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Act III, scene 1 It is typical that Shakespeare, having set up our expectations to see if Macbeth is crowned king, simply

skips over the details of how he won the support and what the coronation was like. He assumes we can figure out what happened based on our knowledge of Macbeth's character. He jumps ahead to the first crisis in his reign as king. [Act III, scene 1, lines 1 -- 43] Banquo now reveals his suspicions to us and balances on a slippery moral slope. More than anyone else Banquo has knowledge of what may lie behind Macbeth's rise to power: "Thou hast it all now: King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,/ As the weird women promised, and I fear/ Thou play'dst most foully more it" [lines 1 -- 3]. But rather than going public and revealing what the witches told Macbeth, Banquo just remains silent. He does so because his own prophecy was that he would become the source of his own line of kings. Now Banquo would argue that he does nothing to actively assist Macbeth in his bloody rise to power, but he clearly does not do all he could to head it off. What if Banquo had told Duncan of Macbeth's meeting with the witches and their prophecy? Don't you think Duncan might have taken more care when he stayed in Macbeth's castle? Banquo decides to keep his mouth shut to see if the predictions come true for him. The relationship between Banquo and Macbeth has up to now been one of two equals. They both fought valiantly, and Duncan rewarded both of them. They were friends. But then the night of the murder in Act II, scene 1 Macbeth blurted out that strange request that if Banquo would side with him when the opportunity came, it would bring him honor. Banquo's response was not exactly unqualified support, and there is some coolness between the two. Now, however, Macbeth and his wife both call Banquo their chief guest at a big state dinner that night and desire him to attend. For his part Banquo sounds like the loyal subject at line 15: Let your Highness Command upon me, to the which my duties Are with a most indissoluble tie Forever knit. Now this is the same kind of standard assurance of loyalty that both Macbeth and Banquo gave to King Duncan back in Act I, scene 4, and we saw how much good that was. Macbeth takes an inordinate interest in what Banquo is going to be doing that afternoon, and at line 17 he asks if he is riding that afternoon. He goes on to say at line 20, We should have else desired your good advice (Which still hath been both grave and prosperous) In this day's council; but we'll take tomorrow. Is it far you ride? Now when the new king indicated that he wanted you to help him in a council meeting, the correct answer was, "I'll cancel everything else." You don't say that you're taking some time off to go horseback riding. The fact that Banquo doesn't change his schedule suggests that he is copping a slight attitude. He may feel he's got special knowledge about Macbeth that gives him some impunity. He reminds Banquo not to miss the feast that evening. After reporting that

Malcolm and Donalbain have successfully fled the country and have refused to admit their guilt, Macbeth asks innocently, "Goes Fleance with you?" at line 35. Remember, it's important that Banquo and his son both die to head off the witches' prophecy about Banquo founding a line of kings. Now we go from Macbeth and his wife making a big show of their public affection for Banquo to the king's private evil. Notice what reasons Macbeth brings up to justify the murder of Banquo. We also get his expressions of regret, but they are not enough to stop his continuing evil nor the way he will manipulate the killers to carry out his plan. What is Lady Macbeth's part in all of this? [Act III, scene 1, lines 44 -- 142] The opening speech at line 48 is revealing. Macbeth thought that if he took that first step, killing Duncan, that would be all there was to it. Wrong! "To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus -" So the course of the rest of his life is laid out -- a series of murders designed to protect what he was reluctant to achieve in the first place. His first target is Banquo for several reasons. First, at line 50 because "in his royalty of nature reigns that/ Which would be feared." He has a nature which makes him seem like a king and therefore to be feared. We recall that frequent motif of the ill-fitting clothes; Macbeth is uncomfortable as king and sees Banquo as someone who would do a better job. Although Banquo's willing to act daringly when he has to, "He hath a wisdom that doth guide his valor/ To act in safety" [lines 53 --54]. Macbeth feels that just his presence constrains him and makes him unsure; he compares this sense of inferiority around Banquo to the way Mark Antony felt around Octavius Caesar, who ultimately defeated him. (Not surprisingly, Shakespeare was working on Antony and Cleopatra at the time he was writing Macbeth.) Beginning at line 60 he explains the significance of the witches' prophecy: "They hailed him father to a line of kings./ Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown/.No son of mine succeeding." Macbeth still believes he will have an heir to carry on the family name. In fact the idea of his having seized the throne for a possible future son becomes even more important. If Banquo's heirs become kings of Scotland, at line 65, For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind; [defiled] For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered; Put rancors in the vessel of my peace [hatreds] Only for them, and mine eternal jewel [my soul] Given to the common enemy of man, [Satan] To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings! We see here how painful Macbeth's sins have been for him. Now, to make sense of all that sacrifice, Macbeth must stop the witches' prophecies from coming true. Rather than considering how he got himself into this mess, Macbeth reverts to that man-of-action mode of responding that we have seen before at line 71: "Rather than so, come, fate, into the lists,/ And champion me to the utterance." "Lists" here refer to the medieval combat arenas for jousting. Macbeth sees himself as the warrior who will fight to the very last to keep what he has achieved. At line 73 Macbeth meets with two murderers he wants to kill Banquo. This step represents a small but significant step in traditional Christian morality. Macbeth has already killed three people unlawfully. Now he adds to his damnation by encouraging others to commit mortal sins.

