Suggestion of Scene. A moorland of unspeakable desolation, near Forres, Scotland. The declining sun is obscured by thick
clouds. There is but light enough to reveal the stretches of wet heather and a pool of dark water, with a clump of whins at its edge.
The cross lightning splits the sky, and the thunder follows, peal on peal. Into this tumult of nature come three weird women, "in
strange and wild apparell, resembling creatures of elder world." They come mysteriously from the air, as if born from the fury
of the elements; they hold hands, and circle about in a strange
dance, adding their unearthly, monotonous cries to the loud voices
of the sky. Between volleys of thunder we hear them speak their
short, abrupt lines. No sooner is the word "Macbeth" pronounced
than the long-drawn cry of a cat is heard across the moorland; the
first witch waves her hand, and cries, "I come, Graymalkin." The
frogs call in their quavering voices from the distant bogs; "Paddock
calls," says the second witch, thus signifying, like her sister, her
connection with the invisible world. Again they circle, and utter
in concert their ominous couplet; a peal of thunder follows, and the
weird women are gone.
Suggestion of Scene. A military camp near Forres. In the foreground at the left is the king's tent; before its entrance two spears
are stuck into the ground, and at one side stands a rude chair. About the rest of the stage, the soldiers are seated on the ground in
little groups, playing games. Others stand, talking earnestly together. They are clad in ancient Highland costume - the bonnet,
the belted plaid, perhaps a short coat, the sporran, and stockings
reaching above the calf of the leg, leaving the knee bare. An
officer wearing a shirt of ring mail, and carrying a battle-ax over
his shoulder, stands near the king's tent. A soldier, fully armed,
paces to and fro on guard. The quiet of the scene is suddenly
broken by the blare of a trumpet. The soldiers spring to their feet,
seize their arms - battle-axes, spears, claymores, dirks, and small,
round targets covered with bull's hide and studded with heavy nails.
Loud words of command are heard; the soldiers form lines, as if
expecting attack. The king, his sons Malcolm and Donalbain,
accompanied by Lennox and others, come hurriedly out of the tent.
Over his Highland costume the king wears a long robe; his gray
hair hangs down over his shoulders. The alarm seems causeless, for there enter only four men, of Duncan's army, carrying a wounded
sargeant, whom Malcolm at once recognizes, and who raises himself on his elbow, and with difficulty addresses his king.
Suggestion of Scene. The same as that of Scene I. The storm
is over, and the obscured sun has sunk low towards his setting.
As the three sisters engage in their weird conversation, the sound of
a drum is heard near by on the moorland, and the loud voices of
officers giving commands. A line of soldiers passes across the
stage for a few minutes, when Macbeth and Banquo, clad in helmets and mail, and carrying battle-axes, enter, walking beside their
troops. As they reach the center of the stage, the clouds part, and
the sun shines in one blaze of parting glory. Macbeth pauses to
observe, and Banquo stops near him. The soldiers pass on; the two
generals remain behind. Macbeth takes off his helmet, shakes the
rain drops from it, strikes his shirt of mail to relieve its netted
links of the water: then, turning to the front, looks up at the sky,
and utters his first line, -
"So foul and fair a day I have not seen."
Weary of the long march, Banquo asks how far it is to Forres, but
suddenly perceiving the weird women, puts his hand on his companion's shoulder, directs his attention to them, and asks, "What
are these, etc.?" Macbeth has now met the strange creatures
whose fatal influence over him has already begun.
Suggestion of Scene. A cold and somewhat bare room in the
castle at Forres. The rough stone walls are blackened with the
smoke which rises from a reredos in the middle of the room. Near
at hand sits the king in a great state chair, wearing robe and crown;
about him, clad in their ancient Highland costumes, are his sons and
Suggestion of Scene. A great room in Macbeth's castle at Inverness. At the center in the rear is a great door in the thick, massive
walls, opening into a hall that runs from left to right. After coming from this hallway and advancing a few paces, one must descend
two steps to the main level of the room. To the right and rear, opening on the higher level of the room, is a small door leading to
a passage; and farther forward, on the same side, is a larger door
leading to Lady Macbeth's bed chamber. On the left, near the
front, is a large door, approached by two steps. Over it hangs an
antique lantern of iron work. High above is a small barred window.
A stone bench, with a high back, and arms, stands hear the
front; to the left of it, and a trifle forward, is a small table of
massive stone. Save for these things, the room is empty; the walls
are bare, and the whole place has an air of danger and desolation.
