Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 6
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene is a counterpart to the closing scene of the second act. The dialogue between Ross and the old man in the former
scene represents public opinion which regards the murder of Duncan as something dreadful and unnatural, but does not in the least
suspect Macbeth. So in this scene the conversation between Lennox and the unnamed lord shows the attitude of the Scotch nobility
toward Macbeth. Beginning with bitter irony Lennox finally calls Macbeth outright a tyrant; the lord agrees and tells of the attempt that is being made to raise an army to overthrow him.
Both of them join in prayers for the speedy success of this attempt, thus preparing us for the revolt of the lords in Act V. The change of
public opinion may be plausibly assigned to Macbeth's behaviour at the banquet. When it became known on the following day that
Banquo had been killed on his way to the palace, no man who had heard Macbeth's ravings on the previous night could have any
doubt as to who had planned the murder. The fact that Macbeth took advantage of the flight of Fleance to charge him with the
murder of his father threw a new light on the accusation that Malcolm and Donalbain had murdered Duncan. Thus Macbeth's
second crime instead of securing him upon the throne served only to reveal his first.
1. My former speeches ... thoughts, what I have said has only been what you have already suspected. We may imagine that this lord
had been absent from Scotland at the time of the murder of Duncan and of Banquo; and that Lennox has just told him all the details.
1. hit, agreed with.
3. borne, managed.
4. of, by.
4. marry, by the Virgin Mary. In Shakespeare's time this
phrase was no longer regarded as an oath.
4. he was dead, and so Macbeth's pity couldn't help him. The
implication is that Macbeth did not pity the king till after he had
8. monstrous, pronounced like a word of three syllables, "monsterous."
8. want, lack.
10. fact, deed.
12. pious rage, rage inspired by his pious loyalty to Duncan.
12. tear, mangle.
15, 16. Lennox here reveals the real reason of Macbeth's murder
of the grooms.
18. under his key, in his power. If Macbeth could lay hands on the princes he would put them to death on the charge of having
murdered their father.
21. from, on account of.
21. broad, frank.
21. fail'd, refused.
25. the due of birth, the throne due to him as his birthright.
25. holds, withholds.
27. the most pious Edward, Edward the Confessor, the last of the
old line of Saxon kings of England, famous for his sanctity.
28, 29. That the malevolence ... respect, his ill fortune, as
an exiled prince, in no way diminishes the honour with which he is
30. upon his aid, in aid of Malcolm. The phrase depends not
upon "pray" but on "to wake."
31. wake, call to arms.
31. Northumberland, a great district, once an independent kingdom, in northern England. It was governed at this time with
almost kingly powers by Earl Siward, the descendant of a famous line of Vikings.
33. ratify, sanction.
34, 35. Give to our tables ... knives. Lennox is thinking of
Duncan killed in his sleep and Banquo murdered on the way to a
banquet. "Free," line 35, means "banish."
36. faithful homage, in contrast with the forced homage which
the thanes render to Macbeth.
36. free honours, honours fit for freemen.
37. this report, the report of this condition of things in Scotland.
38. their king, the English king, Edward.
40. absolute, positive.
41. cloudy, sullen.
42. Professor Manly says: "'Hums' is not the word hums, it represents an inarticulate sound, well-known, but not easily expressed
in letters." The messenger did not dare to utter his anger in the presence of Macduff, but left him with an inarticulate growl of rage.
43-45. that well ... provide, that anger on the part of the
messenger might warn him to shun the more terrible wrath of
46. unfold, tell.
47. His, Macduff's.
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_6.html >.