At the time when Duncan the Kind was King of Scotland there was a great lord, named Macbeth. this Macbeth was a near relation to the King, and was greatly respected, because he was a man without fear, and had made a name for himself in the wars. Not long before the time of which we are writing he had done well by overcoming an army of Scots who had gone against the king with the help of a great force of men from Norway.
After the fight two Scotch chiefs, Macbeth and Banquo, were on their way back 'across a waste field, when they were stopped by three strange beings, who were like women but for the fact that they had hair on their chins, and their dry, yellow skin and rough clothing made them seem unlike any living things. Macbeth first said something to them, and they seemed angry, everyone of them putting her cracked finger on her thin lips as a sign that they were to keep quiet~ and the first of them gave Macbeth the name of Lord of Glamis. Macbeth was greatly surprised to see that these old women had a knowledge of who he was; but he was even more so, when the second of them then gave him the name of Lord of Cawdor, to which he had no right ; and again the third said to him, "May all go well with you, King of Scotland !" It was quite natural that he was surprised by such a statement of future events, because he was certain that while the king's sons were living he had no hope of becoming king. Then turning to Banquo, they said to him in words the sense of which was not clear, that he was lets that, Macbeth, but greater ! not so happy, but much happier ! and said that though he would not be king, his sons after him would be kings in Scotland. They then became air, and were seen no more: by which Macbeth and Banquo saw that they were unnatural beings.
While they were giving thought to this strange experience, there came some servants from the king, who were sent by him to give Macbeth the name of Lord of Cawdor. Macbeth was so much surprised by an event which so strangely gave support to the words of the three women that be was unable to make answer to these men: and at that minute great hopes came into his mind, that the statement of the third woman might in the same way become true, and that he would some day be King of Scotland.
Turning to Banquo, he said, "Do you not have hopes that your sons will be kings, now that what the women said about me has so strangely become true?" "That hope," said Banquo, "might give you a strong desire to become king: but frequently these strange beings say what is true in little things, so that we may be tricked into doing a great wrong."
But the bad suggestions of the strange women had gone so deep into the mind of Macbeth that he gave no attention to the words of the good Banquo. Prom that time all his thoughts were given to the question of how to become King of Scotland.
To Lady Macbeth, Macbeth gave an account of the surprising statement of the strange sisters, and how it had in part become true. She was a bad woman with a great desire to be important, and she was ready to take any steps to get a higher position for herself and Macbeth, who had no desire to do a violent act, was pushed on by her to a decision, and she kept before him the fact that it would only be possible for him to become king as the sisters had said if he put the present king to death.
At this time the king, who went from time to time to the houses of his chief lords as a friend, came by chance to Macbeth's house, in the company of his two sons, Malcolm and Donalbuin, and a number of lords and servants, chiefly as a sign of greater respect for Macbeth because he had overcome the army which had gone against the king.
The house of Macbeth was in a good position, and the air about it was sweet and healthy. This was clear from the fact that swallows2 made places for their young under the overhanging roofs and supports of the buildings, wherever this was possible: because the air is generally sweet where these birds are most to be seen. The king came into the house, very pleased with, the place, and not less so with the attentions and respect of Lady Macbeth, who had the art of covering cruel purposes with smiles and was able to seem like the sweet flower, while she was in fact the snake under it.
The king, being tired with his journey, went early to bed, and in his room two servants (as on other nights) took their stations by the side of him. He had been greatly pleased with the night’s amusement, and had made offerings, before he went to bed, to his chief men ; and among the rest, had sent a great Jewel to Lady Macbeth, saying that she had been very kind to him.
Now it was the middle of the night, when over half the earth seems dead, and men’s minds are troubled in their sleep, and no one is about but the animals of the wood and men with crimes to do. This was the time when Lady Macbeth was designing the death of the king. She would not have undertaken an act so shocking to a woman but for her fear that Macbeth had not hard enough heart to do such a crime. She was certain that he had a great desire to become king, but he had a strong sense of what was right, and was still not ready to do crimes on the scale which is generally necessary in the end for those who have so strong a desire to be great. He had been forced by her to give approval to the violent step, but she had doubts about his decision of mind ; and she had a fear that his naturally kind heart (it was softer than hers) would come between, making the purpose come to nothing. So with a knife in her hand she came near the king’s bed; having taken care to let the servants of his room have so much wine that they were unconscious in sleep, without a thought for their watch. There was Duncan, sleeping well after his long journey, and looking at him with great attention, she saw that there was something in his face which was like her father ; and she was kept from the cruel act.
