A line-by-line translation

Macbeth

Macbeth Translation Act 4, Scene 3

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MALCOLM and MACDUFF enter.

MALCOLM

Let us seek out some desolate shade and thereWeep our sad bosoms empty.

MALCOLM

Let’s find some private shady place where we can go and cry our hearts out.

MACDUFF

Let us rather Hold fast the mortal sword and, like good men, Bestride our downfall’n birthdom. Each new morn New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds As if it felt with Scotland and yelled out Like syllable of dolor.

MACDUFF

Instead, let’s hold tight to our swords, and defend our fallen country like honorable men. Each morning new widows howl and new orphans cry. New sorrows fly up to heaven so that heaven itself echoes with the screams, and seems to feel Scotland’s pain.

MALCOLM

What I believe I’ll wail; What know believe, and what I can redress, As I shall find the time to friend, I will. What you have spoke, it may be so perchance. This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, Was once thought honest. You have loved him well. He hath not touched you yet. I am young, but something You may deserve of him through me, and wisdom To offer up a weak, poor, innocent lamb T’ appease an angry god.

MALCOLM

I will avenge whatever I believe is wrong. I’ll believe whatever I know is true. And when the time is right, I’ll fix whatever I can. What you’ve told me may in fact be true. This tyrant—whose mere name is so awful that saying it puts blisters on our tongues—was once thought to be honest. You and he were great friends. He’s done nothing yet to harm you. I’m inexperienced, but you could win Macbeth’s favor by betraying me and then offer me up to him like a sacrificial lamb to an angry god.

MACDUFF

I am not treacherous.

MACDUFF

I am not treacherous.

MALCOLM

But Macbeth is. A good and virtuous nature may recoil In an imperial charge. But I shall crave your pardon. That which you are, my thoughts cannot transpose. Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell. Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, Yet grace must still look so.

MALCOLM

But Macbeth is. Even someone with a good and virtuous nature might give in to the command of this king. Still, I beg your pardon. My fears don’t change what you truly are. Angels are still bright even though Lucifer, the brightest angel, fell from heaven. Though everything evil tries to disguise itself as good, good must continue to look good as well.

MACDUFF

I have lost my hopes.

MACDUFF

My hopes are lost.

MALCOLM

Perchance even there where I did find my doubts. Why in that rawness left you wife and child, Those precious motives, those strong knots of love, Without leave-taking? I pray you, Let not my jealousies be your dishonors, But mine own safeties. You may be rightly just, Whatever I shall think.

MALCOLM

Perhaps you lost your hope in the same place I found my suspicions of you. Why did you leave behind your wife and child—the most precious things in your life that the strong bonds of love should motivate you to protect—in that dangerous place, without even saying goodbye? I beg you, don’t take my suspicion as an insult. I just have to protect myself. You may truly be honest, no matter what I think.

MACDUFF

Bleed, bleed, poor country! Great tyranny, lay thou thy basis sure, For goodness dare not check thee. Wear thou thy wrongs; The title is affeered.—Fare thee well, lord. I would not be the villain that thou think’st For the whole space that’s in the tyrant’s grasp, And the rich East to boot.

MACDUFF

Bleed, bleed, my poor country! Terrible tyrant, be comfortable in your position, because good people fear to confront you. Enjoy what you stole, because your title is safe! 

[To MALCOLM] Goodbye, my lord. I wouldn’t be the villain that you think I am, even if I were offered all of Macbeth’s kingdom and the wealth of the East as well.

MALCOLM

Be not offended. I speak not as in absolute fear of you. I think our country sinks beneath the yoke. It weeps, it bleeds, and each new day a gash Is added to her wounds. I think withal There would be hands uplifted in my right; And here from gracious England have I offer Of goodly thousands. But, for all this, When I shall tread upon the tyrant’s head, Or wear it on my sword, yet my poor country Shall have more vices than it had before, More suffer, and more sundry ways than ever, By him that shall succeed.

MALCOLM

Don’t be offended. It’s not that I totally mistrust you. I agree that Scotland is sinking under Macbeth’s tyranny. Scotland weeps, it bleeds, and each day a new injury is added to her wounds. I think, too, that many men would fight for me if I returned to claim the throne. And England has promised to give me thousands of troops. But, for all this, when I have my foot on Macbeth’s head, or have his head on my sword, then my poor country will be in even worse shape than before. It will suffer more, and in more ways, under the king who succeeds Macbeth.

