Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 4




           Enter ROSS with an OLD MAN.

       Old Man
1. Threescore and ten I can remember well: "Threescore and ten"—70 years—is the traditional number for a life-span ended by simple old age; if this man can "remember well" seventy years, he is probably even older. 3. sore: dreadful. 4. Hath trifled former knowings: has made every thing I knew before seem mere trifles.
  1    Threescore and ten I can remember well:
  2    Within the volume of which time I have seen
  3    Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
  4    Hath trifled former knowings.

       ROSS
                                                    Ha, good father,
5-6.. the heavens ...stage: i.e., the heavens, disturbed by the parts that men are playing, threaten the earth, which is the stage on which men's bloody roles are played. 7. travelling lamp: a lamp used for travelling at night, as we now use a flashlight; i.e., the sun.
Keith Shouse as Old Man

Image Source:
Southwest Minnesota State University
  5    Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man's act,
  6    Threaten his bloody stage. By the clock, 'tis day,
  7    And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
  8    Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,
  9    That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
 10    When living light should kiss it?

       Old Man
                                                              'Tis unnatural,
 11    Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last,
12. towering in her pride of place: soaring at the highest pitch of her flight. 13, Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd: A "mousing owl" hunts mice, so this is another highly unnatural event.
 12    A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
 13    Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.

       ROSS
 14    And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and certain—
15. the minions of their race: i.e., the most tame and beloved of horses. A "minion" is a highly favored, darling follower of a powerful person.
 15    Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
 16    Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
 17    Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would make
 18    War with mankind.

       Old Man
18. eat: ate. (Pronounced et, rhyming with bet.)
                                    'Tis said they eat each other.

       ROSS
Terence Bayler as Macduff
Image Source: thinglink
 19    They did so, to th' amazement of mine eyes
 20    That look'd upon't. Here comes the good Macduff.

             Enter MACDUFF.

 21    How goes the world, sir, now?

       MACDUFF
21. Why, see you not?: The question Macduff was asked, "How goes the world, sir, now?" is like our "how are things going?" Macduff's answer means "isn't it obvious?" King Duncan has been murdered, and it's dark during the day; the world is not going well. 22. more than bloody deed: A bloody deed is bad enough; this one was "more than bloody" because it was committed against a revered king while he was asleep.
                                                    Why, see you not?

       ROSS
 22    Is't known who did this more than bloody deed?

       MACDUFF
 23    Those that Macbeth hath slain.

       ROSS
                                                    Alas, the day!
24. What good could they pretend?: what could they have hoped to gain?
 24    What good could they pretend?

        MACDUFF
suborned: bribed.
                                                 They were suborned:
 25    Malcolm and Donalbain, the king's two sons,
 26    Are stol'n away and fled; which puts upon them
 27    Suspicion of the deed.

       ROSS
                                              'Gainst nature still!
28. Thriftless: wasteful. ravin up: devour ravenously.
 28    Thriftless ambition, that wilt ravin up
29. Thine own life's means: i.e., what gives life to you.
 29    Thine own life's means! Then 'tis most like
 30    The sovereignty will fall upon Macbeth.

       MACDUFF
31. Scone: Site of the coronation of Scottish kings.
 31    He is already named, and gone to Scone
32. invested: ceremoniously installed in power as king of Scotland.
 32    To be invested.

       ROSS
                              Where is Duncan's body?

       MACDUFF
33. Colmekill: This is the older name for Iona, a rocky island where Scottish kings were buried.
 33    Carried to Colmekill,
 34    The sacred storehouse of his predecessors,
 35    And guardian of their bones.

       ROSS
                                                    Will you to Scone?

       MACDUFF
36. I'll to Fife: Macduff is Thane of Fife; he's going home.
 36    No, cousin, I'll to Fife.

       ROSS
                                                Well, I will thither.

       MACDUFF
37. Well, may you see things well done there: adieu! / Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!: "Old robes" seems to be an allusion to the kingly robes that will be used in Macbeth's investiture as King of Scotland. Macduff's comment is ironic, or questioning; it can be paraphrased like this: "I hope you see an effective ceremony there—farewell!—otherwise, our former king [King Duncan] will turn out to be better suited for the job than the new king [Macbeth]." 40. benison: blessing.
 37    Well, may you see things well done there: adieu!
 38    Lest our old robes sit easier than our new!

       ROSS
 39    Farewell, father.

       Old Man
 40    God's benison go with you; and with those
 41    That would make good of bad, and friends of foes!

            Exeunt omnes.