"Is That a Dagger I See Before Me?"

June 29, 2020

William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Vol. 46, pp. 357-365 of The Harvard Classics

Macbeth, spurred on by the ambitious and crafty Lady Macbeth, committed murder to secure the crown of Scotland. But he paid dearly for his gain. Ghostly guests appeared at his banquet and threatened him with dire threats.
(Shakespeare's Globe Theatre burned June 29, 1613.)

Scene IV
[The same. Hall in the palace]
A banquet prepar’d. Enter MACBETH, LADY MACBETH, ROSS, LENNOX, Lords, and Attendants

  Macb.  You know your own degrees; sit down. At first
And last, the hearty welcome.
  Lords.        Thanks to your Majesty.
  Macb.  Ourself will mingle with society
And play the humble host.
Our hostess keeps her state, 1 but in best time
We will require her welcome.
  Lady M.  Pronounce it for me, sir, to all our friends,
For my heart speaks they are welcome.

First Murderer [appears at the door]

  Macb.  See, they encounter thee with their hearts’ thanks.
Both sides are even; here I’ll sit i’ the midst.
Be large in mirth; anon we’ll drink a measure
The table round.  [Approaching the door.]
        —There’s blood upon thy face.
  Mur.  ’Tis Banquo’s then.
  Macb.  ’Tis better thee without than he within.
Is he dispatch’d?
  Mur.  My lord, his throat is cut; that I did for him.
  Macb.  Thou art the best o’ the cut-throats; yet he’s good
That did the like for Fleance. If thou didst it,
Thou art the nonpareil. 2
  Mur.        Most royal sir,
Fleance is scap’d.
  Macb.  Then comes my fit again. I had else been perfect,
Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,
As broad and general as the casing air;
But now I am cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d, bound in
To saucy doubts and fears. But Banquo’s safe?
  Mur.  Ay, my good lord; safe in a ditch he bides,
With twenty trenched gashes on his head,
The least a death to nature.
  Macb.        Thanks for that;
There the grown serpent lies. The worm 3 that’s fled
Hath nature that in time will venom breed,
No teeth for the present. Get thee gone; to-morrow
We’ll hear ourselves again. 4  Exit Murderer.
  Lady M.        My royal lord,
You do not give the cheer. The feast is sold
That is not often vouch’d, while ’tis a-making,
’Tis given with welcome. To feed were best at home;
From thence, the sauce to meat is ceremony;
Meeting were bare without it.

Enter the Ghost of BANQUO, and sits in MACBETH’S place

  Macb.        Sweet remembrancer!
Now, good digestion wait on appetite,
And health on both!
  Len.        May ’t please your Highness sit.
  Macb.  Here had we now our country’s honour roof’d,
Were the grac’d person of our Banquo present,
Who may I rather challenge for unkindness
Than pity for mischance.
  Ross.        His absence, sir,
Lays blame upon his promise. Please ’t your Highness
To grace us with your royal company?
  Macb.  The table’s full.
  Len.        Here is a place reserv’d, sir.
  Macb.  Where?
  Len.  Here, my good lord. What is ’t that moves your Highness?
  Macb.  Which of you have done this?
  Lords.        What, my good lord?
  Macb.  Thou canst not say I did it; never shake
Thy gory locks at me.
  Ross.  Gentlemen, rise: his Highness is not well.
  Lady M.  Sit, worthy friends; my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth. Pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well. If much you note him,
You shall offend him and extend his passion. 5
Feed, and regard him not. [Aside to MACBETH.]
Are you a man?
  Macb.  Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that
Which might appall the devil.
  Lady M.  [Aside to MACBETH.]  O proper 6 stuff!
This is the very painting of your fear;
This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws 7 and starts,
Impostors to 8 true fear, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authoriz’d 9 by her grandam. Shame itself!
Why do you make such faces? When all’s done,
You look but on a stool.
  Macb.  Prithee, see there! behold! look! lo! how say you?
Why, what care I? If thou canst nod, speak too.
If charnel-houses and our graves must send
Those that we bury back, our monuments 10
Shall be the maws of kites.  [Ghost vanishes.]
  Lady M.  [Aside to MACBETH.]  What, quite unmann’d in folly?
  Macb.  If I stand here, I saw him.
  Lady M.  [Aside to MACBETH.]  Fie, for shame!
  Macb.  Blood hath been shed ere now, i’ the olden time,
Ere humane statute purg’d the gentle weal; 11
Ay, and since too, murders have been perform’d
Too terrible for the ear. The time has been,
That, when the brains were out, the man would die,
And there an end; but now they rise again,
With twenty mortal murders 12 on their crowns,
And push us from our stools. This is more strange
Than such a murder is.
  Lady M.        My worthy lord,
Your noble friends do lack you.
  Macb.        I do forget.
Do not muse at me, my most worthy friends;
I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing
To those that know me. Come, love and health to all;
Then I’ll sit down. Give me some wine; fill full.