MACDUFF

What should he be?

MACDUFF

And who would that be?

MALCOLM

It is myself I mean, in whom I know All the particulars of vice so grafted That, when they shall be opened, black Macbeth Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state Esteem him as a lamb, being compared With my confineless harms.

MALCOLM

I mean myself. I know I have so many evil qualities that—when they are exposed—will make evil Macbeth seem pure as snow, and poor Scotland will think of him as a sweet lamb in comparison to me and my infinite wickedness.

MACDUFF

Not in the legionsOf horrid hell can come a devil more damnedIn evils to top Macbeth.

MACDUFF

There is not a devil as cursed as Macbeth in all of hell.

MALCOLM

I grant him bloody, Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin That has a name. But there’s no bottom, none, In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters, Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up The cistern of my lust, and my desire All continent impediments would o’erbear That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth Than such an one to reign.

MALCOLM

I admit he’s violent, lecherous, greedy, deceitful, hot-tempered, malicious, and guilty of every sin that has a name. But there is no end—absolutely none—to my sexual sinfulness. Your wives, your daughters, your old women, and your young women could not satisfy the depths of my lust. My desire would overwhelm anything and everyone who opposed me. It’s better that Macbeth rule rather than someone like me.

MACDUFF

Boundless intemperance In nature is a tyranny. It hath been The untimely emptying of the happy throne And fall of many kings. But fear not yet To take upon you what is yours. You may Convey your pleasures in a spacious plenty And yet seem cold; the time you may so hoodwink. We have willing dames enough. There cannot be That vulture in you to devour so many As will to greatness dedicate themselves, Finding it so inclined.

MACDUFF

Extreme lust can overwhelm a man. It has caused the downfall of many kings in previously happy kingdoms. But don’t be afraid to take the crown that is yours. You can satisfy your desires in secret, while still appearing virtuous in public. You can hide the truth from everyone. Scotland has more than enough willing women. It’s not possible that your lust could be so great that you’d go through all the women willing to sleep with the king once they find out his interest in them.

MALCOLM

With this there grows In my most ill-composed affection such A stanchless avarice that, were I king, I should cut off the nobles for their lands, Desire his jewels and this other’s house. And my more-having would be as a sauce To make me hunger more, that I should forge Quarrels unjust against the good and loyal, Destroying them for wealth.

MALCOLM

In addition to my lust, I’m also insatiably greedy. If I were king, I’d take the nobles’ lands, steal the jewels of one, and take the house of another. And everything I took would make me hungrier to steal even more, until I’d create unjustified arguments with my good and loyal subjects so that I could take their wealth.

MACDUFF

This avarice Sticks deeper, grows with more pernicious root Than summer-seeming lust, and it hath been The sword of our slain kings. Yet do not fear; Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will, Of your mere own. All these are portable, With other graces weighed.

MACDUFF

This greed you describe is even worse than lust because it will not pass as you leave your youth, and it has led to the death of numerous kings. But don’t be afraid. Scotland has enough wealth that you will be satisfied, even by your own income alone. These bad qualities are bearable when weighed against your good qualities.

MALCOLM

But I have none. The king-becoming graces, As justice, verity, temperance, stableness, Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude, I have no relish of them but abound In the division of each several crime, Acting it many ways. Nay, had I power, I should Pour the sweet milk of concord into hell, Uproar the universal peace, confound All unity on earth.

MALCOLM

But I have no good qualities. I have none of the qualities necessary for a king—such as justice, truthfulness, moderation, consistency, generosity, perseverance, mercy, humility, devotion, patience, courage, and bravery. Instead, I’m full of every type of sin, and each of those in a variety of ways. No, if I had power, I would take the sweet milk of peace and pour it into hell. I would destroy all peace, end all unity on earth.

MACDUFF

O Scotland, Scotland!

MACDUFF

Oh, Scotland, Scotland!

MALCOLM

If such a one be fit to govern, speak.I am as I have spoken.

