Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 1
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This act is devoted to the second great crime of Macbeth's career, the murder of Banquo. The first scene shows us Banquo's
suspicions of Macbeth, and Macbeth's fears of Banquo. As a result of the witches' prediction the two old friends are wholly estranged,
although outwardly they preserve the forms of a gracious king and a loyal subject. Macbeth's dialogue with the murderers at the close
of the scene informs us of the fate that is hanging over Banquo's head. The scene is laid at the palace some time after the coronation of Macbeth.
1-10. This speech shows Banquo in a wholly different mood from that in which we last saw him. Then he declared that he placed his
trust in God and stood opposed to all the designs of treason. Now, although he strongly suspects Macbeth of the treacherous murder
of Duncan, he makes no threat of vengeance, but rather broods over the prophecy of the witches that his descendants shall reign,
and hopes that this prophecy too may be made good. In other words, he is paltering with evil; he is not yet ready to take any
step to hasten the fulfilment of the prediction, but he is content to serve the murderer and usurper in the hope that some profit may
come out of it to him and his house. Perhaps if Banquo had lived he would have headed a revolt against Macbeth. This monologue
of his at least explains and in part justifies Macbeth's fears.
1. it, the crown.
4. stand in thy posterity, abide in thy line.
7. shine, are brilliantly fulfilled.
8. by the verities on thee made good, in accordance with the true
prophecies fulfilled in thy case.
* Sennet, a blast upon the trumpet indicating the approach of
14. all-thing, altogether.
15. solemn, formal.
18. to the which, to your commands. The antecedent of "which" is understood from the verb "command."
21. Ride you ... afternoon. Under the pretense of a friendly
interest, Macbeth is informing himself of Banquo's plans, so that
he may know when and where to set the ambush.
24. grave and prosperous, weighty and followed by success.
33. bestowed, settled.
36. strange invention, fantastic stories. Macbeth perhaps
alludes to the reports circulated by the princes that it was he
who murdered Duncan.
37. therewithal, in addition thereto.
37. cause, subject-matter.
39. Goes Fleance with you? Macbeth asks this question to see
whether he can cut off father and son at one blow.
40. our time does call upon's, our engagement demands us.
42. commend, commit.
44. seven at night, the hour for the formal supper.
45. welcome, either an adjective or a noun. If the first, "sweeter"
must be taken as an adverb; if the second, "society" is the indirect
object of "make." The first seems somewhat the simpler reading.
46. while, till.
46. God be with you! Macbeth dismisses his court so as to have
an opportunity to speak to the men whom he wishes to murder
Banquo. This line is not an Alexandrine; the phrase "God be with you," equivalent to our "good-bye," is pronounced "God b' wi' you," so that we have merely the feminine ending.
47. sirrah, fellow.
51. To be thus ... safely thus, to be king is nothing unless I
am secure in that position. This soliloquy of Macbeth's deserves the
most careful study. It gives us a fine characterization of Banquo,
and shows what cause Macbeth had to fear him. It shows how
far from content Macbeth is with the crown that he had won by
murder, and it reveals the distinct deterioration of Macbeth's
character. Over his first crime he hesitated and faltered; possibly
he would never have committed it except for the influence of his
wife. But no pity nor remembrance of their old friendship holds
him back from plotting the treacherous murder of Banquo. It is
no sooner thought than done.
53. royalty of nature, kingly nature.
54. would be fear'd, naturally inspires fear.
55. to, in addition to.
59. rebuked, checked, restrained.
59. Genius, the demon, or presiding spirit, of a man. Shakespeare got this story about Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar from
Plutarch's Lives, which he had read a few years before when
preparing to write his play, Julius Caesar. In Antony and Cleopatra, written shortly after Macbeth, he makes an augur say to the hero:
Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side:
Thy demon, that's thy spirit which keeps thee, is
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
Where Caesar's is not; but, near him, thy angel
Becomes a fear, as being overpowered.
— Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 3. 18-22.
66. with, by.
66. an unlineal hand, a hand belonging to some other family
67. No son. It seems plain that Shakespeare regarded Macbeth
as childless; but not too old to be without the hope of having a
son to succeed him.
68. filed, defiled.
70. Put rancour ... peace. Put poisonous drugs into the cup
from which I drank peace, i.e, his conscience.
74. fate, death.
75. champion me to the utterance, take my part in a mortal duel.
Macbeth calls upon fate, or death, to enter the lists as his champion
* Two murderers. From what Macbeth says to them, it is
plain that these men are not common murderers whom he could
hire to kill any one he pleased. On the contrary, they seem to have
been soldiers with some claims to promotion which were set aside in
a way that had deeply offended them. They had thought that
Macbeth had been responsible for this; but at his first meeting
with them, he had succeeded in diverting their suspicions from
himself to Banquo, and he now proceeds to urge them to revenge
81. he, Banquo.
83. made good, showed clearly.
84. probation, proving.
84. pass'd in probation, which was spent with you in proving;
"pass'd" is a participle agreeing with "conference."
85. cross'd, thwarted.
85. borne in hand, deluded with false hopes.
88. notion, mind.
94. gospell'd, full of the spirit of the gospel.
98. We are men. The murderer's answer is spoken in a grim
tone, implying that they are still men enough to be eager to revenge
101. shoughs, shock dogs.
101. water-rugs, poodles.
101. demi-wolves, crosses between a dog and a wolf.
101. clept, called.
102. the valued file, a file, or catalogue, showing the value of the
different objects contained in it.
104. housekeeper, watch-dog.
107. particular addition, special distinction,
107, 108. bill That writes them all alike, a list or catalogue which
puts them all down as "dogs" without specifying their qualities.
It is interesting to note in this connection that Shakespeare was so
fond of dogs, horses, and falcons, that he never misses an opportunity to expand on these topics.
109. in the file, in the list of values referred to in line 95.
110. To scan this line "worst" must be pronounced as a dissyllable.
111. put ... your bosoms, entrust a charge to you.
112. Whose execution, the performance of which.
114. wear our health, possess our health. "Health," of course,
refers to Macbeth's mental, not his physical well-being.
114. This line is an Alexandrine. The necessary emphasis on
"I" forbids any such contraction as occurs in line 98.
121. tugg'd with, hauled about by.
127. distance, enmity.
129. my nearest of life, my most vital parts.
130. barefaced, open.
131. bid my will avouch it, bid my royal will warrant it; i.e. give
no other reason for the execution of Banquo than my royal pleasure.
132. For, on account of.
133. Whose loves ... drop, and it is impossible for me to drop
133. but wail his fall, but I must lament the fall of him.
134. Who, whom, as often in Shakespeare.
143. the perfect spy. There has been much discussion over this
phrase. Some commentators take "spy" in the sense of "knowledge obtained by spying"; but there is no authority for this. It
seems better to take "spy" as equivalent to "scout" and paraphrase the line: "I will acquaint you with the time by means of
the best of my scouts."
145. something from, some distance away from.
146. require a clearness, must be kept clear, must not be
147. rubs, rough places.
151. Resolve yourselves apart, make up your minds in my
153. An Alexandrine.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_3_1.html >.