The knocking at the gate disturbed the porter’s drunken sleep. The alcohol had made him unsteady but talkative.
“Listen to that,” he said as if addressing a company, “that’s what I call knocking. If I was the gateman of hell I’d forever been turning the key! Knock, knock! Who in the devil is there? Maybe it’ll be a farmer who’s hanged himself because… because he thought he was going to get more for his crop than he did. In you come gambler – bring your towels, here you’ll have to sweat it out! Still knocking, are ye? Who’s there? This time it’ll be a devil’s advocate who could agree with anything at any time but told so many lies he’ll never be able to talk his way into Heaven. In you come, snake in the grass! Knock! Knock! Who’s there? This time it will be… an English tailor, sent here for… stealing cloth for a pair of trousers. Still, they knock. Who are you? This place is too cold for hell. I’ll be the devil’s porter no more. I had planned to let in a fellow from all the professions, including those who go the prim and proper way to the everlasting bonfire. Ah, the knocking just gets louder. I’m coming! I’m coming! Please remember some gratitude for the porter, sir.”
When he finally opened the gate he found the lords Macduff and Lennox waiting. He rubbed his weary eyes and put out his hands for a tip.
“Was it so late when you went to bed that you had to sleep so late?” asked Macduff.
“Oh sir, we were feasting until past the second crow of the cock. Drink sir is a great provoker of three things.”
“We would like to know what three things drink especially provokes. Eh, Lennox?”
Lord Lennox laughed.
“Well, sirs, red noses, sleep and urine. Lust, sir, it provokes and then unprovokes, if you get my meaning. It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance. Drink plays tricks with lechery. It persuades him, and then it hinders him. It sets him up, if you see what I mean, and then it pulls him down. Lastly, it tricks him with dreams and when he buys them, he falls asleep.”
“Clearly,” said Macduff, “drink bought you last night!”
“Bought me, sir? Caught me, it did. By the throat! It had me by the legs a few times, too. But I gave drink a run for its money!”
“Is your master awake? Ah, here is coming. Our persistent knocking must have disturbed him.”
Macbeth arrived at the gate looking agitated. The porter smiled lamely at Macbeth hoping his master wasn’t annoyed.
“Good morning, sir,” said Lennox.
“Good morning to both of you,” said Macbeth.
“Is the King up yet, worthy Thane?” asked Macduff.
Macbeth surprised himself by remaining so composed.
“He ordered me to give him an early call,” said Macduff, “I’m almost late.”
“I’ll take you to his room.”
They made small talk as they walked to King Duncan’s chamber.
“Having the King is a joyful trouble to you but a trouble, nonetheless,” said Macduff.
“The labours we delight in never seem arduous. Here’s the room.”
“Allow me to disturb him, that’s what he asked,” Macduff said.
When Macduff entered the chamber Lennox stood alone with the tense Macbeth.
“Is the King leaving this morning?” asked Lennox.
“I believe that is his plan.”
“It’s been a stormy night,” Lennox said. “In the lodge where we stayed the chimneys were blown down by the wind. Travellers who arrived during the night said the wind wailed like a screaming man. They heard curses, and prophecies of uprising and chaos. These are woeful times. A night bird screeched all night. Some said the very earth shook.”
“It was a rough night,” Macbeth said.
“My short memory remembers nothing like it,” Lennox added.
From the chamber Macduff emerged shaken and yelling: “Horror! Horror! Horror! I can’t find the words to tell you what I have just seen in there.”
“What’s the matter?” Macbeth and Lennox asked in unison.
“Chaos has completed its masterpiece! God’s favoured king has been murdered. His life has been stolen from him.”
“What are you saying?” Macbeth asked. “He’s dead?”
“You mean the King?” Lennox asked in horror.
“Go to the bedroom but be warned the sight will blind you as if it were a Gorgon! Don’t ask me anymore about it. See it for yourself and then speak.”
Lennox ran up the stairwell to the guest chambers with Macbeth behind, now gripped by the implications of his irreversible act. Macduff sounded the alarm. As Lennox followed him Macbeth seized the chance to kill the guards, still drunk and oblivious to the chaos.