Macbeth convinces the murderers to act using some techniques you would expect. At line 106 he offers royal favor in exchange for the murders with the indirect promise of more tangible rewards. (Kings seldom offered money directly; it was considered lower class.) Macbeth has also gone to a lot of trouble to convince these guys that Banquo is their enemy, lines 76 -- 84. They had met earlier when Macbeth laid out proof that Banquo had caused all the troubles these men had ever experienced. At lines 86 -- 91 he uses crude sarcasm to arouse their anger: Are you so religious that you will let him get away with this insult to you and your families? Perhaps the most interesting technique is an attack on their manhood at lines 91 -- 103, first by asking what kind of dogs they would be. There are a lot of differences between a poodle and a pit bull. He then asks what kind of soldiers they would be. Where else in the play have we see this technique of manipulation by attacking one's manhood as a technique to spur action? Macbeth explains that he hates Banquo but for political reasons cannot appear publicly linked to his death. He tells them he needs the murder done tonight and some distance from the castle, so he is not implicated. He explains that Fleance must also die and that in carrying out the killings, they must be sure that Macbeth always has, at line 133, a "clearness," what President Nixon in the Watergate scandal called "plausible deniability," a convincing excuse that he knew nothing about what he just authorized. Macbeth even tells the murderers where and when they will find Banquo, because, of course, he had questioned him earlier in the scene for just this reason. The scene ends with another Snively Whiplash rhyming couplet at lines 141 -- 142: "It is concluded: Banquo, thy soul's flight,/ If it find heaven, must find it out tonight." In other words, someone is about to die. Act III, scene 2 In reviewing this scene, look at the difference in Lady Macbeth's feelings expressed in private and her feelings expressed to her husband. Secondly, why does Macbeth refuse to tell his wife about his plans for Banquo? Finally look for one more evocation of the night. [Act III, scene 2] At the beginning of the scene Lady Macbeth, like her husband, instead of being happy to be queen, is profoundly depressed at line 4: Nought's had, all's spent, When our desire is got without content: 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy, Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. Back in the first lines of Act III, scene 1 Macbeth had expressed a similar sentiment: to be king is nothing, without being king in safety. At line 108 of the previous scene he had told the murderers that he was in sickly health as long as Banquo was alive. Here Lady Macbeth is even more despairing. Having "spent" everything to grab the crown, she and her husband have no happiness in their achievement. In fact, living with doubt and threat to their titles, they are actually worse off than the people they killed. Now that's depressing. And yet when her husband comes in at line 8, she immediately reverts back to the old Lady Macbeth, nagging her husband not to feel so depressed by what he can't help. At line 10 she tells

