred upon his people by a virtuous monarch.

The long dialogue between Malcolm and Macduff with which the scene opens is, perhaps, the only tiresome passage of the play. It is drawn directly from Holinshed, and it seems as if in this case Shakespeare did not have full mastery over his sources. At the same time this dialogue gives us a good idea of the prudence and virtue of Malcolm who is to succeed Macbeth as king, and, in the rugged honesty of Macduff, a picture of the loyal subject as Shakespeare conceived him.

The episodic account of the "royal touch" is introduced, not merely by way of compliment to King James, but also to show that God through his earthly representative, the holy king, is on the side of Malcolm, as the devil, through his instruments, the witches, is pushing on Macbeth. The appearance of Ross at the English court shows that even the most time-serving of the Scottish nobles are abandoning the tyrant, and the news that he brings gives Macduff a personal as well as a public cause of vengeance on Macbeth.

1. Malcolm, as he frankly confesses later on, is suspicious of Macduff and imagines that he has been sent by Macbeth to encourage him to an invasion of Scotland and then to betray him. He therefore feigns a weakness and reluctance to undertake the attempt that he does not really feel.

4. Bestride our down-fall'n birthdom, stand over the prostrate form of our mother-country, as a soldier would bestride a fallen comrade to protect him from the enemy.

6. that, so that.

8. syllable of dolour, cry of grief and pain. Heaven is thought of as echoing the cries that rise up from Scotland.

10. to friend, favourable.

12. whose sole name, the mere utterance of whose name.

13. honest, honourable.

14. He hath not touched you yet. Note the unconscious irony of this speech. Of course neither Malcolm nor Macduff knows anything of the fate of the latter's family.

14, 15. I am young ... wisdom, although I am still young, you may learn something of Macbeth's nature through my experience, and understand that it would be a wise thing. "Wisdom" like "something" is the object of "discern," which here has a double meaning, first, "learn"; second, "understand."

15. discern, learn.

19, 20. A good ... charge, even a virtuous man may fall, "recoil" = give way, degenerate, in the execution of a commission, "charge," imposed on him by royal, "imperial," authority. Malcolm plainly hints that Macduff's virtuous character may have been so wrought upon by Macbeth that it has sunk to a point where it might well be suspected of treachery.

20. shall crave, ought to ask.

21. transpose, alter the nature of.

21. thoughts, used here with reference to Malcolm's suspicions of Macduff.

23. would wear, should, were to, wear.

24. so, like itself.

24. my hopes. Macduff had, of course, expected to be received with open arms by Malcolm as a strong ally against Macbeth. He is deeply hurt by the prince's suspicions, and speaks out with his usual frankness.

25. even there, in that action which has aroused my doubts. Malcolm goes on to say why he distrusts Macduff. He can hardly believe that if Macduff really means to fight Macbeth, he would have left his family defenceless in Scotland.

26. rawness, rash haste.

27. motives, causes for action.

28. An imperfect line. The first half really concludes the rhythmical phrase of the two preceding lines. The last half begins a new phrase.

29. jealousies, suspicions.

29, 30. Let not ... safeties, let not my suspicions be regarded as something dishonourable to you, but as something intended to secure my own safety.

30. rightly just, wholly honourable.

31. shall think, may think of you.

33. wear thou thy wrongs, enjoy the benefit of the wrongs you have inflicted on your country. The subject of "wear" is "tyranny."

37. Be not offended. Malcolm sees that he has gone too far. He has no wish to drive Macduff away, but he is not wholly satisfied, and now puts him to another test.

41. withal, moreover.

42. in my right, in support of my claim.

43. England, the king of England. This use of the name of a country to denote the monarch is very common in Shakespeare. Cf. i. 2. 51.

46. wear, bear.

48. sundry, diverse.

49. What should he be? What sort of a person is he, Macbeth's successor, to be? Macduff is naturally slow to believe that Malcolm is referring to himself.

51. particulars of vice, special forms of vice.

52. open'd, revealed. There is also a reference to the figure implied in "grafted" of the preceding line. Malcolm means that the vices grafted into his nature will some day open in full flower.

55. my confineless harms, the unbounded injuries that I shall inflict.

57. top, surpass.

58. Luxurious, licentious.

59. Sudden, hasty, violent.

64. continent, restraining.

65. will, desire, lust. 66, 67. Boundless intemperance In nature, absolute lack of self-control in a man's character.

69. fall, cause of fall.

71. a spacious plenty, an ample liberty.

72. hoodwink, blind, deceive.

74. That vulture ... to devour, such a vulture as to devour.

76. With this, moreover, in addition to my licentiousness.

77. ill-composed, compounded of evil qualities.

77. affection, disposition.

78. stanchless, unstanchable.

