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When Duncan was the king of Scotland, there lived a brave General who was looked up to with high esteem throughout Scotland for his great valour and skill in wars. He was also a close relative of the old king. He was Macbeth, the thane of Glamis. Of late, he defeated a rebel army assisted by the troops of Norway, in great numbers.

The two Scottish Generals, Macbeth and Banquo, were returning from the great battle. There was thunder and lightening. On the way they were stopped by the strange appearance of three figures that looked like women, except that they had beards, and their withered skin and wild dresses made them look like unearthly creatures. They were dancing, they were singing :

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

As they saw the two Generals, the first witch saluted Macbeth with the title of ‘thane of Glamis’. The general was scarcely startled to find himself known by such creatures. The second witch addressed him as the ‘thane of Cawdor’ to which he had no pretensions; and the third told him, “You will be the king of Scotland hereafter.” Such a prophetic greeting might well amaze him for he knew that as long as the king’s sons survived, he could scarcely hope to succeed the throne. By this time, Banquo was curious to know the reason why the witches had little to say about him whereas they kindled hope in the heart of his dearest friend. So the witches turned towards Banquo and told him in somewhat riddling terms: to be lesser than Macbeth and greater, not so happy but much happier. They also prophesied that although Banquo would never reign as the king of Scotland, yet his successors would be the kings. And then they turned into thin air and vanished, by which the Generals realized the weird sisters to be witches.

While they stood there pondering on the strangeness of this adventure, there arrived certain envoys, from the king, who were empowered to confer upon Macbeth the title of the thane of Cawdor. It was an event so miraculously corresponding with the predictions of the witches that Macbeth stood there wrapped in amazement, unable to respond to the greetings of the envoys. Hopes began to swell in his heart as he was now thinking of the prediction of the third witch. Turning to Banquo, he said, “Do you not hope that your children will be the kings of the future, since, what the witches promised to me has so wonderfully come to pass?”” “That hope,” replied Banquo, “might enkindle you to aim at the throne, but often times these ministers of darkness tell us truths in little things to betray us into deeds of greatest consequence.”

However, the prophesies of the witches had sunk too deep into the mind of Macbeth. He told his wife about the predictions of the three witches and also its partial accomplishment. Lady Macbeth was an extremely ambitious woman. She spurred on the reluctant purpose of Macbeth who felt compunction at the thought of blood. She did not cease to represent the murder of the king as a step absolutely necessary to the fulfillment of the flattering prophesies. It happened that at this time King Duncan came to visit Macbeth’s castle along with his two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain and numerous thanes and attendants to honour Macbeth for his triumph against the rebels.

Inverness, the castle of Macbeth was pleasantly situated on a hill and the air about it was sweet and wholesome. The nests that the swallows or the marlets had built under all the jutting friezes and buttresses of the building. The king was extremely pleased as he entered the palace not only for its wonderful ambience but also due to the attention and respect of his hostess, Lady Macbeth, who had developed the art of camouflaging her treacherous purposes with smiles and charming etiquette.

Tired of his long journey the king went early to bed. It was the middle of the night. Now over half the world’s nature seemed dead and wicked dreams abuse sleeping men’s minds, and none but the wolf or the murderer is out for hunt. This was the time when Lady Macbeth woke up to plot the murder of the king. She would not have undertaken a deed so abhorrent to her sex and she was well aware of her husband’s nature that was too full of the milk of human kindness to execute a contrived murder. She knew that her husband was ambitious but he was not prepared for the height of crime which commonly accompanies inordinate ambition. She had won his consent about the murder but she doubted his resolution and she feared the natural tenderness of his disposition could defeat the purpose. So armed with a dagger she approached the king’s chamber. There she found Duncan in sound sleep and as she viewed him earnestly, there was something in his face which resembled her own father. Thus she had not the resolution to proceed further.

She returned to confer with her husband. He thought there were strong reasons against the murder. Macbeth was not only a subject but also a close relative to Duncan. Besides, he had been a host to the king; so his duty would be to protect the king from the threat of the murderers, not to bear the dagger himself. He also thought how just and benevolent a king was Duncan, how clear of offence to his subjects, how loving to his nobility that their subjects were doubly bound to avenge his death. Moreover, by the favours of the king, Macbeth stood high in the opinion of all sorts of men and how could those honours be stained by the reputation of so foul a murder!

In these conflicts of the mind Lady Macbeth found that her husband had resolvedto proceed no further. But she was a woman not easily shaken from her evil purpose. She began to pour in at his ears words which infused a portion of her own spirit into his mind, assigning reason upon reason why he should not shrink from the resolution he had earlier undertaken and howthe action of one night would give their all the coming days and nights to come sovereign power and royalty. She even accused him of cowardice and fickleness for reverting to his decision. She also told him how practicable it would be to lay the guilt of the deed on the drunken grooms who were sleeping in the king’s chamber.