him to stop "Using those thoughts which should indeed have died/ With them they think on." She continues to play the role of the stimulator, pushing Macbeth to do what he has to. However, Macbeth is no longer troubled the way he was before he killed Duncan. Now he wrestles with how to maintain his safety. In a powerful conceit at line 13, he compares his situation in terms of a snake: "We have scorched the snake, not killed it./ She'll close and be herself, while our poor malice/ Remains in danger of her former tooth." Macbeth here alludes to a piece of folklore that snakes are able to regrow their lost parts. The snake is not a specific enemy, but just the renewed danger of a situation in which he feels himself trapped. Macbeth is not weakened by his guilty conscience; he is empowered by his capacity for evil. At line 16 he boasts: But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer, Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep In the affliction of these terrible dreams That shake us nightly. Macbeth is willing to risk everything, even the collapse of the cosmos ("frame of things disjoint") and defiance of God's judgment after death ("both the worlds suffer,") but the price is that he must "eat our meal in fear" and more significantly, he has "terrible dreams" every night. Remember the mysterious warning that "Macbeth doth murder sleep" the night of Duncan's murder? It's come home to haunt him. The price is very high for what he has achieved, so much so Macbeth at line 19 says the same thing his wife did to herself back at the beginning of the scene: better be with the dead, Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, Than on the torture of the mind to lie In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave; After life's fitful fever he sleeps well. Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison, Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, Can touch him further. Both Macbeth and his wife actually express envy for the victims of their evil, specifically Duncan, because the victims are not torn by guilt or anticipating further treason. Apparently the career move into the king business hasn't worked out to Macbeth's satisfaction. When Lady Macbeth reminds him of the big party that night, Macbeth suddenly begins playing a game, telling her to pay special attention to Banquo, even as he expresses his anger at having to hide his real feelings for his former friend. As he says at line 36: "O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!/ Thou know'st that Banquo, and his Fleance, lives." Nevertheless, they are vulnerable to his plots, and at line 40 he once again evokes the spirit of the night: Ere the bat has flown His cloistered flight, ere to black Hecate's summons The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums

Hath rung night's yawning peal, there shall be done A deed of dreadful note. We have seen before this association of the night with an act of evil. What's interesting about this particular passage is how Shakespeare expresses the coming-on of night with the small sights and sounds of a bat, one of the creatures connected with witchcraft, and a beetle with a scaly wing, here responding to Hecate's mysterious summons. The small sound of the beetle's wings represents a "yawning peal," the small sound of a bell [like Lady Macbeth's bell?] which signals the coming on of sleep. It is almost as if evil were simply the extension of the natural world. When his wife asks him what's going to happen, he tells her to be innocent of the knowledge. Earlier he could do nothing without her direction; now, he revels in his independence of her. His decision to kill the grooms was just the beginning of his own journey. Once again, he evokes the spirit of the night in the most powerful of these descriptive passages at line 46: Come, seeling night, Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day, And with thy bloody and invisible hand Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale! The night is "seeling" or "blindfolding," a term often used to describe the practice of cover the eyes of a trained falcon to keep it calm. Here the night covers the "pitiful eye of day," or the sun. The idea that the night keeps things from being seen is seen again in the idea of the "invisible hand" which here will cancel by destroying a bond. The "bond" is a formal agreement, perhaps representing Banquo's life, perhaps the prophecy of the witches that troubles Macbeth. I think he's referring to the whole moral code, the idea of an agreement to behave in a particular way, especially toward a friend. Whatever the bond is, and Shakespeare may well have all of this concepts in mind in these lines, its existence makes him pale. He continues his evocation at line 50: Light thickens, and the crow Makes wing to the rooky wood. [full of rooks] Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, Whiles night's black agents to their preys do rouse. Thou marvel'st at my words: but hold thee still; Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill: So, prithee, go with me. As at line 40 following Macbeth evokes the night has an extension of the natural world. The image of a black bird flying through the growing darkness is very simple and yet powerful, as if bad things are taking place all around us without our noticing. The crow is flying to where all the other large black birds gather, birds that were sometimes seen as witches' familiars. "Light thickens" -- what a marvelous way to catching the image of nightfall. Macbeth tells his wife it is only through committing more evil that the wicked can strengthen themselves. Notice her

