Inverness. Macbeth's castle.
Enter LADY MACBETH, reading a letter
'They met me in the day of success: and I have
learned by the perfectest report, they have more in
them than mortal knowledge. When I burned in desire
to question them further, they made themselves air,
into which they vanished. Whiles I stood rapt in
the wonder of it, came missives from the king, who
all-hailed me 'Thane of Cawdor;' by which title,
before, these weird sisters saluted me, and referred
me to the coming on of time, with 'Hail, king that
shalt be!' This have I thought good to deliver
thee, my dearest partner of greatness, that thou
mightst not lose the dues of rejoicing, by being
ignorant of what greatness is promised thee. Lay it
to thy heart, and farewell.'
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou'ldst have, great Glamis,
That which cries 'Thus thou must do, if thou have it;
And that which rather thou dost fear to do
Than wishest should be undone.' Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;
And chastise with the valour of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crown'd withal.
Enter a Messenger
What is your tidings?
The king comes here to-night.
Thou'rt mad to say it:
Is not thy master with him? who, were't so,
Would have inform'd for preparation.
So please you, it is true: our thane is coming:
One of my fellows had the speed of him,
Who, almost dead for breath, had scarcely more
Than would make up his message.
Give him tending;
He brings great news.
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry 'Hold, hold!'
Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!
Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!
Thy letters have transported me beyond
This ignorant present, and I feel now
The future in the instant.
My dearest love,
Duncan comes here to-night.
And when goes hence?
To-morrow, as he purposes.
Shall sun that morrow see!
Your face, my thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,
But be the serpent under't. He that's coming
Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night's great business into my dispatch;
Which shall to all our nights and days to come
Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.
We will speak further.
Only look up clear;
To alter favour ever is to fear:
Leave all the rest to me.
In her private chambers at Inverness Lady Macbeth was reading a letter her husband had written and dispatched with a messenger after his meeting with the weird sisters but before his audience with King Duncan.
She paced the room reading with mounting excitement: “They were waiting for me on the heath on the day of our triumph. I'm sure their knowledge is beyond that of mortals. I yearned to question them more but at my approach they transformed themselves into air and vanished into the mist. While I stood there with Banquo, both of us amazed, messengers arrived with missives from the King proclaiming me as the Thane of Cawdor, the title with which only moments before the weird sisters had saluted me. They foresaw my future, too. Hail, king-that-shall-be! I'm having this news delivered to you in advance to ensure you do not lose a moment rejoicing in the greatness promised to us. Keep this in your heart, and farewell.”
Lady Macbeth folded the letter and hugged it to her breast. Already her mind was racing with plans and schemes. They were so vivid it was as if she too had been visited by the weird sisters. Glamis, you are and now Cawdor, she said to herself. What you have been promised you shall be, but I fear the milk of human kindness flows to freely through your veins. You want greatness - you are not without ambition but I think you lack the stomach for what greatness takes, and involves. What you want highly you want to get holily! You don't want to play false but if you won unfairly you wouldn't disown the prize. Great Glamis, you know what must be done but you're scared to do it! Come to your wife so that she can chastise your weakness with words from her fearless tongue, and defeat the impediments which stop you from joining the golden circle shaped for you by fate and the supernatural.
Lady Macbeth stood silently savouring every possibility of her regal future. She didn't notice another messenger had arrived until he coughed to attract her attention.
“You have news?”
“The King comes here tonight.”
“You're mad to say so. Isn't your master with him? Why haven't I been given time to prepare?”
“Respectfully, it is true. Our Thane is coming. A fellow messenger raced ahead of him. He is almost dead with exhaustion.”
“Then look after him. He brings great news.”
After the messenger had left, Lady Macbeth heard a raven and thought how ominous it was that a bird of death was circling.
“The raven that announces the arrival of Duncan into my home is already is hoarse. Attention you spirits that tend the mortals,” she said. “Rid me of my womanly compassion and fill me from head to toe with the direst cruelty of the warrior! Thicken my blood until neither remorse nor conscience can disrupt my purpose. Come to my breasts and sour my milk, you ministers of murder. Fall, dark night and embrace us in the smoke of hell, so the knife will not see the wounds it makes and ensure Heaven doesn't get a peep, no chance to cry, Stop! Stop!”
She was determined to seize her destiny that very evening. Her ambition became even more intense with the arrival of her husband.
“Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Your letter has transported me beyond this ignorant present and I feel our future now, this instant.”
“My dearest love! King Duncan comes here tonight!” Macbeth said.
“And when does he leave?” Lady Macbeth asked.
“Tomorrow, that's his intention.”
“Tomorrow's sun he will never see. Your face, my Thane, is like a book where men may read strange stories. Make sure your eyes, hands and tongue are full of welcome. Look like the innocent flower but be the snake in the grass. Our guest must be provided for. This night's great business you must put in my hands. We shall hold sway over all the days and nights to come.”
“We must speak further,” Macbeth said, worrying that his wife’s impatience could be an obstacle to securing the crown.
“Only look clear. Leave all the rest to me,” Lady Macbeth said firmly.
As they left to prepare for the arrival of the royal party Lady Macbeth's determination was resolute.