Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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123 ‘Look to the Lady’ – Macduff’s earlier ‘Look to the Lady’ was presumably a call that someone should catch Lady Macbeth as she fell; Banquo’s is probably spoken to some servants as request that she be attended to and carried off stage.

124 ‘when we have our naked frailties hid’ – That is, ‘when we have clothed ourselves against the cold’. The play is full of clothing imagery, implying, as here, the disguising or protecting of what lies beneath our outward garments.

127 ‘Fears and scruples shake us’ – A generalised comment: ‘Fears and doubts (“scruples”) are disturbing to all and should be quickly examined and dealt with.’

128-9 ‘In the great hand of God I stand; and thence/ Against the undivulg’d pretence I fight’ – Note the internal rhymes, which help to give Banquo’s speech its resounding quality.

138-9 ‘the near in blood,/ The nearer bloody.’ – ‘near’ is a clipped form of ‘nearer’: ‘the nearer a person is in terms of kin, the nearer that person is to having bloody thoughts of murder.’ Donalbain implies that he strongly suspects Macbeth of the murder, as he was Duncan’s cousin and has a claim to the throne. The adage sounds a little strange in Donalbain’s mouth as both he and Malcolm are, of course, nearer ‘in blood’ to Duncan than Macbeth.

139-40 ‘This murtherous shaft that’s shot/ Hath not yet lighted’ – The image is of an arrow that is still in flight, one that ‘Hath not yet lighted’ harmlessly upon the ground. The obvious motive for killing Duncan is to succeed him, and Malcolm has just been proclaimed heir to the throne.

142 ‘dainty of’ = ‘particular about’.

143 ‘shift away’ = ‘slip away’.

143-4 ‘There’s warrant in that theft/ Which steals itself, when there’s no mercy left.’ – ‘warrant’ means ‘justification’. Malcolm proposes that he and Donalbain ‘steal’ themselves from Macbeth and his companions – a worthy theft, since they steal only what belongs to them (their own selves), and one justified by the situation, in which they can expect no mercy.

Act Two: Scene Four

3-4 ‘this sore night/ Hath trifled former knowings.’ – That is, ‘has made a trifle of my former experiences’.

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William Shakespeare