She came back to have a talk with Macbeth. Doubts were coming into his mind. He saw that there were strong reasons against the act. In the first place, he was not only under the king’s authority, but a near relation of his ; and he was sleeping in his house that night, after taking food at his table, so it was right for him as owner of the house to keep out any man who was a danger to the king. How wrong it would be for him to take up the knife himself ! Then he saw clearly how upright and kind a king this Duncan had been, how good to his men, how loving to his lords, and specially to him ; that such kings are in the special care of the Father, and if they are put to a violent death it is certain that others will see to the punishment of the wrong. doer. In addition, the king’s approval had given all sorts of men a high opinion of Macbeth, and how he would be shamed if his cruel act came to light!
Lady Macbeth saw that in this trouble of mind, Macbeth was being guided by his better self, and making a decision to do no more. But she, being a woman not readily turned from her crud purpose, now put her thoughts into strong words, causing him to be moved by the same feelings as herself, and gave a number of reasons why he would be wise to go on with his undertaking : how simple the act was ; how quickly it would be done ; and how the events of one short night would give to all their nights and days to come the power and authority of King and Queen! Then she did ha best to give him a sense of shame for his change of purpose, saying he was feeble and full of fear; and she said that she had given her milk to a baby, and had had the sweet experience of roving the baby which took her milk, but she would, while it was smiling in her face, have taken it from her, and given it its death-blow, if she had undertaken to do it, as he had to put the king to death. And, she went on, it would not be hard to make the sleeping servants, who were overcome by drink, seem responsible for the crime. Whipped by her angry words, his decision again became strong enough for him to go through with the cruel business.
So, taking the knife in his hand, he softly went in the dark to the room where Duncan was sleeping; and when he went, it seemed to him that he saw another knife in the air, with the blade turned from him, and on the point of it drops of blood: but when he made an attempt to take it, it was nothing but air, only a fiction caused by his heated and troubled brain and the business he had in hand.
Putting off this fear, he went into the king’s room, and put the king to death with one blow of his knife. When he had done this, one of the servants who was sleeping in the room, gave a laugh in his sleep, and the other gave a cry, "Help ! he’s dead !" and so they came awake ; but they said some words of religion: one of them said, "May the Father give us help !" and the other made answer, "So be it," and they went to sleep again. Macbeth, hearing these words, made an attempt to say, "So be it," when the servant said, "May the Father give us help !" but, though he had most need of such kind help, the sound did not come, and he was unable to say the words.
Again it seemed to him that a voice came to his ears, crying "No more sleep : Macbeth puts sleep to death, sweet sleep, which makes men strong." Still it said, "No more sleep," to all the house. "Glamis has put sleep to death, and now Cawdor will have sleep no more, Macbeth will have sleep no more."
With such shocking thoughts in his mind, Macbeth came back to his Lady who had been waiting for him and had got the idea that he had been unable to give effect to his purpose and that for some reason the act had not been done. He came looking so troubled that she got angry with him for his fears, and sent him to get the blood off his hands, while she took his knife to go and put blood on the faces of the servants, to make it seem their crime.
Morning came, and with it the discovery of the king’s death, which it was not possible to keep secret ; and though Macbeth and his Lady seemed very sad, and the facts against the servants (the knife being produced against them and their faces covered with blood) were strong enough, there was a general feeling that Macbeth had been responsible for the crime, because he had far more reason to do such a thing than the poor foolish servants ; and Duncan’s two sons quickly got away. Malcolm, the older, went to the English King; and the younger, Donalbain, got away to Ireland.
Because the king’s sons, who had a right to their father’s position, were not there, Macbeth as the nearest relation was made king, and in this way the statement of the strange sisters became true in fact.
Though placed so high, Macbeth and his queen were unable to put out of their minds the words of the strange sisters, that, though Macbeth would be king, not his sons, but those of Banquo, would be kings after him. They were so troubled by the thought of this, and by the fact that they had put the king to death, and done such great crimes, only to let Banquo’s sons become kings, that they made a decision to put to death Banquo and his son, so that all would not take place as the strange sisters had said, though their words so far had been so surprisingly true.
For this purpose they gave a great meal, to which all the great lords were requested to come ; and, among the rest, with words of special respect, Banquo and his son, Fleance, were requested to be present. Macbeth gave orders that Banquo and his son were to be put to death when they were on their way to his house that night, and Banquo got a knife in his back ; but in the fight Fleance got away. From that Fleance came a line of rulers who later became Kings of Scotland, ending with James the Sixth of Scotland and the First of England, who became the united ruler of England and Scotland.