“Wake up! Wake up! Murder and treason! Banquo, Donalbain, Malcolm, wake up! “ Macduff bawled. “Shake off your sleep – you don’t need death’s imitation, the real thing is here this morning. Malcolm, Banquo wake up and see an image of doom. Wake up!”
Bells rang throughout the castle. Lady Macbeth was the first to arrive at the guest room to be met by Macduff.
“What’s the matter? Why are screams, like hideous trumpets, disturbing the sleep of our guests? Explain yourself!”
“Oh, gentle lady, it’s not for you to hear what I’ve got to tell. I might as well murder you as tell you it.”
Lady Macbeth looked innocent and puzzled as Banquo entered.
“Banquo, the King has been murdered!” Macduff said.
“Monstrous! No, no, not in my house!” protested Lady Macbeth.
“That would be cruel wherever it happened, dear Duff, I beg you to contradict yourself and tell me it isn’t true!” pleaded Banquo.
Macbeth and Lennox returned. Macbeth spoke: “If I had died an hour before this terrible fate, I would have lived a blessed life. From now on there is no in mortality for me. My life is worthless. Renown and grace are dead, too. The wine of life has been drunk and all we have left is the sediment.”
Although he spoke only to disguise his role in the murder Macbeth knew his articulate words were the truest expression of his guilt. As he finished speaking Malcolm and Donalbain, the King’s sons reached the landing.
“What’s the trouble?” asked Donalbain.
“Yours, but you don’t know it.” Macbeth said. “The spring, the source and the fountain of your family has been stopped.”
“Your royal father has been murdered.” Macduff said.
“It can’t be! By whom?” Malcolm asked.
“It seems those in his chamber did it- his servants,” said Lennox. “Their hands and faces were all splashed with blood. As were their daggers, which we found on their pillows still stained with blood. They stared blankly, like men possessed. No man was safe near them.”
“Now I wish in my fury I hadn’t killed them!” Macbeth said.
“Why did you do so?” asked Macduff.
The question stumped Macbeth. Both he and his wife knew it was a blunder. Instead of letting the other thanes or the King’s sons satisfy their vengeance on a couple of drunken servants Macbeth had focused the incident on himself.
“Who can be wise, amazed, temperate, furious, loyal and neutral simultaneously?” Macbeth reasoned. “No man. My passion to avenge the King outran the pause of reason. There lay Duncan, his silver skin laced with his golden blood, his wounds looking like a breach of nature for death’s wicked entrance. The murderers were steeped in the colours of their trade, their daggers dripping with gore. Who could love the King and not show it then.”
Macbeth’s explanation still wasn’t enough. Sensing their future was in peril Lady Macbeth staged a faint: “Oh, help me, please.”
“Look after the lady!” said Macduff.
In the commotion Malcolm whispered to his brother Donalbain: “Why are we holding our tongues when this business is ours?”
“What can we say here? Our fate could be in the cracks of these walls waiting to pounce. We must leave. Our tears are still brewing.”
“Yes, nor is our sorrow fully understood.”
Just then the brothers realised Macbeth had been watching them. Banquo ordered the servants to ensure Lady Macbeth was taken care of, but he also caught Macbeth watching every move. To the others he said: “We’re catching cold here. Let’s retire, get dressed then later meet to discuss this most bloody piece of work to understand its motivation. Fears and scruples shake us. I stand before God swearing that I will confront treasonable malice in all its manifestations.”
“I too,” said Macduff.
“All of us.”
“Let’s get dressed quickly,” said Macbeth, nervous that control was slipping from his grasp, “and meet in the great hall.”
As they left Malcolm and Donalbain stood in the silence, whispering.
“Let’s not consort with them. Showing unfelt sorrow is second nature to the false man. I’m going to England. What will you do?” asked Malcolm.
“To Ireland for me,” said Donalbain. “Separate fortunes will be safer. Here the smiles look like daggers. Our nearest in blood are bloody.”
“This murder is just the first shot; we must avoid the aim. Let’s go for our horses and leave without any attention to protocol. Let’s go. Where there is no mercy, there is no immorality in stealing away.”