Fife. Macduff's castle.
Enter LADY MACDUFF, her Son, and ROSS
LADY MACDUFF
What had he done, to make him fly the land?
ROSS
You must have patience, madam.
LADY MACDUFF
He had none:
His flight was madness: when our actions do not,
Our fears do make us traitors.
ROSS
You know not
Whether it was his wisdom or his fear.
LADY MACDUFF
Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes,
His mansion and his titles in a place
From whence himself does fly? He loves us not;
He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,
The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
All is the fear and nothing is the love;
As little is the wisdom, where the flight
So runs against all reason.
ROSS
My dearest coz,
I pray you, school yourself: but for your husband,
He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
The fits o' the season. I dare not speak
much further;
But cruel are the times, when we are traitors
And do not know ourselves, when we hold rumour
From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
But float upon a wild and violent sea
Each way and move. I take my leave of you:
Shall not be long but I'll be here again:
Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward
To what they were before. My pretty cousin,
Blessing upon you!
LADY MACDUFF
Father'd he is, and yet he's fatherless.
ROSS
I am so much a fool, should I stay longer,
It would be my disgrace and your discomfort:
I take my leave at once.
Exit
LADY MACDUFF
Sirrah, your father's dead;
And what will you do now? How will you live?
Son
As birds do, mother.
LADY MACDUFF
What, with worms and flies?
Son
With what I get, I mean; and so do they.
LADY MACDUFF
Poor bird! thou'ldst never fear the net nor lime,
The pitfall nor the gin.
Son
Why should I, mother? Poor birds they are not set for.
My father is not dead, for all your saying.
LADY MACDUFF
Yes, he is dead; how wilt thou do for a father?
Son
Nay, how will you do for a husband?
LADY MACDUFF
Why, I can buy me twenty at any market.
Son
Then you'll buy 'em to sell again.
LADY MACDUFF
Thou speak'st with all thy wit: and yet, i' faith,
With wit enough for thee.
Son
Was my father a traitor, mother?
LADY MACDUFF
Ay, that he was.
Son
What is a traitor?
LADY MACDUFF
Why, one that swears and lies.
Son
And be all traitors that do so?
LADY MACDUFF
Every one that does so is a traitor, and must be hanged.
Son
And must they all be hanged that swear and lie?
LADY MACDUFF
Every one.
Son
Who must hang them?
LADY MACDUFF
Why, the honest men.
Son
Then the liars and swearers are fools,
for there are liars and swearers enow to beat
the honest men and hang up them.
LADY MACDUFF
Now, God help thee, poor monkey!
But how wilt thou do for a father?
Son
If he were dead, you'ld weep for
him: if you would not, it were a good sign
that I should quickly have a new father.
LADY MACDUFF
Poor prattler, how thou talk'st!
Enter a Messenger
Messenger
Bless you, fair dame! I am not to you known,
Though in your state of honour I am perfect.
I doubt some danger does approach you nearly:
If you will take a homely man's advice,
Be not found here; hence, with your little ones.
To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage;
To do worse to you were fell cruelty,
Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve you!
I dare abide no longer.
Exit
LADY MACDUFF
Whither should I fly?
I have done no harm. But I remember now
I am in this earthly world; where to do harm
Is often laudable, to do good sometime
Accounted dangerous folly: why then, alas,
Do I put up that womanly defence,
To say I have done no harm?
Enter Murderers
What are these faces?
First Murderer
Where is your husband?
LADY MACDUFF
I hope, in no place so unsanctified
Where such as thou mayst find him.
First Murderer
He's a traitor.
Son
Thou liest, thou shag-hair'd villain!
First Murderer
What, you egg!
Stabbing him
Young fry of treachery!
Son
He has kill'd me, mother:
Run away, I pray you!
Dies
Exit LADY MACDUFF, crying 'Murder!' Exeunt Murderers, following her

At Macduff's castle in Fife Lady Macduff was both anxious and angry. Her young son clung to her, perplexed by his father's disappearance. Lord Ross had arrived to pacify the anxious family.

 

“What did he do to make him flee the country?”

 

“You must have patience, madam.”

 

“He had none.”

 

Her tone was bitter and resentful. She had reason to doubt her husband. His actions had implicated her in treason and endangered her family.

 

She continued, “Our fears make us traitors, even if our actions don't.”

 

“You don't know if it was wisdom or fear.”

 

“Wisdom! To leave his wife, to leave his children, his estate and his titles in the place he himself flees? He doesn't love us. He lacks the instincts of a husband and father. Even the poor wren, the most diminutive of birds, will fight off the owl to save her young in the nest.This is all about fear, there's no love. There is no wisdom! He runs away from reason as he runs away from Macbeth!”