Lady Macbeth, clad in a long belted robe, and a mantle fastened
at the breast with a golden brooch, her hair concealed in a close-fitting linen cap, is discovered sitting on the stone bench, reading
a letter. (This stage setting is used by Madame Modjeska, and will be used in several scenes of the play.)
Suggestion of Scene. In the background the massive gate and
walls of the castle at Inverness. Before it is a deep moat, spanned
by the drawbridge, which has been let down by means of its heavy
chains. The sound of hautboys is heard, and several mounted soldiers appear. They halt and await the king, who follows on horseback with his sons and thanes. These dismount and assist the king to descend from his horse. As the soldiers lead the animals away,
Duncan talks a moment to Banquo; when Lady Macbeth, not the
fierce spirit of the previous scene, but the sweet hostess, appears
in the gate to welcome her unsuspecting guest.
Suggestion of Scene. The same as Scene V. The room is but
dimly lighted by a feeble flame in the antique lantern over the big
door at the left. Through the wide portal at the back one sees
attendants passing through the hall ; some carry torches, others play
on hautboys; others, servants from the kitchen, carry great dishes
loaded with viands, and flasks filled with wine. From the distant
banquet hall come shouts of revelry, loud bursts of drunken laughter, and hoarse voices bawling snatches of songs. Suddenly heavy
doors shut with a loud bang and the squeak of rusty hinges; the
noise of the feast is shut out; the silence of death falls upon the room; the lamp flickers fitfully. In the door at the rear, Macbeth
appears. He advances to the door at the left, which opens into a
hall leading to the king's apartments. There he lingers doubtfully
a moment, then turns back to the middle of the stage, where he
Suggestion of Scene. The same as Scenes V and VII of Act
I. Banquo and Fleance enter, the latter carrying a torch. The
father rests his hand affectionately on the son's shoulder, and as
they pause, looks up through the small barred window into the starless night sky.
Suggestion of Scene. The same scene continues. Lady Macbeth enters through the great door at the rear. She is clad in
white; her hair hangs in a flowing mass, and is bound about the
forehead with a silver band. Some actors use lightning and thunder in this scene and the preceding, but this matter should not be overdone: some distant, ominous rumbling and a flash or two of fire in the small window high in the wall at the left may be effective,
especially in the interval between Macbeth's exit and Lady Macbeth's entrance. As she comes toward the front, telling the effect
the drink has had upon her, the hoot of an owl' is heard; she starts
violently, but soon recovers herself. The scene is quiet, but the
most intense excitement prevails.
Suggestion of Scene. The previous scene continues. The guilty
two disappear; the knocking continues. At the small door at the
right and back appears the porter, staggering from sleepiness and
drink; he yawns, stretches himself unsteadily, thereby running the
risk of dropping the antique lantern he carries in one hand, and
the bunch of great keys in the other. He takes a maudlin pleasure
in imagining himself the porter of the gate of hell; at every knock
from without he bows ironically to an imaginary arrival in that
lower dismal region, announces the station of the unfortunate, and
hints at the cause of his downfall. At the end, he goes out the
gxc~t door at the center and rear, and turns to the left, and after a
moment he ^s heard drawing bolts, dragging chains, and turning a
key in a great lock. Then there is the tramp of feet and the sound
of voices. Macduff and Lennox, followed by the sleepy porter, enter.
Suggestion of Scene. In his book, "Shakespeare the Boy," Dr.
Rolfe says, "It is not likely that he (Shakespeare) was ever in
Scotland, and when he described the castle of Macbeth the picture in his mind's eye was doubtless Warwick or Kenilworth and
more likely the former than the latter, for 'This castle has a pleasant seat,' etc."
The quotation is from Scene VI of Act I; but we prefer to use the
suggestion here rather than there, because it is more suitable here
that the castle should be seen at a distance: in the former scene,
Lady Macbeth meets the king, and she would not be likely to advance
farther than the outer gate. Then, instead of Macbeth's stronghold at
Inverness, fancy Warwick Castle, which, doubtless, Shakespeare saw
many times when a boy. It stands by the Avon. At present a
stone bridge spans the grass-grown hollow that was once the moat;
but formerly there was no passage to the castle except the drawbridge, over which one passed to the barbican, a great square structure, with heavy battlemented towers, in which there are narrow slits of windows. Behind the barbican are the outer walls, and behind
these, higher walls and higher towers; one called Caesar's Tower,
from the old tradition that Caesar built it; another Guy's Tower,
from the renowned Guy of Warwick. On each side of the barbican
a few large trees relieve the coldness of the heavy masonry. Over
all is the gloom of a day of ominous darkness.