Re-enter Ghost

I drink to the general joy o’ the whole table,
And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss;
Would he were here! to all and him we thirst,
And all to all.
  Lords.        Our duties, and the pledge.
  Macb.  Avaunt! and quit my sight! let the earth hide thee!
Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;
Thou hast no speculation 13 in those eyes
Which thou dost glare with!
  Lady M.        Think of this, good peers,
But as a thing of custom; ’tis no other,
Only it spoils the pleasure of the time.
  Macb.  What man dare, I dare.
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger;
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble. Or be alive again,
And dare me to the desert with thy sword;
If trembling I inhabit 14 then, protest me
The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!  [Ghost vanishes.]
        Why, so; being gone,
I am a man again. Pray you, sit still.
  Lady M.  You have displac’d the mirth, broke the good meeting,
With most admir’d 15 disorder.
  Macb.        Can such things be,
And overcome 16 us like a summer’s cloud,
Without our special wonder? You make me strange 17
Even to the disposition that I owe,
When now I think you can behold such sights,
And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks,
When mine is blanch’d with fear.
  Ross.        What sights, my lord?
  Lady M.  I pray you, speak not; he grows worse and worse;
Question enrages him. At once, good-night.
Stand not upon the order of your going,
But go at once.
  Len.        Good-night; and better health
Attend his Majesty!
  Lady M.        A kind good-night to all! Exeunt Lords.
  Macb.  It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.
Stones have been known to move and trees to speak;
Augures 18 and understood 19 relations have
By maggot-pies and choughs 20 and rooks brought forth
The secret’st man of blood. What is the night?
  Lady M.  Almost at odds with morning, which is which.
  Macb.  How say’st thou, that Macduff denies his person
At our great bidding?
  Lady M.        Did you send to him, sir?
  Macb.  I hear it by the way; but I will send.
There’s not a one of them but in his house
I keep a servant fee’d. I will to-morrow,
And betimes I will, to the weird sisters.
More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good
All causes shall give way. I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er.
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,
Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.
  Lady M.  You lack the season 21 of all natures, sleep.
  Macb.  Come, we’ll to sleep. My strange and self-abuse 22
Is the initiate fear that wants hard use;
We are yet but young in deed.  Exeunt.

Note 1. Throne.
Note 2. The one without equal.
Note 3. Serpent.
Note 4. Talk together.
Note 5. Prolong his agitation.
Note 6. Fine.
Note 7. Sudden outbursts.
Note 8. Compared to.
Note 9. Vouched for.
Note 10. Tombs.
Note 11. Made the state gentle by purging it.
Note 12. Deadly wounds.
Note 13. Sight.
Note 14. Continue (?). Clothe myself in (?).
Note 15. Producing wonder.
Note 16. Overshadow.
Note 17. A stranger.
Note 18. Auguries.
Note 19. Secret.
Note 20. Daws.
Note 21. Seasoning.
Note 22. Deception.

Scene V

[A heath1
Thunder. Enter the three Witches, meeting HECATE

  1. Witch.  Why, how now, Hecate! you look angerly.
  Hec. Have I not reason, beldams 2 as you are,
Saucy and overbold? How did you dare
To trade and traffic with Macbeth
In riddles and affairs of death;
And I, the mistress of your charms,
The close 3 contriver of all harms,
Was never call’d to bear my part,
Or show the glory of our art?
And, which is worse, all you have done
Hath been but for a wayward son,
Spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do,
Loves for his own ends, not for you.
But make amends now; get you gone,
And at the pit of Acheron
Meet me i’ the morning; thither he
Will come to know his destiny.
Your vessels and your spells provide,
Your charms and everything beside.
I am for the air; this night I’ll spend
Unto a dismal and a fatal end;
Great business must be wrought ere noon.
Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound;
I’ll catch it ere it come to ground;
And that distill’d by magic sleights
Shall raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion.
He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes ’bove wisdom, grace, and fear;
And, you all know, security 4
Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.  Music, and a song
Hark! I am call’d; my little spirit, see,
Sits in a foggy cloud, and stays for me.  [Exit.]  (Sing within: “Come away, come away,” etc.
  1. Witch.  Come, let’s make haste; she’ll soon be back again.  Exeunt.

Note 1. This scene is probably the interpolation of a later dramatist.
Note 2. Hags.
Note 3. Secret.
Note 4. Over-confidence.

Scene VI

[Forres. The palace]
Enter LENNOX and another Lord

  Len.  My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,
Which can interpret farther; only, I say,
Things have been strangely borne. 1 The gracious Duncan
Was pitied of Macbeth; marry, he was dead:
And the right-valiant Banquo walk’d too late;
Whom, you may say, if ’t please you, Fleance kill’d,
For Fleance fled; men must not walk too late.
Who cannot want 2 the thought how monstrous
It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain
To kill their gracious father? Damned fact!
How it did grieve Macbeth! Did he not straight
In pious rage the two delinquents tear,
That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?
Was not that nobly done? Ay, and wisely too;
For ’twould have anger’d any heart alive
To hear the men deny ’t. So that, I say,
He has borne all things well; and I do think
That had he Duncan’s sons under his key—
As, an ’t please Heaven, he shall not—they should find
What ’twere to kill a father; so should Fleance.
But, peace! for from broad 3 words, and ’cause he fail’d
His presence at the tyrant’s feast, I hear
Macduff lives in disgrace. Sir, can you tell
Where he bestows himself?
  Lord.        The son of Duncan,
From whom this tyrant holds the due of birth,
Lives in the English court, and is receiv’d
Of the most pious Edward with such grace
That the malevolence of Fortune nothing
Takes from his high respect. Thither Macduff
Is gone to pray the holy king, upon his aid
To wake Northumberland and warlike Siward;
That, by the help of these—with Him above
To ratify the work—we may again
Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights,
Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives,
Do faithful homage and receive free honours;
All which we pine for now: and this report
Hath so exasperate their king that he
Prepares for some attempt of war.
  Len.        Sent he to Macduff?
  Lord.  He did; and with 4 an absolute “Sir, not I,”
The cloudy messenger turns me his back,
And hums, as who should say, “You’ll rue the time
That clogs me with this answer.”
  Len.        And that well might
Advise him to a caution, to hold what distance
His wisdom can provide. Some holy angel
Fly to the court of England and unfold
His message ere he come, that a swift blessing
May soon return to this our suffering country
Under a hand accurs’d!
  Lord.        I’ll send my prayers with him.  Exeunt.

Note 1. Conducted.
Note 2. Can lack.
Note 3. Free.
Note 4. Receiving as answer.

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