81. sauce, stimulant.

85. Sticks deeper, strikes a deeper root. Cf. iii. i. 50.

86. summer-seeming, summer-like.

87. The sword of our slain kings, the sword which has slain our kings.

88. foisons, plenties.

89. Of your mere own, with what is yours alone. There is enough that belongs to the king alone in Scotland to satisfy even such an avarice as Malcolm attributes to himself.

89. portable, endurable.

90. With other graces weigh'd, when balanced by other virtues.

93. perseverance, pronounced "persev'rance."

95. relish of, trace of.

96. In the division of, in every shade of. The word "division" is taken from the musical vocabulary of Shakespeare's day, and denotes a rapid succession of varying notes in the scale.

97. An Alexandrine.

99. Uproar, disturb by revolution.

99. confound, destroy.

104. With an untitled ... bloody-sceptred, swayed by the bloody sceptre of a usurping tyrant.

105. wholesome, healthy, prosperous.

106. the truest issue, the true heir.

107. interdiction, a sort of ecclesiastical injunction, which when launched against a king, put him under the curse of the church and forbade him to perform his royal duties. Malcolm's confession of his sinful nature is here compared to such an interdict.

108. blaspheme his breed, brings scandal upon his ancestry.

111. Died every day she lived. Compare I Corinthians, xv. 31:
"I die daily," where St. Paul speaks of himself as dying to the world.

111. Lived, probably pronounced as a word of two syllables.

112. The evils ... thyself, the vices which you have repeatedly charged yourself with.

114. passion, passionate outburst.

118. trains, tricks.

119. modest, sober.

119. plucks, restrains.

123. Unspeak ... detraction, contradict what I have said against myself.

124. blames, accusations.

125. For, as.

135. at a point, prepared.

136. the chance of goodness, the successful issue.

137. silent, Macduff's silence and his hesitating speech when Malcolm questions him show how he has been baffled by the prince's sudden change of front. Some commentators have even suggested that Macduff would at this point have abandoned Malcolm, if it had not been for the news Ross brings him.

138. welcome and unwelcome. The disavowal of the crimes that Malcolm had charged himself with was, of course, welcome to Macduff; but the suspicions which had led the prince to act as he did were most unwelcome. Altogether the brave, frank warrior is completely puzzled.

141. crew, company.

142. stay, wait for.

143. The great assay of art, the strongest efforts of medical skill.

145. presently, straightway.

146. the evil, scrofula, formerly called the "king's evil," because the English kings were supposed to have the power to cure it by the laying on of hands. So late as 1712 Samuel Johnson, then a child in his third year, was brought up to London to be "touched" by Queen Anne. This gift was supposed to have descended to English sovereigns from Edward the Confessor. When James ascended the English throne he was, or pretended to be, reluctant to exercise this power for fear lest he might be considered superstitious. He consented, however, to continue the practice of touching, ascribing the cures which followed to the efficacy of his prayers.

150. strangely-visited, strangely afflicted.

153. stamp, coin.

156. virtue, power.

159. speak, proclaim.

160. countryman, Malcolm recognizes a Scotchman by his dress, but is not certain who he is.

163. the means ... strangers, the cause that makes us strangers to each other. Malcolm's delay in recognizing Ross is probably to be attributed to his long absence from Scotland. This absence is due to Macbeth's usurpation, which he prays God to put an end to.

166. where, in which place, in Scotland.

169. made, uttered.

169, 170. violent sorrow ... ecstasy, Ross says that terrible outbursts of sorrow are regarded as of no more importance than common fits of madness. This seems a strange speech, but it reflects the feeling of Shakespeare's day when madness was little regarded and even laughed at.

173. relation, report.

173. or ere, before.

174. nice, fancifully minute.

175. hiss the speaker, for bringing stale news.

176. teems, brings forth.

177. children, pronounced "childeren."

178. The almost careless way in which Macduff asks this question shows how unprepared he is for the news, and makes it harder for Ross to tell him.

179. they were well ... leave them, Ross is reluctant to break the news to Macduff, and puts him off with this evasive answer. Before he tells him the truth he makes sure that Malcolm is about to invade Scotland.

182. heavily, sadly.

183. out, up in arms.

184. Which was ... rather, which rumour was the more strongly attested to my belief.

185. power, army.

186. time of help, opportunity for military aid.

188. doff, put away, get rid of.

192. gives out, proclaims.

195. latch, catch.

196. fee-grief, private sorrow.

202. possess, in form.

206. quarry, heap of bodies.

210. o'erfraught, overburdened.

220. Dispute, fight against.

225. naught, wicked.

229. Convert, turn.

232. intermission, delay.

235. time, tune.

239. Put on, push forward, encourage.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < >.

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