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That evening saw a feast like none before. King Duncan enjoyed himself immensely. The Norwegians had been defeated. He had witnessed unprecedented bravery from his loyal troops and now he was being honoured and feted by the new favourite of his court. Macbeth’s servants attended to the King’s every whim. Musicians and jesters kept the company abley entertained throughout the evening. But all was not well with the host. Macbeth was so preoccupied the whole evening that when he was pretending to mix and mingle he was actually slumped in an antechamber. He was consumed by fear.

“Only after it’s done will it be done,” Macbeth thought, “oh, the quicker it is done the better. If the consequences were negligible and success was guaranteed then I would strike the blow here and now, upon this bank and shoal of time even at the risk of the life to come. But we will still be judged here, on this earth, and don’t the tutors of bloodshed get taught a thing or two from their own cravings? Comeuppance is inevitable. Even-handed justice makes sure the recipe in our poisoned chalice is tasted by our lips. Duncan is here on a double trust: first, I’m his kinsman and his subject, both good arguments against this! I’m his host, I should shut the door on his murderer not enter bearing the knife. Besides, hasn’t Duncan ruled so meekly? In office he has been so great that his virtues will plead like trumpet-tongued angels against his damnation. A troop of heaven’s cherubim will traverse the sky spreading news of my deed until the cries of his subjects drown the wind. I have nothing now to lead me but my vaulting ambition which may overstretch itself and destroy me.

Macbeth’s reasoning was interrupted by the arrival of his wife: “What’s wrong? News?”

“He has almost finished supper. Why have you left the room?” Lady Macbeth asked in irritation.

“Has he asked for me?”

“Don’t you know he has?”

“We will proceed no further in the business we spoke of. He has honoured me and I’ve won prestige from all quarters. This is to be savoured when it is new not squandered in ambition.”

“Where is the hope that you wore so proudly before? Was it just drink?” mocked Lady Macbeth. “Is it sleeping now? Is it looking green and pale when it was so brave with just a sip? From now on I know what your love is worth. You are afraid to be as brave in life as you are in your dreams! You want the crown but you’re a coward! I want to, but I can’t! You’re like that cat in the adage – it wanted the fish, but didn’t want to get its feet wet!”

“Enough, madam! I do all that becomes a man. Who dares me to do more is simply not human.”

“What monster then told me of this enterprise? When you dared to do it you were a man. To want to be more than what you are would make you so much more the man. Before neither the time nor the place mattered you would make your own luck. Well now that luck has delivered this ripe opportunity you’ve lost your nerve. I have nursed children at my breast and know how tender it is to love the smiling face at my breast but I would have plucked my nipple from its mouth and smashed its brains out if I had sworn to do so!”

“And if we should fail?”

“Fail? Us? Wind up your courage to the full and we will not fail. Duncan’s had a hard journey he will sleep soundly. Allow me to fill his officers with enough wine to make their memories hazy. When they are drunk and sleeping like pigs what can’t you and I do to the unguarded Duncan? What can’t we blame on his booze-sodden officers?

“Conceive only male children, madam! Your dauntless mettle should be used to create only warriors! When we have smeared the officers with Duncan’s blood will everyone assume they’ve done it?”

“Who would dare to question it otherwise? Shall we not make our grief roar loudest?”

“I’m settled on the plan. All my energies must be devoted to this terrible feat. Come, let us pass the time being wonderful hosts. False faces must hide the secrets of false hearts.”