At the table that night the queen, whose behavior was everything which is looked for in persons of her position, was so kind and sweet to everyone that they all became her friends, and Macbeth, talking freely with his Lords and chiefs, said that all the great men of the country would be under his roof if he had only his good friend Banquo present. He would be happier, he said, if he had cause to be angry with Banquo for having a short memory than to be sad because some unhappy chance had overtaken him. At these words the shade of Banquo, who had been put to death by his orders, came into the room, and took the seat which Macbeth was about to go to. Though Macbeth was a strong man and would not have been troubled even if he had come face to face with Satan, all the color went from his face when he saw this shocking thing, and he became rooted to the place, all his self-control gone, with his eyes fixed on the shade. Lady Macbeth and all the lords, who saw nothing but the fact that he was looking (as it seemed to them) at a seat with no one on it, were of the opinion that his mind was on other things; and she was angry with him, saying in a low voice that it was only the same trick of the mind which had made him see the blade in the air when he was about to put Duncan to death. But Macbeth went on seeing the shade, and gave no attention to the general talk, while he said something to it in strange, broken words, which were, however, so full of suggestion that his queen, fearing the shocking secret would come to light, quickly sent everyone away, saying that Macbeth’s strange behavior was caused by a disease he was troubled with.
These strange experiences became frequent with Macbeth. His queen and he were greatly troubled in their sleep, and the death of Banquo made them no more unhappy than the fact that Fleance had got away, because he now seemed to them the father of a line of kings, who would keep their sons from becoming kings. EXAMPLES 293 With these sad thoughts they had no peace of mind, and Macbeth made a decision to see the strange sisters again, so that he might have knowledge of the worst.
He saw them in a hollow place out on the field, where they, who were conscious through their unnatural powers that he was coming, were getting ready the strange substances by which the Dark Powers which gave them knowledge of the future were produced. Their disgusting materials were snakes and worms, the eye of an insect, and the tongue of a dog, the leg of a pig, and the wing of a night-bird, the skin of a dragon2, the tooth of a cat, the stomach of a salt-sea fish, the dry bones of an old woman, the root of a poisoned plant (this, to have effect, has to be pulled up in the dark), the muscle of a goat, and the stomach of a Jew, with bits of an evergreen tree which has its roots among the dead, and the finger of a dead baby : all these were cooked together by boiling them in a great pot, into which, when it became heated, was put the cold blood of a monkey : into these they put the blood of a pig which had put to death her young, and they put into the flame fat which had been got from a man put to death by hanging. By the use of these strange substances the Dark Powers were forced to give them answers to their questions.
They said to Macbeth that he might have his questions answered by them, or by their chiefs, the Dark Powers. He had no fear of the shocking things he saw, and made answer quickly, "Where are they ? Let me see them." And these Powers, of which there were three, were then produced. And the first which came up was like an armed head, and he said Macbeth’s name, and said he would be wise to keep a watch on the Lord of Fife. Macbeth was pleased to have this knowledge, because he had had his doubts about Macduff, the Lord of Fife.
And the second was like a baby covered with blood, and he said Macbeth’s name, and made the statement that he had no need for fear or to be troubled by the power of man, because he was in danger from no man to whom a woman had given birth ; and he said that he was to be cruel certain, and free from fear. "Then, go on living, Macduff !" said the king ; "What need have I to go in fear of you ? But I will let there be no doubt of it. I will put you to death; so that I may say to crying fear that it is false, and have sleep even through the thunder."
That Power being sent away, a third came up in the form of a baby with a circle of gold on his head, and a tree in his hand. He said Macbeth’s name, and gave him comfort against the secret designs of others, by saying that he would not be overcome, till the wood of Birnam came to Dunsinane against him. "Sweet words ! Good !" said Macbeth: "Who is able to take up the wood. and get its roots free from the earth ? I see that my existence will be as long as that of other men, and that I will not be cut oil by a violent death. But I have a great desire for knowledge of one thing. Say, if your art is great enough, if Banquo’s sons will ever be kings of this country ?" Here the pot went down into the earth, and a noise of music came to his ears, and eight shades. like kings, went past Macbeth, and Banquo last, who had a looking-glass in which were seen the forms of others; and Banquo. covered with blood, gave a smile at Macbeth, pointing to them. By this Macbeth saw that these were the family of Banquo, who would become kings of Scotland after him; and the strange sisters, with a sound of soft music, and with dancing, respecting Macbeth as if they were his servants, went from view. And fro to this time the mind of Macbeth was full of cruel and shocking thoughts.
The first thing which came to his ears when he came from the strange sisters, was that Macduff, Lord of Fife, had got away to England to give help to the army which was forming against him under Malcolm, the oldest son of the last king, for the purpose of overcoming Macbeth, and making Malcolm king of Scotland, which was his right. Macbeth, angry at the news, made an attack on the house of Macduff, and put to death not only Lady Macduff and her babies, whom Macduff had not taken with him, but all who had any connection with him.
Because of such acts as these all his chief lords went against him. Those who were able to do so, went and took the side of Malcolm and Macduff, who were now coming near with a strong army which they had got together in England; and the rest had the secret hope that their army would overcome Macbeth, though for fear of him they were unable to take part themselves. He got his army together slowly. The cruel king was hated by every. body, loved and respected by nobody, doubted by all, so that he now had the thought that Duncan, who had been put to death by him and was sleeping in peace under the earth, was happier than he. Against him false friends had done their worst : he was no longer in danger from steel or poison, he was troubled no longer by the hate of those round him or by armies from other lands.