reaction -- she "marvel'st" -- as if she cannot believe what he is saying. Whatever the cause of her wonder, their relationship has changed dramatically from what it was. Act III, scene 3 In reviewing this scene, ask yourself who the third murderer is and where he came from. [Act III, scene 3] This is the first overt violence that we see in the play. The earlier acts of violence, such as Macbeth's prowess in battle or the psychologically riveting murder of Duncan or surprising murder of the grooms, were all performed off stage. Banquo's killing is brutal and short, and according to details furnished in the next scene involved a lot of stab wounds to the head. Who is the Third Murderer and where did he come from? A lot of suggestions have been offered over the years, some of them rather farfetched. In one memorable production, one of the witches, disguised as Macbeth's servant Seyton, was the Third Murderer who joined in to make sure it was done right. In another production, Macbeth himself, unwilling to trust anyone, disguised himself and helped kill his friend. A purely technical explanation is that Shakespeare needed a third actor to help carry Banquo's bloody body and all the swords off stage. I think the explanation for this characters is to be found in the opening lines of the scene: "He needs not our mistrust," meaning that Macbeth should not mistrust the first two murderer. Macbeth is the kind of ruler, like Stalin, who never trusted anyone and always sent several people to do a job in order to keep an eye on each other. At lines 11 -- 12 the murderers observe that people approaching Macbeth's castle usually dismount from their horses and walk the last mile, thus explaining why the characters will not have horses. The actual attack itself has a wonderful verbal component. Banquo says at line 16, "It will be rain tonight," and the First Murderer responds, "Let it come down" as he jumps on Macbeth. Fleance naturally escapes; otherwise we would have no line of Stuart kings in a couple of hundred years. The murderers go back to tell Macbeth what they have done. Act III, scene 4 In the first 38 lines we get a scene of the Macbeths being jovial hosts at the big State dinner for the thanes of Scotland. Notice the contrast as the festivities are interrupted by the arrival and report from the murderers. [Act III, scene 4, lines 1 -- 38] Macbeth and his wife are eager to be seen as a fun couple, the hip hosts of eleventh century Scotland, and the party starts well enough but soon turns into the entertainment from Hell. The arrangement at the table is by social status. When Macbeth says at line 1, "You know your own degrees; sit down," he's referring to the normal custom of the higher the title, the closer you got to sit to the head of the table where the monarch normally sat. At line 5 Macbeth says he will mingle with society and "play the humble host" while Lady Macbeth stays "in her state" at the head of the table. This is Macbeth's conscious effort to make the affair informal. He urges his guests to be "large in mirth" and have a good time at line 12 before he goes apart to speak to the murderers. We have seen other scenes in the play where a character tried to do very different

activities at the same time. Macbeth congratulates the First Murderer for having Banquo's blood on his face: "Better thee without than he within." When the murderer says that he personally cut Banquo's throat, Macbeth makes a tasteless joke at line 18: "Thou art the best of the cutthroats." Throughout the sequence Macbeth is still using his little verbal dodges, his euphemisms for killing. At line 16 he asks, "Is he dispatched?" The murderers don't have the same problem with direct language: "his throat is cut." When Macbeth learns at line 22 that Fleance got away, he is frustrated again: "Then comes my fit again: I had else been perfect." The word "fit" refers to his earlier fear about Banquo and his heirs. Later at line 25 he describes his condition: "now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound in/ To saucy doubts and fears." At line 30 he describes the threat that Fleance represented: "There the gown serpent lies; the worm that's fled/ Hath nature that in time will venom breed,/ No teeth for the moment." Banquo is the grown snake, Fleance the baby snake or worm. Lady Macbeth chides her husband from lines 34 -- 38 for not being more hospitable and welcoming. If the only entertainment people receive is eating the dinner, they might as well have stayed at home. So Macbeth goes to sit at the table, and as he does so, the ghost of Banquo enters and sits in the empty chair that Macbeth planned to sit in. Audiences in Shakespeare's day loved the ghost of Banquo, especially here with a bloody face and head. (Remember the murderer's description of his death.) You can imagine them saying, "That is so cool!" For modern audience ghost are more problematic, and we tend to think that they most likely are figments in the minds of seriously disturbed people. Modern productions make a big technical deal out of getting Banquo onto stage without being recognized by the audience. In the next sequence notice how Macbeth reacts to the ghost, which he recognizes from the beginning. [Act III, scene 4, lines 39 -- 145] Don't you hate those dinner parties where the host keeps hallucinating dead people at the dinner table? At various points throughout this sequence, such as line 40 Macbeth tempts the fates by wondering aloud why Banquo, his chief guest, isn't there. At one level of dramatic irony, we know that of all the people present, only Macbeth knows that Banquo is in a ditch, dead. But the further irony is that we see the ghost, but Macbeth hasn't spotted him yet. When Macbeth goes to sit down on a supposedly vacant stool he sees what no one else can see, Banquo's bloody ghost. Look at his first reaction at line 49: "Which of you have done this?" as if someone else was responsible, and then at line 50 directly to the ghost, "Thou canst not say I did it." Remember Macbeth requiring "plausible deniability"? Of course, it doesn't do any good to deny your guilt to a ghost; he knows better! With the ruler obviously unwell, Ross at line 53 suggests that the party break up. However, Lady Macbeth is determined to keep the affair going, and she tells the thanes at line 54: My lord is often thus, And hath been since his youth. Pray you, keep seat. The fit is momentary; upon a thought He will again be well. If much you note him, You shall offend him and extend his passion. Feed, and regard him not.