Suggestion of Scene. The Throne Room of the castle. The
walls are wainscoted to the height of a man's head; above, the
bare stone appears. At the rear, on a dais, are two royal chairs,
and high over them is a canopy. On either side, against the wall,
are the arms of Scotland. At the left is a table, on which are an
inkhorn and quills, together with some parchment and a large open
book. By the table is a high-backed, rude chair. Banquo is discovered standing with clasped hands, looking upon the throne, meditating. His words are interrupted by the sound of trumpets, after which Macbeth and his queen, in crowns and robes, enter, followed
by the court. The royal pair seat themselves on the throne, and
the attendants range themselves on either side.
Suggestion of Scene. The same as the preceding. After Macbeth goes away, a servant enters, bearing the queen's robe of state;
he stops, and bows as she enters.
Suggestion of Scene. A lonely road in the forest. In the last
"streaks of day" the mass of trees in the background appears dark
and impenetrable, while in the foreground and the left is a road,
which, in the center of the stage, turns toward the right and rear,
and becomes lost in the gloom of the wood. As the two murderers
skulk behind the trees, the third comes stealthily in from the left;
and a moment later Banquo and Fleance, the latter carrying a torch,
come down the forest road at the right.
Suggestion of Scene. The scene is usually set thus: - In the
rear the double-chaired throne. At right and left two long tables,
one extending from near the throne, diagonally to the left and front
of the stage; the other extending from near the throne, diagonally
to the right and front of the stage. At the latter table, near the
front, is the chair in which the ghost is supposed to appear.
For a reason that will appear as the scene progresses, the following suggestion may be an improvement: - At the right and front
of the stage stands the double-chaired throne, facing the left. A little farther back, occupying a large portion of the stage, is a
long table set with bowls and dishes; here and there an ancient lamp flickers feebly. About the table are the chairs of the guests,
and at each end a large chair with high back. At the left of the
stage, near the end of the table, a fire burns on an open hearth.
As the fire is lower than the level of the table, the top of the latter
is in shadow, and particularly the opposite end is wrapt in a gloom
that is emphasized by the feeble flames of the antique lamps.
Shadows dance upon the stone walls, and help provide the weirdness so necessary to the scene. Several servants are in attendance.
The royal procession enters; the king leads the queen to the throne, but himself remains among his guests.
Suggestion of Scene. The same as the first scene of the play.
The time, let us suppose, is night; and the moonshine streams
through the dark fog that rises from the heath. At the end of the
scene, Hecate mounts into the air, and vanishes. The witches, too,
vanish thus, but in another direction.
Suggestion of Scene. Suppose the scene to be within the castle
gate, which is seen in the center and rear - a massive piece of
masonry. A wide passage leads through the tower of which it is
a part; at the farther end is seen the iron grating that protects the
castle from sudden attack; through it are seen the road and the
grass plot beyond. By the gate stands a soldier on guard, keenly
observing Lennox and a lord conversing in low tones in the foreground.
Suggestion of Scene. A cavern in the solid rock, whose strata
are revealed in rough layers in walls and roof. From the crevices
glistening drops of water creep, hang a moment, then trickle down
or fall upon the wet floor, splashing themselves into spray. At the
right stands a great cauldron, from beneath which green and blue
flames dart upward, and seem to lick up the foam that overflows from
the "hell-broth" boiling and bubbling within. A faint, uncanny light
is thrown about the rocky chamber, the walls of which recede toward the rear and disappear in impenetrable blackness. Suddenly
the three weird women appear, as if through the solid earth above,
while a peal of thunder comes crashing down from the upper world.
They pause about the cauldron, utter their short speeches, then
begin their incantations, the first witch first, standing behind the
cauldron and facing the audience. As she speaks, she takes, one
by one, the hellish ingredients from a pouch, and drops them into
the brew, from which a blue, yellow, or green flame spurts fiercely
up. When she has finished, the three circle about the cauldron,
stirring it with their long staves, and reciting the couplet in concert.