While these things were going on, the queen, who was the only person who had taken part in his wrongdoing, and with whom he was sometimes able to take a minute’s rest from the unhappy sleep by which they were so troubled every night, put herself to death, or so it seemed, because the knowledge of her crime and public hate gave her no rest. After this he was quite by himself, without the love or care of anyone, or a friend whom he might safely let into the secret of his cruel purpose.
He became tired of living, and had a desire for death; but the fact that Malcolm’s army was coming near made him more like his old self, and he came to a decision to go to his death (as he put it) “with his coat of war on his back.” In addition to this, the words with which he had been tricked by the strange sisters had given him false belief, and he had in his mind the sayings of the Dark Powers, that he was in danger from no man to whom a woman had given birth, and that he would not be overcome till Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane, and this, it seemed to him, would not ever take place. So he kept in his house, which had such strong walls that it would be hard for anyone to get in by force: here, full of dark thoughts, he got ready for Malcolm to come near. One day there came to him a servant shaking with fear and with a white face. He was almost unable to say what he had seen, because suddenly it had seemed to him, when he was on watch, looking from the slope which he was on in the direction of Birnam, that the wood was moving! "That’s not possible ! Foolish fears !" said Macbeth. "If what you say is false, I will put you to death by hanging you from the nearest tree without food. If your story is true, you may do the same thing to me" : because Macbeth was now less certain of himself, and had doubts about the words of the Dark Powers by which he had been wrongly guided. He was not to have fears, till Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane : and now a wood was moving! "However," said he, "if what he says is true, let us get our arms and go out. It is not possible for us to get away from here, and it is foolish to do nothing. I am getting tired of the sun, and have a desire for death." With these unhappy words, he made an attack on Malcolm’s army, which had now come up to the house.
The reason why it had seemed to the servant that a wood was moving, is readily given. When the army went on through the wood of Birnam, Malcolm, like an able chief, gave orders to every one of his men to get a branch and put it in front of him, so that it would not be seen what their true number was. This army, moving forward with branches, had at a distance seemed strange enough to put fear into the servant. In this way the words of the Dark Power became true, in a sense different from that in which Macbeth had taken them, and one great reason for his belief that all would be well was gone.
And now a hard fight took place, in which Macbeth, though feebly helped by those who said they were his friends, but in fact were against the cruel king and were now ready to take the side of Malcolm and Macduff, put up a great fight, seeming have no fear, and put to death all who were against him, till he came to where Macduff was fighting. Seeing Macduff, and having in mind that he was to keep out of the way of Macduff who was his greatest danger, he made an attempt to get away ; but Macduff, who had been looking for him through all the fight, kept him from going, and a violent fight took place ; and with shaming words Macduff said that Macbeth had been responsible for the death of Lady Macduff and his family. Macbeth, who had been responsible for enough deaths in that family, still had a desire to get away without fighting ; but he was forced to it by Macduff, who said loudly that he was a cruel ruler, one who had put women and babies to death, a servant of Satan, a lord of crime.
Then there came into Macbeth’s mind the saying that he would not be wounded by any man to whom a woman had given birth ; and smiling at the thought that he was safe, he said to Macduff : "You have no power against me, Macduff. I am as safe as the air itself from the attack of your blade. I am not as others are. No man to whom a woman has given birth will overcome me."
"Put that comfort from you," said Macduff, "and let that false Power, whose servant you have been, say to you that Macduff was not given birth to by a woman, not in any normal way, but was taken from his mother before his time."
"Death to the person who says this to me," said Macbeth, shaking with fear because his last hope was gone, "and let no man in future have belief in the false words of cruel old women, and the tricks of Dark Powers, who give us comfort with words which may be taken in two ways, and while they are in fact true, are seen to have a different sense from that which had given hope. I will not have a fight with you."
"Then, go on living !" said Macduff, with shaming words ; "we will put you out on view, like some strange animal, with a painted board, which will have on it the words : 'Here men may see the cruel ruler !'"
"That will not ever be," said Macbeth, whose fear went from him now that he saw no hope, "I will not go on living to be shamed before young Malcolm, and to be laughed at publicly. Though Birnam Wood has come to Dunsinane, and you who were not given birth to by a woman are against me, I will make the last attempt." With these violent words he made an attack on Macduff, who, after a hard fight, in the end overcame him, and, cutting off his head, made an offering of it to young Malcolm, the true king. Malcolm now took over the government from which he had been kept so long by the designing Macbeth, and became king s the son of Duncan the Kink among cries of approval from the lords and all the country.