MALCOLM

If someone like me is fit to rule, tell me. I am exactly as I have described myself.

MACDUFF

Fit to govern? No, not to live. —O nation miserable, With an untitled tyrant bloody-sceptered, When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again, Since that the truest issue of thy throne By his own interdiction stands accursed, And does blaspheme his breed? —Thy royal father Was a most sainted king. The queen that bore thee, Oftener upon her knees than on her feet, Died every day she lived. Fare thee well! These evils thou repeat’st upon thyself Have banished me from Scotland. —O my breast, Thy hope ends here!

MACDUFF

Fit to rule? No, not even fit to live. Oh, miserable country, ruled by a murderous tyrant with no right to rule—when will you possibly see peaceful days if your legal heir to the throne indicts himself as a cursed man and a disgrace to the royal family? Your royal father Duncan was a virtuous king. The queen your mother was more often kneeling in prayer than standing up, and lived a pious life. Goodbye. The evils of which you accuse yourself have driven me from Scotland forever. Oh, my heart, your hope ends here!

MALCOLM

Macduff, this noble passion, Child of integrity, hath from my soul Wiped the black scruples, reconciled my thoughts To thy good truth and honor. Devilish Macbeth By many of these trains hath sought to win me Into his power, and modest wisdom plucks me From overcredulous haste. But God above Deal between thee and me, for even now I put myself to thy direction and Unspeak mine own detraction, here abjure The taints and blames I laid upon myself, For strangers to my nature. I am yet Unknown to woman, never was forsworn, Scarcely have coveted what was mine own, At no time broke my faith, would not betray The devil to his fellow, and delight No less in truth than life. My first false speaking Was this upon myself. What I am truly, Is thine and my poor country’s to command. Whither indeed, before thy here-approach, Old Siward, with ten thousand warlike men, Already at a point, was setting forth. Now we’ll together, and the chance of goodness Be like our warranted quarrel! Why are you silent?

MALCOLM

Macduff, this noble outburst can only be a product of integrity, and has removed from my soul the doubts I had about you, proving your honor and truthfulness to me. The devilish Macbeth has tried many plots to lure me into his power, so I must be cautious and not too quick to trust anyone. But may God show my truthfulness now to you! I will let myself be guided by you, and I take back all of the terrible things I said about myself. All the flaws I described myself as having are in fact alien to my character. I haven't slept with a woman yet, and I’ve never broken a vow. I barely even care about my own possessions, much less what anyone else owns. I’ve never broken a promise and wouldn’t even betray the devil. I love truth as much as I love life. Those lies I told about myself are the first false words I’ve ever said. The true me is ready to serve you and our poor country. In fact, before you got here, old Siward—with ten thousand battle-ready soldiers—was just setting out for Scotland. Now we’ll fight Macbeth together, and our chance of our success is as good as the reasons motivating us to act! Why are you silent?

MACDUFF

Such welcome and unwelcome things at once‘Tis hard to reconcile.

MACDUFF

It’s hard to understand such a sudden change in your story.

A DOCTOR enters.

MALCOLM

Well, more anon.—Comes the king forth, I pray you?

MALCOLM

Well, we’ll speak more about this soon. 

[To the DOCTOR] Can you tell me, is King Edward coming?

DOCTOR

Ay, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls That stay his cure. Their malady convinces The great assay of art, but at his touch— Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand— They presently amend.

DOCTOR

Yes, sir. A wretched group of the sick wait for him to heal them. Their illness doesn’t respond to the efforts of medicine, but when Edward touches them—because of the sacred power given to him by heaven—they are healed.

MALCOLM

I thank you, doctor.

MALCOLM

Thank you, doctor.

The DOCTOR exits.

MACDUFF

What’s the disease he means?

MACDUFF

What disease does he mean?

MALCOLM

‘Tis called the evil. A most miraculous work in this good king, Which often since my here-remain in England I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven, Himself best knows, but strangely visited people, All swoll’n and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye, The mere despair of surgery, he cures, Hanging a golden stamp about their necks, Put on with holy prayers. And, ’tis spoken, To the succeeding royalty he leaves The healing benediction. With this strange virtue, He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, And sundry blessings hang about his throne, That speak him full of grace.