That must have been a comfort to the thanes -- a monarch who frequently yells at an empty stool. Lady Macbeth very creatively has made up this story of a mental condition on the spot. She now engages Macbeth in a private conversation while everyone at the table tries not to appear to be listening. She starts in on him at line 59 in the same way she had before: "Are you a man?" to which he answers, "Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that/ Which might appall the devil." Of course, he's the only one that can see the ghost. She continues in her attack: "This is the very painting of your fears./ This is the air-drawn dagger which, you said,/ Led you to Duncan." Macbeth has told his wife about the damn dagger, and she will throw it up to him for the rest of their lives as a sign of his weakness. She continues her attack down to line 65: "[This imaginary ghost] would well become/ A woman's story at a winter fire." Once again he tries to get her to see and acknowledge the presence of a ghost, and he challenges the ghost at line 71, "If charnel houses and our graves must send/ Those that we bury back, our monuments/ Shall be the maws of kites." The ghost is violating the normal process of life and death with the dead returning to life. "Kites" were the vultures of that time, being especially notorious for eating the flesh of victims on the gallows. The last image is difficult to understand, but it suggests something terribly unnatural. The ghost disappears, and Lady Macbeth tries once again to castrate her husband: "What, quite unmanned in folly?" [line 73] But he waxes philosophical again at line 76:

Blood hath been shed ere now, in the olden time, Ere humane statute purged the gentle weal; Ay, and since too, murders have been performed Too terrible for the ear. The times has been That, when the brains were out, the man would die, And there an end; but now they rise again, With twenty mortal murders on their crowns, And push us from our stools. This is more strange Than such a murder is. Macbeth is saying that back in the days before civilization, before the rule of law ("humane statute") got rid of all the evils that endanger mankind, terrible crimes were committed. Of course, despite civilization, murders have continued to occur, but whenever the killings take place, the rule has always been that "when the brains were out, the man would die." Now, even with twenty fatal stab wounds on their heads, these murder victims return and disrupt the parties. It's fascinating that Macbeth puts the idea of murder here in a historical context. The effects of "humane statute" are viewed ironically in that they apparently have not been able to civilize human behavior; the same crimes keep getting committed. And Macbeth treats the appearance of the ghost as a lapse in polite behavior -- it's not nice to take somebody else's seat. At line 85 Macbeth excuses his behavior to his guests and confirms his wife's story about his infirmity and proposes a toast for "our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss;/ Would he were here" [lines 91 -- 92]. Even as he tempts the fates once again by bringing up Banquo's name, the ghost returns. Perhaps Macbeth is serious here; he does miss his only friend. We saw the same expression of regret after the murder of Duncan in Act II, scene 2: "Wake Duncan with thy

knocking, I would thou couldst." Macbeth apparently doesn't realize that every time he mentions Banquo, the ghost appears. This time he orders the ghost away, lines 94 -- 97, and when that doesn't work, he challenges the ghost at line 100: What man dare, I dare. Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear, The armed rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger; Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves Shall never tremble. Or be alive again, And dare me to the desert with thy sword. If trembling I inhabit then, protest me The baby of a girl. Hence, horrible shadow! Unreal mockery, hence! Macbeth evokes three of the most ferocious wild animals known to the English in Shakespeare's time to say he would confront Banquo in those shapes without fear. If that won't work, he challenges Banquo to return to life and fight a duel with him in a deserted place. He orders the ghost away, calling it "unreal," even as he feels its reality with all his being. Lady Macbeth, trying vainly to act as if there is nothing wrong, tells her guests, "Think of this, good peers,/ But as a thing of custom; 'tis no other./ Only it spoils the pleasure of the time" [lines 97 -- 99]. Just don't paying any attention to my husband screaming incoherently; he does it all the time. At line 115 he wonders how his wife "can behold such sights,/ And keep the natural ruby of your cheeks,/ When mine is blanched with fear." Ross finally asks what all the other guests have been dying to, "What sights, my lord?" That does it! One of the members of the court begins to question what is happening. The last thing Lady Macbeth wants is for the thanes to find out the nature of the hallucination. She quickly dismisses the party at line 120. In the last 25 lines of this scene we see Macbeth and his wife together for the last time. They are both worn out from the ordeal, and even though she uses the same old efforts to control her husband, her heart just isn't in it. The ghost having disappeared for a second time, Macbeth speculates on its presence at line 123: It will have blood, they say: blood will have blood. Stones have been known to move and trees to speak; Augures and understood relations have By maggot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth The secret'st man of blood.