Then the second witch has her turn, facing the audience like the
first; then the third; the second again, and the charmed liquor is
done. Macbeth enters from the left - enters boldly, and defiantly
makes his demand. As the weird three reply, they point their long
fingers at him, and renew, for a brief moment, their incantations. After which the three apparitions, announced by peals of thunder,
rise in their turn out of the cauldron, utter their deceptive speeches,
and vanish. When Macbeth demands further knowledge of his unhappy future, the cauldron suddenly sinks, a ghostly light appears
in the background, and "eight kings, the last with a glass in his
hand, Banquo's ghost following," appear one by one, slowly filing
past. This done, Macbeth suddenly finds himself alone, and distressed at heart.
Suggestion of Scene. A rough-walled room in an ancient castle.
At the left a great bed, by which is a chair. In the middle of the
room is a table with several chairs about it; upon the latter are
thrown carelessly some articles of clothing - a woman's robes
and a child's tartans. Lady Macduff, weeping and wringing her
hands, sits by the table; her little son stands by her, trying in his
childish way to give her comfort, while Ross stands near at hand,
speaking and trying to control his emotion.
Suggestion of Scene. The palace of Edward the Confessor stood
in Westminster, where the Parliament buildings now stand. One
portion of this palace was the old House of Lords, in the cellar of
which was placed the gunpowder in the famous plot of Guy Fawkes.
This room had long before been the kitchen of King Edward. The
building was pulled down in 1823.
The scene is before the great door of the palace. Two soldiers
stand on guard. Malcolm and Macduff are seen descending the
steps. They pause near the front of the stage, and the scene
Suggestion of Scene. Modjeska uses for this scene the same
stage setting used in the murder of Duncan, and we follow her in
this, ignoring, for the sake of effect, the fact that the murder was
committed at Inverness rather than Dunsinane. The gaunt, bare
room is obscured in the gloom of night. At the right the doctor
and the gentlewoman talk in low tones until, in the great door at
the back, the white-robed figure of the unhappy queen appears, when
they move back into the deeper shadows. Lady Macbeth carries a
taper, which illumines her face, making it the one bright object in
the surrounding darkness. Her hair hangs loosely over her shoulders and down her back. Her eyes are open, but they have the
steady, vacant stare of one who is asleep. Her face is ghastly
white, drawn in lines of remorse and deadly fear. She pauses
before she descends the two steps that lead down to the main level
of the room, and seems to listen; true to the habit of persons in
great terror, she holds her breath until she can hold it no longer,
then expels it with force, and one knows that her heart is beating
with the quickness of madness. All the while she rubs the hand
that holds the candle, as if she would remove something from it.
Slowly advancing, her heavy breathing continuing and her breast
heaving, she approaches the stone table, sets the light upon it,
stoops, and seems to dip up water from an "air-drawn" basin, and wash her hands. Then a groan of despair is heard, and there come,
in a low, remorseful tone, the words, "Yet here's a spot."
Suggestion of Scene. The open country, heather-grown and hilly.
The Scottish soldiers, clad in their native war costumes (see
Suggestion of Scene, Act I, Scene II) throng about their officers,
and rend the air with their shouts when they learn that the English power is near. At the end of the scene, they hastily form
ranks, and move forward at a swinging pace, singing as they go.
Suggestion of Scene. As this act goes very rapidly, the frequent
change of scene indicated in the stage directions is impracticable.
Besides this, the matter of expense deters modern managers
from making elaborate settings for so many scenes. Scenes III, V,
VI, VII, and VIII (if they are all played) are, therefore, all counted
as one, and this is usually represented as a terrace of Macbeth's
castle - a broad space, with a tower rising at the right and rear,
from which extends a battlemented wall to the extreme left. Beyond this may be seen the distant hills.
Suggestion of Scene. The open country. A wooded hill in the
right distance. The soldiers appear at the left, and march diagonally toward the right, shouting and singing. At Malcolm's command to hew down boughs to carry before them, they pause, cry out a loyal reply and march onward.
Suggestion of Scene. The same as Scene III. Macbeth rushes
in, shouting out his orders; within the tower is heard, for a moment, the preparation for battle; then silence, and "a cry of
Suggestion of Scene. Before the castle - according to the stage
direction. However, if the scene is played at all, the setting is
the terrace of the castle, the same as in the case of several other
scenes of the act.
Suggestion of Scene. The terrace of the castle.
Suggestion of Scene. The terrace of the castle. Macbeth rushes
in holding his sword by the point, hilt down, and is about to fall
upon it, when he changes his mind and concludes to fight further.
On all sides are heard the shouts of victory.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Cyrus Lauron Hooper. Chicago: Ainsworth & company, 1902. Shakespeare Online. 30 Sept. 2011. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/suggestionsstaging.html >.