MALCOLM

It’s called the evil. Many times during my stay in England, I have seen the good king Edward perform an incredible miracle. Only he can say how he prays to heaven for these gifts. He cures people afflicted with this strange disease—all swollen and ulcerous, pitiful to look at, and beyond the help of surgery—by placing a gold coin around their necks and saying holy prayers over them. And it’s said that he will pass on this blessed healing power to his royal descendants. In addition to this strange power, he has the gift of prophecy, as well as various other abilities that mark him as a man full of God’s grace.

ROSS enters.

MACDUFF

See, who comes here?

MACDUFF

Look there, who’s coming?

MALCOLM

My countryman, but yet I know him not.

MALCOLM

He’s dressed like a Scotsman, but I don’t know him.

MACDUFF

My ever-gentle cousin, welcome hither.

MACDUFF

My always noble kinsman, welcome.

MALCOLM

I know him now.—Good God, betimes remove The means that makes us strangers!

MALCOLM

I recognize him now. Dear God, may you quickly change the circumstances that keep us apart!

ROSS

Sir, amen.

ROSS

Amen to that, sir.

MACDUFF

Stands Scotland where it did?

MACDUFF

Is Scotland as it has been?

ROSS

Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot Be called our mother, but our grave, where nothing, But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile; Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air Are made, not marked; where violent sorrow seems A modern ecstasy. The dead man’s knell Is there scarce asked for who, and good men’s lives Expire before the flowers in their caps, Dying or ere they sicken.

ROSS

Alas, poor country! It's almost too scared to even recognize itself. Scotland is no longer our motherland. It is our grave, where the only people who smile are those who know nothing. Where sighs, groans, and shrieks split the air, but no one pays attention. Where violent sorrow is a common emotion. When the funeral bells ring, people no longer ask who died. Good men’s lives are shorter than the time it takes the flowers in their caps to wilt. They die before they even fall sick.

MACDUFF

Oh, relationToo nice and yet too true!

MACDUFF

Oh, your report is too precise and too true!

MALCOLM

What’s the newest grief?

MALCOLM

What is the latest bad news?

ROSS

That of an hour’s age doth hiss the speaker.Each minute teems a new one.

ROSS

Every hour brings new bad news. Every minute gives birth to some new bad thing.

MACDUFF

How does my wife?

MACDUFF

How is my wife?

ROSS

Why, well.

ROSS

She’s well.

MACDUFF

And all my children?

MACDUFF

And all my children?

ROSS

Well too.

ROSS

They’re well too.

MACDUFF

The tyrant has not battered at their peace?

MACDUFF

The tyrant Macbeth hasn’t come after them?

ROSS

No, they were well at peace when I did leave ‘em.

ROSS

No, they were at peace when I left them.

MACDUFF

Be not a niggard of your speech. How goes ’t?

MACDUFF

Don’t be coy with what you’re saying. What’s happened?

ROSS

When I came hither to transport the tidings, Which I have heavily borne, there ran a rumor Of many worthy fellows that were out; Which was to my belief witnessed the rather For that I saw the tyrant’s power afoot. Now is the time of help. Your eye in Scotland Would create soldiers, make our women fight, To doff their dire distresses.

ROSS

As I was coming here to tell you the news that has weighed me down, I heard rumors that many good men are armed and moving to fight Macbeth. I knew the rumors were true when I saw Macbeth’s army on the move. Now is the time when we need your help. Your presence in Scotland would inspire more men—and women—to fight against Macbeth’s tyranny.

MALCOLM

Be ’t their comfort We are coming thither. Gracious England hath Lent us good Siward and ten thousand men; An older and a better soldier none That Christendom gives out.

MALCOLM

Let them be comforted—we’re returning to Scotland. Gracious King Edward has lent us noble Lord Siward and ten thousand soldiers. No soldier is more experienced or successful than Siward in all of the Christian countries.

ROSS

Would I could answer This comfort with the like. But I have words That would be howled out in the desert air, Where hearing should not latch them.

ROSS

I wish I could respond to this good news with good news of my own. But I do have news that should be howled out into the sky of a barren desert, where nobody could hear it.