So Macbeth took the dagger in his hand and softly stole in the dark to the room where Duncan slept. As he advanced towards the bed-chamber he visualized another dagger hanging in the air with the handle pointed towards him and there were drops of blood on the tip and the blade of the dagger. Macbeth tried to grasp the dagger but it faded in to the air. It was only a phantasm created from his hot and oppressed brain for the business he had in hand.

Overcoming this fear, Macbeth entered Duncan’s room and slew the hapless king with one stroke of the dagger. Just as he was about to leave the room, one of the grooms who were sleeping in the chamber, laughed and the cried out, “murder” for which both of them woke up; but then, one of them said, “God bless us” and the other responded, “Amen” and went off to sleep. Macbeth also tried to say “Amen” but the word seemed to be struck in his throat and he could not utter. He felt that he heard a voice which said, “Sleep no more; Macbeth murders sleep, the innocent sleep that nourishes life. Glamis has murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall therefore sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more”

Macbeth thus returned to his wife who by now had started to think that he had failed in his objective. He came in such distracted state that she reproached for his want of resoluteness and sent him to wash his hands of the blood that stained them. Meanwhile she took the dagger to stain the cheeks of the grooms with blood in order to make it seem their guilt.

Day showed broke their and outmost with it grief was the and discovery the evidence of the of murder were sufficiently strong against the grooms, yet the entire suspicion fell upon Macbeth. Duncan’s two sons fled immediately. Malcolm, the elder, sought for refuge in the English court while Donalbain, the younger son fled to Ireland. With the death of the king the throne being vacated and the sons being unavailable, Macbeth who was the next heir was crowned the king of Scotland. Thus the prediction of the weird sisters was literally accomplished.

Macbeth and his queen could not forget prophesy of the weird sisters that though Macbeth would be the king but the children of Banquo and not of Macbeth would be the kings after him. to place The the thought, posterity that of they Banquo had defiled upon the their throne hands had with rankled blood by within committing them. So regicide, they decide only to kill Banquo and his son Fleance to nullify the prediction of the weird sisters. For this purpose they arranged a banquet to which they invited all the chief thanes along with Banquo and Fleance. Macbeth appointed some hired assassins and beset them on the way Banquo and his son were supposed to pass. The assassins pounced upon them and killed Banquo, but Fleance managed to escape.

Meanwhile, Macbeth and his wife played the role of perfect host with affable and graceful manners that conciliated everyone present in the banquet. Macbeth discoursed freely with the thanes and noblemen and regretted the absence of his dearest friend Banquo. No sooner did he lament for his friend whom he was missing in the banquet, Macbeth saw the ghost of Banquo occupying the seat reserved for him. At this horrible sight, his cheeks became white fear and he stood quite unmannered with his eyes fixed upon the ghost. His queen and all other nobles saw nothing, but perceived him gazing upon an empty chair. They took it to be a fit of distraction and Lady Macbeth even reproached him and told him it was the same fancy which made him see the dagger in the air when he about to murder Duncan. But Macbeth continued to visualize the ghost the ghost Banquo and gave no heed to all the noblemen and addressed the ghost with distracted words. Lady Macbeth fearing the dreadful secret would be disclosed, in great haste dismissed the guests excusing the infirmity of Macbeth.

Macbeth and his wife had their sleeps affected with terrible dreams and the blood of Banquo troubled them not more than the escape of Fleance whom they now looked upon as father to a line of kings who would keep their posterity out of the throne. With these thoughts they found no peace and Macbeth decided to visit the heath once more in search of the three weird sisters to know his final outcome.

He found them in a cave near the heath where they were engaged in preparing their charms in which they conjured up infernal spirits to reveal them futurity. Their horrid ingredients were toads, bats and serpents, the eye of a newt, the tongue of a dog, the leg of lizard, the wing of a night-owl, the scale of a dragon, the tooth of a wolf, the mummy of a witch, the root of hemlock, the gall of a goat, the liver of a Jew and the finger of a dead child. All these were set on to boil in huge cauldron which was cooled with baboon’s blood; to these they poured in the blood of a sow that had eaten her young, and they threw into the flame the grease that had sweeten from a murderer’s goblet. By these charms they bound the informal spirits to answer their questions.

Macbeth demanded to know from them whether he would he would have his doubts resolved by them or by their masters, the spirits. He was not daunted by the ceremonies that he saw and boldly said, “Where are they? Let me see them.” So they called the spirits. There were three of them. The first one looked like and armed head, called Macbethby name and told him, “Beware of the thane of Fife.” Macbeth thanked him for the caution. He was envious of Macduff, the thane of Fife.

The second spirit arose in the likeness of a bloody child. He called Macbeth by name and told him to have no fear of death but to laugh and scorn at the power of man born naturally born of a woman’s womb. He advised him to be bold, bloody and resolute. “Then live Macduff,” remarked the king, “what need do I fear of you, Macduff? But I will make assurance doubly sure. You will not live so that I can tell the pale-hearted Fear thatit lies, and sleep in spite of thunder.”