 

“My dearest kinswoman, you must have discipline,” said Lord Ross. “Your husband is noble, wise and judicious. He alone knows best the circumstances of his decision. I dare not say anymore. It is a cruel time when we are traitors and don't know it ourselves. Fear thrives on rumour, more so when we don't know what we fear. We are floating upon a violent sea, we’re at its mercy. I must go but I will return soon. Evil things will eventually end and life will return to normal. My pretty cousin, bless you.”

 

Lady Macduff pondered Ross' words. She found some comfort in much of what he said but when she looked at her son her heart sank.

 

“He has a father, yet he is fatherless.”

 

Lord Ross stared at the floor. He was aware like nothing else that he was helpless and could offer no more assurance to his cousin and her son.

 

“If I stay any longer I will only disgrace myself with tears and embarrass you. My thoughts are with you. I must go now.”

 

Lady Macduff smiled as Ross left. Now She knew she must face a perilous future. She stroked her son's hair.

 

“Son, your father is dead. And what will you do now? How will you live?”

 

“As the birds do, Mother.”

 

“What? Eat worms and flies!”

 

“With what I can get, I mean, as they do.”

 

“Poor bird! Would you never fear the net or birdlime? The cage or the snare?”

 

“Why should I, Mother? They don't set traps for chicks! Despite what you say, my father isn't dead.”

 

“Yes, he is dead. What will you do for a father?”

 

She was almost addressing that question to herself. Her son was bright and understood that.

 

“No, what will you do for a husband?”

 

“Why, I can buy myself twenty at any market!”

 

“Then you'll buy them to sell them again?”

 

“You speak with all your wit, just enough wit for a child.”

 

“Was my father a traitor, Mother?”

 

“Yes, that he was.”

 

“What is a traitor?”

 

“Why, one who takes an oath, and then lies.”

 

“And everyone who does that is a traitor?”

 

“Everyone who does so is a traitor and must be hanged.”

 

“And must all who pledge and then lie be hanged?”

 

“Every one.”

 

“Who must hang them?”

 

“Why, the honest men!”

 

“Then the liars and oath-takers are fools. There are enough liars and oath-takers to beat the honest men and hang them!”

 

“Oh, poor monkey! What will you do without a father?”

 

“If he was dead, you'd weep for him. If you didn't weep it would be a good sign that I would be getting a new father!”

 

“Listen to you! How you talk!”

 

Lady Macduff laughed at her son but her amusement was short lived as she heard the loud stomping of someone climbing the stairs. She grabbed her son and pulled him beside her. A breathless man entered her chamber without knocking. He leaned against the wall to get his breath back and signalled with his hand that he meantno harm to the terrified woman.

 

“Bless you, fair madam. You don't know me though I am acquainted with your family and position. I think you are in mortal danger. If you take this humble man's advice, don't be found here. Go, with your children. To frighten you like this is cruel, I know, but it would be worse if I let things befall you without any warning. Heaven help you! I can't stay any longer.”

 

The messenger fled as fast as he came. His fear and terror put new life in his legs. Lady Macduff stood helpless. She hugged her son. She pulled him closer still.

 

“Where should I go?” she said aloud as if expecting an answer from the walls. “I've done no harm” she told herself. “But I must remember I'm in this world of men where to do harm is usually laudable and to do good a dangerous folly. Why then do I put up that womanly defence, I've done no harm?”

 

Lady Macduff froze. The messenger had barely left and now she heard a scuffle from the hallway again. This time she knew it was more than one man. She heard several voices, exchanging foul remarks. They were getting closer, they kicked open the door of her chamber.

 

“Who are you?”

 

It was Macbeth's murdering trio.

 

“Where is your husband?” the first man asked.

 

“I hope in place so unholy that such as you might find him!”

 

“He's a traitor,” the murderer bawled.

 

“You're lying, you smelly thug!” shouted Macduff's son.

 

“What, you spawn!” yelled the furious murderer.

 

He reached for his knife and stabbed the child. “Young fry of treachery!”

 

Macduff's son stood still, as if for a moment none of this was happening. Lady Macduff was unable to move.

 

“Mother, he's going to kill me. Run....”

 

Lady Macduff screamed. No one heard her. The castle was deserted.

 

“Murder! Murder!”

 

She ran through the halls of the castle. She clutched at her skirts. She ran into rooms and slammed the doors behind her. Her screams bounced off the thick brick walls. She was unaware how close they were until she could run no further, turned and saw her killer face to face.