Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene represents the perpetration of Macbeth's third crime. It is usually omitted from stage performances since our modern nerves
would be too greatly shocked by the murder of the child. The Elizabethan audience however was far less sensitive, and the actual
representation of the deed added, of course, immensely to the effect of the following scene, where Ross hesitates to disclose the
dreadful news, and Macduff bursts out in his passion of grief and prayer for revenge.
4. make us traitors, make us seem traitors. She means that
Macduff was not a traitor to Macbeth, but fear drove him to flight,
and made him appear a rebel.
8. He loves us not. At first sight, this accusation seems only too
true. But Macduff fled to England not so much to save himself, as
to rescue his country by stirring up Malcolm to attack Macbeth. He
had, moreover, no reason to fear that Macbeth would butcher his
wife and children in his absence.
15. school yourself, blame yourself. Ross tells her to blame herself for doubting her husband's love.
19. ourselves, each other. The pronoun is used reciprocally as
in iii. 4. 32. Owing to Macbeth's system of espionage, even the good men in his kingdom are being denounced as traitors, and are
becoming suspicious of each other.
19. hold rumour. Various explanations have been offered of
this phrase. Perhaps the best is that which interprets "hold" as equivalent to "judge" and makes "from" in the next line equal "by." The sense of the passage then is "when we judge by our
fears whether a rumour is true or not."
22. Each way, in every direction.
23. The subject "it" is omitted before "shall."
27. fatherless, because his father has forsaken him.
28, 29. I am ... discomfort. Ross means that he is so soft-hearted that if he stayed longer he would burst into tears, and
thus disgrace himself and trouble Lady Macduff.
34. lime, birdlime, a sticky substance smeared on twigs to
catch little birds.
35. gin, snare.
36. they. The snares mentioned above.
47. swears and lies, swears allegiance and breaks his oath.
66. Though ... perfect, though I am perfectly acquainted with
67. doubt, fear.
68. homely, simple, plain.
70. To fright, in frightening.
71. fell, savage.
78. womanly, womanish, weak.
81. unsanctified, without sanctuary, unprotected.
83. egg, a term of contempt applied to a small person, as here
to the child.
84. fry, offspring.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_4_2.html >.
Did You Know? ... Strong and astute, Macduff has suspected Macbeth right from the moment he murdered the grooms (2.3.114). He makes his distrust of Macbeth quite clear to Ross and reveals that he will not attend Macbeth's coronation in Scone (2.4.45). Moreover, Macduff refuses Macbeth's invitation to the banquet (3.4.127), and fearlessly sets off to ask for England's help to aid Malcolm, as we learn from a Lord (3.6.29). Macbeth already had plans to murder Macduff after his encounter with the Witches (4.1.83), but Macduff's trip to England so antagonizes Macbeth that he orders the slaughter of Macduff's entire household, culminating in this horrifying scene.