A spirit arose in the form of a crowned child with a tree in his hand. He also called Macbeth by name, comforted him against conspiracies and told him that he could never be vanquished until the woods of Birnam to Dunsinane Hill would come against him.

“Who can unfix the forest and move it from its earth bound roots?” said the king. “I see I shall live the usual period of man’s life and not to be cut off by a violent death. But my heart throbs to know one thing: tell me, if you can tell me so much, if Banquo’s issue shall ever reign in this kingdom.”

Here the cauldron sank into the ground and a noise of music was heard, and eight shadows like kings passed by Macbeth, and Banquo was the last figure, all smeared with blood, and smiled at Macbeth. Banquo bore a glass which showed the figured of many more and pointed to the images. Macbeth realized that these were the posterity of Banquo who should reign after him in Scotland. The three witches danced with a sound of soft music, and making a show of duty and welcome to Macbeth, vanished in the air.

The first news that Macbeth got soon after coming out of the witches cave was that Macduff, the thane of Fife, had fled to England to join the army which was formed against him under the leadership of Malcolm to displace Macbeth and set Malcolm, the right heir, upon the throne of Scotland. Stung with rage, Macbeth set upon the castle of Macduff. Macduff’s wife and children, whom the thane had left behind in Scotland, were brutally slaughtered. These merciless activities had gradually alienated the nobility from Macbeth. Many fled to join Malcolm and Macduff who were now approaching with a powerful army which had been raised in England, and the rest secretly wished success to their arms though for fear of Macbeth they could not take active part. Everybody hated Macbeth, the tyrant. Nobody honoured him but all suspected him and he began to envy the condition of Duncan who now slept soundly in his grave and against whom treason had done its worst. Neither steel nor poison, domestic malice or foreign levies, could hurt him any longer.

Meanwhile the queen who had been the sole partner in his wickedness, on whose bosom he could sometimes seek a momentary repose from those terrible dreams which affected them both, passed away. Unable to bear the remorse of guilt and as she suffered from somnambulism she ultimately committed suicide. Macbeth was left alone; he grew careless of life and longed for death. The new approach of Malcolm’s army roused in him what remained of his ancient courage, and he was determined to die with armour. The hollow promises of the three witches had also filled in him a kind of false confidence and remembered the prophesies that no one in him born of a woman’s womb could kill him. He also believed in the soothsaying that he could never be vanquished until Birnam woods would come to Dunsinane which he thought was impossible. So he shut himself up in his own castle which was thought to be absolutely impregnable and waited for Malcolm to invade it.

Finally, a day came, when a messenger approached him, pale and trembling with fear, almost unable to report to Macbeth of what had seen and yet averred that, as he stood on the hill for his watch, he chanced to see the Birnam and perceived the woods to be moving. “Liar”, roared Macbeth, “if you speak false, you will be hanged alive upon the next tree till famine ends your life.”

By now Macbeth had begun to doubt the equivocal sayings of the three spirits. He never feared of being vanquished till Birnam woods would advance towards Dunsinane, and now the woods did move. “However,” said Macbeth, “if this which he vouches be true, let us take us arms and move out. There is no fleeing from hence, nor staying in here. I begin. to weary of the sun and wish my life is at an end.” Saying these he sallied forth upon the besiegers who had now reached the castle.

The strange sight of the moving woods was easily solved. When the besieging army advanced towards the castle through the woods of Birnam, Malcolm like an astute general instructed all his soldiers to hew down a bough and bear it before him so that he could conceal the actual number of invaders to Macbeth. This marching of soldiers with boughs in their hands had appeared, from a distance, like moving woods and the messenger was evidently frightened. Thus the words of the spirits bought to pass, in a sense different from that in which Macbeth understood and so he lost his confidence.

A fierce skirmish took place in which Macbeth slaughtered all those who challenged him until he faced Macduff and remembering the caution of the spirit who had counseled him to stay away from the thane of Fife, he would have turned back but Macduff who had been seeking him through the whole fight, opposed his turning, and a fierce contest ensued. Macduff reproached him and called him a tyrant, murderer, hell- hound and a villain for brutally slaughtering his wife and his innocent children. Then Macbeth remembered the words of the spirit and boldly proclaimed, “I bear a charmed life which must not yield to a man born naturally of a woman.” At this Macduff snubbed him and declared that never born of a woman, never as the ordinary man is naturally born, but was untimely taken out from his mother’s womb.

Macbeth lost his strength and resoluteness. He lamented,” in future a man should never believe the lying equivocations of witches and juggling spirits who deceive us in words that have double meanings; and while they keep their promises literally, they disappoint us by providing different meanings.” He then refused to fight against Macduff. Macduff who abhorred him, scornfully told him that they would imprison him and demonstrate him to the laity as a tyrant, quite like the way monsters are displayed. “Never.” said Macbeth, “I will not live to kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet.” His valiance returned with despair and he threw upon Macduff who after a vicious struggle overpowered aim and severed his head and presented it to the young and lawful new king. Malcolm, then, ascended he throne amid acclamations of the noblemen and he people of Scotland.


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