Loretta Barnard

About Loretta Barnard

Loretta Barnard is a freelance writer and editor who has authored four non-fiction books, been a contributing writer to a wide range of reference books and whose essays have been published across a number of platforms. A regular contributor to The Big Smoke, she also coordinates the TBS Next Gen program.

Insta-Bard: Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4

Approx Reading Time-11Happy death day William Shakespeare! To celebrate, we’ve decided to modernise his work through our handy bard translator. First up, Macbeth!

 

Today, 23 April, is the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death at the age of 52 and we’re marking the occasion by offering a tiny morsel of delicious Bardery for you to savour – a quote from Act III of Macbeth, the scene with Banquo’s ghost.

You know the story. Three witches tell Macbeth that he’ll soon be king, but ultimately Scottish kings will be descended from Banquo. To kick things along and to thwart destiny, Macbeth murders the sitting king Duncan, along with Duncan’s guards. He then orders the murders of Banquo and his son Fleance, and kills the wife and children of his former ally Macduff.

All the way, he’s encouraged and supported by his ruthlessly ambitious wife.

By Act III, Macbeth is the King of Scotland and throws a party to celebrate. All the lords are there – it’s going to be a wonderful banquet – but a spanner is thrown into the works when the hired murderer whispers to Macbeth that Fleance escaped. Damn it, a loose end, thinks Macbeth, but he puts on his party face for the room.

Oh, the horror! Instead of relaxing now his monarchic rival has been knocked off, Macbeth freaks out because who is sitting in his chair but Banquo’s ghost! His guests can’t see the ghost so they think Macbeth has lost the plot, because he keeps addressing the empty air.

The language he uses is simply spectacular, conjuring the horror of seeing the grisly spectral face of the murdered man. “Never shake thy gory locks at me.” Marvellous!

The guests are rather put off their food and call it a night.

Lady Macbeth tries to calm her husband but he answers, “It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood”, meaning that the murdered will be revenged, so he’s naturally on edge.

Now, worried for his own safety, Macbeth says:

“I’ll go see the witches tomorrow to find out what they have to say about all this. I just have to know. I’ve killed so many people, it’s like a river of blood and I’ve gone in too deep to go back. I have some plans that should work but have to act fast in case I over-analyse things.”

Okay, that’s what he means, but it’s Shakespeare remember, so he says it a whole better than that. These are the actual words:

“… I will tomorrow,

And betimes I will, to the weird sisters:

More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,

By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,

All causes shall give way: I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er:

Strange things I have in head, that will to hand;

Which must be acted ere they may be scann’d.”

 

Whoa! You can see the spilled blood, feel Macbeth’s horror and guilt. You tremble with him. There’s no turning back – he’s come too far. The language – graphic and evocative – is spot on.

Just this bit:

“I am in blood

Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

 

Shakespeare was a linguistic wizard, with a genius for tapping into the human psyche.

Gruesomely beautiful. Masterful, a wordsmith without peer.

 

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