MACDUFF

What concern they?The general cause, or is it a fee-griefDue to some single breast?

MACDUFF

What is the news about? Does it concern everyone, or is it a grief belonging to just one person?

ROSS

No mind that’s honest But in it shares some woe, though the main partPertains to you alone.

ROSS

No honest man could stop himself from sharing in the sorrow, but my news relates to you alone.

MACDUFF

If it be mine,Keep it not from me. Quickly let me have it.

MACDUFF

If it’s for me, don’t keep it from me. Quickly, tell me.

ROSS

Let not your ears despise my tongue forever, Which shall possess them with the heaviest soundThat ever yet they heard.

ROSS

I hope your ears won’t hate my tongue forever for saying these things, the saddest news they’ve ever heard.

MACDUFF

Hum! I guess at it.

MACDUFF

Oh no! I can guess what you’re going to say.

ROSS

Your castle is surprised, your wife and babes Savagely slaughtered. To relate the manner, Were, on the quarry of these murdered deer To add the death of you.

ROSS

Your castle was ambushed. Your wife and children were savagely slaughtered. If I described their murders, it would kill you too, and add your body to the pile.

MALCOLM

Merciful heaven! What, man! Ne’er pull your hat upon your brows. Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak Whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.

MALCOLM

Merciful heaven! 

[To MACDUFF] Come, man, don’t hide your grief. Put your sorrow into words. A grief that hides in silence will whisper in your heart and break it.

MACDUFF

My children too?

MACDUFF

My children too?

ROSS

Wife, children, servants, all that could be found.

ROSS

Your wife, your children, your servants—everyone they could find.

MACDUFF

And I must be from thence!My wife killed too?

MACDUFF

And I was away! My wife was killed too?

ROSS

I have said.

ROSS

As I have said.

MALCOLM

Be comforted. Let’s make us med’cines of our great revenge,To cure this deadly grief.

MALCOLM

Take comfort. Let’s make a medicine out of revenge to ease your dreadful grief.

MACDUFF

He has no children. All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam At one fell swoop?

MACDUFF

He doesn't have any children. All my little children? Did you say all? Oh, hawk from hell! All of them? What, all my children and their mother killed in one deadly swoop?

MALCOLM

Dispute it like a man.

MALCOLM

Fight it like a man.

MACDUFF

I shall do so, But I must also feel it as a man. I cannot but remember such things were That were most precious to me. Did heaven look on, And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff, They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am, Not for their own demerits, but for mine, Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.

MACDUFF

I’ll do that. But I must also feel it like a man. I can’t help remembering those things that were most precious to me. Did heaven just watch my family die, and refuse to help them? Sinful Macduff, they were killed because of you! As wicked as I am, they were slaughtered not because of their own flaws, but because of mine. May they rest in heaven now.

MALCOLM

Be this the whetstone of your sword. Let griefConvert to anger. Blunt not the heart, enrage it.

MALCOLM

Let all this sharpen your sword. Let grief become anger. Don’t hold back your heart. Let it rage.

MACDUFF

Oh, I could play the woman with mine eyes And braggart with my tongue! But, gentle heavens, Cut short all intermission. Front to front Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself. Within my sword’s length set him; if he ’scape, Heaven forgive him too.

MACDUFF

Oh, I could weep like a woman while bragging about taking revenge! But, gentle heavens, cut short any delay. Bring me face to face with the devil of Scotland, so that he’s within reach of my sword. If he escapes, may heaven forgive him as well!

MALCOLM

This tune goes manly. Come, go we to the king. Our power is ready; Our lack is nothing but our leave. Macbeth Is ripe for shaking, and the powers above Put on their instruments. Receive what cheer you may. The night is long that never finds the day.

MALCOLM

Now you sound like a man. Come, we'll go see King Edward. Our army is ready, and we can leave once we get King Edward's permission. Macbeth is ripe for the taking, with the powers above are armed and on our side. Take heart, as much as you can. A new day will dawn.

ALL exit.

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Ben florman
About the Translator: Ben Florman

Ben is a co-founder of LitCharts. He holds a BA in English Literature from Harvard University, where as an undergraduate he won the Winthrop Sargent prize for best undergraduate paper on a topic related to Shakespeare.