[auguries] [crows]

The ghost of Banquo wants revenge, Macbeth's blood. Shakespeare then describes a natural force that knows and reveals the secrets of humans, evoking the lore of a pre-Christian time, the beliefs of the "old times" which remained in rural England in the form of superstitions and legends. The natural world, stones and trees or the revelations of "talking" birds or swarming maggots, could reveal our innermost secrets. It's a powerful set of images, one that was associated with the appearance of witches.

Macbeth changes the subject and shares with his wife his suspicions about Macduff. He reveals that he has paid spies in the homes of all the thanes. He decides to return to the three witches the next day to get them to expand on their prophecies. At line 135 he says ominously, "I am bent to know/ By the worst means the worst." The significance of this line will be come clear in a couple of scenes. Then Macbeth uses what I find to be the most powerful figure of speech in the play at line 137: "I am in blood/ Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o'er." The image is of a river of blood which Macbeth is trying to cross, and he's in so far, it doesn't make any difference if he goes ahead or goes back. There isn't any sense of triumph or hope for the future expressed; it's just the same old, same old. We can see the soldier in Macbeth determined to see it through but without any illusions now: "Strange things I have in head that will to hand,/ Which must be acted ere they can be scanned" [lines 140 -- 141]. He has to act without thinking about it. Lady Macbeth blames his state of mind on his lack of sleep, and he agrees. At line 143 he now offers another explanation for the appearance of the ghost: "My strange and self-abuse/ Is the initiate fear that wants hard use." Banquo's ghost was a form of self-abuse. (Remember that "abuse" could mean a magical spell.) Macbeth now thinks he caused the ghost to appear because he still has the fears of a beginner ("initiate") in the business of evil. He needs to lot of practice or "hard use" in order to overcome those fears and self-doubts. As he says in the final line, "We are but young in deed." We need more experience to harden ourselves. Act III, scene 5 [Act III, scene 5] This scene, which takes place in the witches home or "haunt," features Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft, here as a kind of shop steward for the Witches Union. She's upset that our three weird sisters have initiated their manipulation of Macbeth without authorization from higher-ups, especially Hecate herself. However, she promises that she will now take over the operation and create special spells and deceptions to complete the job. The key passage in the scene is Hecate's description of her plan at line 28: the strength of their illusion Shall draw him on to his confusion. He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace and fear: And you all know security Is mortals' chiefest enemy.

[self-confidence]

The idea here is that Macbeth will be fooled if he believes he will face no consequences for his evil. In the scene coming up where the witches provide Macbeth with their equivocal assurances Macbeth is lured into a sense of absolute confidence and will risk everything. This scene is written in an unusual format, with lines with eight syllables rather than the normal ten, and rhymed in couplets. It provides an opportunity for a little song at the end of the scene, something we haven't seen previously in the play. The language and dramatic function of the scene have suggested to many scholars that it was not written by Shakespeare but by someone else and inserted into the text of the play. It is usually dropped from modern productions.

Act III, scene 6 [Act III, scene 6] This is another short scene, but in this case no one questions that it is Shakespeare's work. A thane Lennox is talking with an unnamed lord about conditions in the court. In his opening speech Ross uses very ironic language, saying that Banquo, who made the mistake of going out walking late at night, was murdered by his son Fleance, just as Duncan had been by his sons. Macbeth murdered the grooms because they would have denied any involvement in the death of Duncan. The sarcasm here is very heavy, but it has a purpose. Lennox is checking to see the reaction of the other man. Is he one of Macbeth's spies or can he be trusted? The unnamed lord shares with Lennox the news that Macduff has fled to England where Duncan's son Malcolm is attempting to raise an army with the help of the English king Edward to liberate Scotland from the tyranny of Macbeth. The king mentioned here, Edward the Confessor, was a famous and pious monarch. King James must have appreciated Shakespeare showing England and Scotland cooperating to end tyranny, even though in historical reality it did not happen. This is one of the few scenes in which neither Macbeth nor his wife appear, so it provides a different perspective. It's similar to the last scene in Act II where an old man talks with Ross and Macduff and expresses the hope that things will be done better. They haven't been. It gives us a sense of how ordinary people are reacting to Macbeth's evil. Lennox and the lord hold out hope that help is on the way and that the people of Scotland will join in the effort to overthrow the evil king.