Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 2
Enter MACDUFF'S WIFE, her SON, and ROSS.
1What had he done, to make him fly the land?
2. have patience: exercise self-control.
2You must have patience, madam.
He had none: i.e., he [Macduff] had no self-control.
He had none;
3-4. When ... traitors: [even] when our actions don't make us traitors, our fears [of being accused of being traitors] make us [appear to be] traitors.
3His flight was madness. When our actions do not,
4Our fears do make us traitors.
4-5. You ... fear: i.e., you don't know whether it was wise prudence or fear which motivated him to leave.
You know not
5Whether it was his wisdom or his fear.
6Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes,
7. titles: titles to land.
7His mansion and his titles in a place
8From whence himself does fly? He loves us not;
9. wants the natural touch: lacks the natural feelings [of a husband and father].
9He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,
10The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
11Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
12All is the fear and nothing is the love;
13As little is the wisdom, where the flight
14So runs against all reason.
14. coz: kinswoman.
My dearest coz,
15. I pray you, school yourself: please control yourself.
15I pray you, school yourself. But for your husband,
16He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
17. fits o' the season: [political] convulsions of the times.
17The fits o' the season. I dare not speak much further;
18-19. we are ... ourselves: we are [accused of being] traitors and do not find anything in ourselves to justify the accusation. 19. when we hold rumour / From what we fear: when we believe rumors because of what we fear.
18But cruel are the times, when we are traitors
19And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumour
20From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
21But float upon a wild and violent sea
22Each way and none. I take my leave of you;
23. 'Shall: it shall. but: before.
23'Shall not be long but I'll be here again.
24-25. Things ... before: i.e., when you hit the bottom of the barrel there's no way but up. Ross means this as a comfort to Lady Macduff, but it will soon becomes clear that things are not yet "at the worst." 25. cousin: This is addressed to the son of Lady Macduff. It's not clearand it doesn't matterjust how Ross is related to Lady Macduff and her son. 27. Father'd he is: he looks like his father.
24Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward
25To what they were before. My pretty cousin,
26Blessing upon you!
27Father'd he is, and yet he's fatherless.
28-29. I am ... discomfort: i.e., I am so soft-hearted that if I stay longer, I will weep, embarrassing both of us.
28I am so much a fool, should I stay longer,
29It would be my disgrace and your discomfort.
30I take my leave at once.
30. Sirrah: i.e., little man.
Sirrah, your father's dead;
31And what will you do now? How will you live?
32As birds do, mother.
32. with worms and flies: by eating worms and flies.
What, with worms and flies?
33. what I get: i.e., whatever I can pick up.
33With what I get, I mean; and so do they.
34. lime: birdlime, a sticky substance used to catch birds.
34Poor bird! thou'ldst never fear the net nor lime,
35. pitfall: trap. gin snare.
35The pitfall nor the gin.
36. Poor birds they are not set for: i.e., traps and snares are not set for little birds.
36Why should I, mother? Poor birds they are not set for.
37My father is not dead, for all your saying.
38Yes, he is dead; how wilt thou do for a father?
39Nay, how will you do for a husband?
40Why, I can buy me twenty at any market.
41Then you'll buy 'em to sell again.
42-43. Thou ... thee: I think that the paraphrase of this is: "You are being as witty as you can be, but yours is only a child's wit." If Lady Macduff is speaking to her son, maybe she is continuing to tease him. But her speech may be an aside, a commentary to herself; in that case, she may be expressing happiness that her son doesn't fully understand the danger that they are in.
42Thou speak'st with all thy wit, and yet, i' faith,
43With wit enough for thee.
44Was my father a traitor, mother?
45Ay, that he was.
46What is a traitor?
47. one that swears and lies: a person who swears an oath without meaning to keep it.
47Why, one that swears and lies.
48And be all traitors that do so?
49Every one that does so is a traitor, and
50must be hanged.
51And must they all be hanged that swear
54Who must hang them?
55Why, the honest men.
56Then the liars and swearers are fools, for
57. enow: enough.
57there are liars and swearers enow to beat
58the honest men and hang up them.
59Now, God help thee, poor monkey! But
60how wilt thou do for a father?
61If he were dead, you'ld weep for him: if you
62would not, it were a good sign that I should
63quickly have a new father.
64Poor prattler, how thou talk'st!
Enter a MESSENGER.
65Bless you, fair dame! I am not to you known,
66. in your state of honour I am perfect: I know perfectly well your honorable position. 67. doubt: strongly suspect, fear. does approach you nearly is coming very close to you. 68. homely: plain. 69. hence: i.e., leave!
66Though in your state of honour I am perfect.
67I doubt some danger does approach you nearly:
68If you will take a homely man's advice,
69Be not found here; hence, with your little ones.
70-72. To fright ... your person: to frighten you this way, I believe, [makes me] too cruel, [but] murderous cruelty is [already] too near to you.
70To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage;
71To do worse to you were fell cruelty,
72Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve you!
73. abide: stay.
73I dare abide no longer.
Whither should I fly?
74I have done no harm. But I remember now
75I am in this earthly world; where to do harm
76Is often laudable, to do good sometime
77Accounted dangerous folly. Why then, alas,
78. womanly: womanish. Lady Macduff is being bitterly ironic. The "womanly defence," the argument that she should suffer no harm because she has done no wrong, doesn't work in this "earthly world," where the innocent are often harmed just because they are vulnerable.
78Do I put up that womanly defence,
79To say I have done no harm?
79. What are these faces?: why are you making faces? The murderers are probably frowning and sneering, as bullies do.
H. C. Selous
What are these faces?
80Where is your husband?
81I hope in no place so unsanctified
82Where such as thou mayst find him.
He's a traitor.
83. shag-ear'd: long-haired and long-eared. This is a childish insult, probably meaning that the murderer looks like donkey.
83Thou liest, thou shag-ear'd villain!
egg i.e., tiny little unformed thing.
What, you egg!
84. fry: spawn, offspring.
84Young fry of treachery!
He has kill'd me, mother:
85Run away, I pray you!
Exit [Lady Macduff] crying "Murder!"
[and pursued by the Murderers].