Macbeth, Act 3


It’s striking that in 3.2 both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would prefer death to “doubtful joy” and “restless ecstasy.” They cannot tolerate the uncertainty while the “business” is not fully resolved. This recalls “If it were done, when ’tis done,/Then ’twere well it were done quickly.” Maybe this helps to keep the audience engaged with murderers because they are restless and guilty murderers, and that’s what interests us. Why does Macbeth keep to himself, and keep his plans to himself? Lady Macbeth, as my footnote suggests, is here uncharacteristically solicitous.

 Could the short 3.3, the murder scene, be cut?

 In the banquet scene (3.4) it’s clear that only Macbeth sees the ghost, a product of his imagination, as with the dagger earlier. Presumably he must stand aside during his exchanges with Lady Macbeth, lest the dinner guests hear too much of what he says. Given Lady Macbeth’s repudiation of her gender, and her challenges to Macbeth  in 1.7 (“when you durst do it, then you were a man”) it’s clear that he is here worried about his manliness. She asks “are you a man . . . unmann’d . . .?” and he insists “what man dare, I dare . . . I am a man again.”

I note that editors think 3.5 is a non-Shakespearean interpolation. I think we can sense that by the language of the witches, who speak here in regular tetrameters, unlike the witches in the earlier scenes.

3.6 is a strange scene.  I don’t think Lenox has spoken before. The scene is set no place in particular. It’s almost as if Shakespeare felt he needed to present a little exposition in order to set up the upcoming battle between Macbeth and Macduff. One of my footnotes suggests that there is something chorus-like about Lenox. But the apparent inconsistencies in his speech, declaring first that Macbeth “has borne all things well” and later that he is a “tyrant,” suggest that he begins ironically or even sarcastically and ends speaking without irony. His interlocutor, the unnamed “Lord,” seems to speak without irony and to look forward to a restored country.


I retain my sense that the air of Macbeth’s castle is to be understood initially as delicate, that Duncan rightly calls attention to this and Banquo to the “temple-haunting martlet,” that they’re not deceived and that it’s with the murder that Macbeth destroys this salubrious ambience, turning it hellish. Otherwise why call attention to it? And it accords with the way nature itself becomes unnatural, destroyed by the assassination, like Duncan’s prized horses turning wild and cannibalistic.

I feel the play is an exploration of the origin of evil, Macbeth not initially evil since he can explore the reasons why he should not murder his king and comes, initially, to the conclusion that they had best not kill him, in spite of his ambition: “If fate will have me king, then fate may crown me.” But Lady M spurs him on, and Macbeth, once he kills, enters on a cascading, even escalating, series of evil deeds, even as his imagination withers. He had a chance not to do evil, but consciously chose it.

 I think Banquo has thoughts and dreams of evil, also coming from the weird sisters, but they are things he consciously rejects, like his handing the sword to Fleance. And he wants to avoid dreaming, since it’s of the weird sisters’ prophecy. Yes, I too like the verbal “incarnadine,” maybe among the last bits of Macbeth’s imaginative mind and language before he loses it all. But it does seem lent from Othello

I should have called attention to Macduff’s reference to “the great doom’s image” in the dead Duncan. The doom’s image was the final scene, the last judgment, in the mystery plays, when the judging Christ appeared with spectacularly bleeding wounds to judge the world. Malcolm and Banquo are urged the rise from their graves, as would happen at the Last Judgment, to look at the great doom’s image in the bleeding Duncan.

Interesting that the play turns Banquo from accomplice in Holinshed to foil for Macbeth; I hadn’t remembered this either, but it does introduce, in addition to sanitizing James’s ancestor, a figure who can resist the prophecies of the witches, and show that there’s no necessity of evil there.

Yes, Macbeth’s keeping of his plans for Banquo from Lady M is strange, but maybe meant as a manly surprise for her. It also suggests the way their evil requires more evil, that there’s no end to what they’ve begun. The scene ends with some impressive “night poetry” for Macbeth.

3.3 introduces the “third murderer” and illustrates Macbeth’s lack of trust for even the ones he’s engaged. The escape of Fleance may be the significant need, but showing the unequivocal death of Banquo may be what’s necessary for his appearance at the banquet. And his appearance at the banquet introduces more blood: “Never shake /Thy gory locks at me.” It’s interesting that the audience has to figure out that the bloody and bleeding Banquo, who is physically visible to them, isn’t visible to the characters on stage except Macbeth. Film productions that make the ghost of Banquo ghostlike and evanescent get this wrong. Banquo is physically present, even if the other characters can’t see him.

Hecate doesn’t sound very Shakespearean; 3.5 must be one of those scenes that was later interpolated — by Ben Jonson?

Lenox’s irony seems to sum up Macbeth’s trail thus far and suggest that it’s not going over well, and the unnamed lord provides some narrative on what’s in store.

Dusty Griffin & Michael O'Connell