Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 2




          Enter MACDUFF'S WIFE, her SON, and ROSS.

       LADY MACDUFF
  1    What had he done, to make him fly the land?

       ROSS
2. have patience: exercise self-control.
  2    You must have patience, madam.

       LADY MACDUFF
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.
  3    His flight was madness. When our actions do not,
  4    Our fears do make us traitors.

       ROSS
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
  5    Whether it was his wisdom or his fear.

       LADY MACDUFF
  6    Wisdom! to leave his wife, to leave his babes,
7. titles: titles to land.
  7    His mansion and his titles in a place
  8    From whence himself does fly? He loves us not;
9. wants the natural touch: lacks the natural feelings [of a husband and father].
  9    He wants the natural touch: for the poor wren,
 10    The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
 11    Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.
 12    All is the fear and nothing is the love;
 13    As little is the wisdom, where the flight
 14    So runs against all reason.

       ROSS
14. coz: kinswoman.
                                                 My dearest coz,
15. I pray you, school yourself: please control yourself.
 15    I pray you, school yourself. But for your husband,
 16    He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
17. fits o' the season: [political] convulsions of the times.
 17    The 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.
 18    But cruel are the times, when we are traitors
 19    And do not know ourselves; when we hold rumour
 20    From what we fear, yet know not what we fear,
 21    But float upon a wild and violent sea
 22    Each 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 clear—and it doesn't matter—just how Ross is related to Lady Macduff and her son. 27. Father'd he is: he looks like his father.
 24    Things at the worst will cease, or else climb upward
 25    To what they were before. —My pretty cousin,
 26    Blessing upon you!

       LADY MACDUFF
 27    Father'd he is, and yet he's fatherless.

       ROSS
28-29. I am ... discomfort: i.e., I am so soft-hearted that if I stay longer, I will weep, embarrassing both of us.
 28    I am so much a fool, should I stay longer,
 29    It would be my disgrace and your discomfort.
 30    I take my leave at once.          

          Exit Ross.

       LADY MACDUFF
30. Sirrah: i.e., little man.
                                           Sirrah, your father's dead;
 31    And what will you do now? How will you live?

       Son
 32    As birds do, mother.

       LADY MACDUFF
32. with worms and flies: by eating worms and flies.
                                       What, with worms and flies?

       Son
33. what I get: i.e., whatever I can pick up.
 33    With what I get, I mean; and so do they.

       LADY MACDUFF
34. lime: birdlime, a sticky substance used to catch birds.
 34    Poor bird! thou'ldst never fear the net nor lime,
35. pitfall: trap. gin snare.
 35    The pitfall nor the gin.

       Son
36. Poor birds they are not set for: i.e., traps and snares are not set for little birds.
 36    Why should I, mother? Poor birds they are not set for.
 37    My father is not dead, for all your saying.

       LADY MACDUFF
 38    Yes, he is dead; how wilt thou do for a father?

       Son
 39    Nay, how will you do for a husband?

       LADY MACDUFF
 40    Why, I can buy me twenty at any market.

       Son
 41    Then you'll buy 'em to sell again.

       LADY MACDUFF
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.
 42    Thou speak'st with all thy wit, and yet, i' faith,
 43    With wit enough for thee.

       Son
 44    Was my father a traitor, mother?

       LADY MACDUFF
 45    Ay, that he was.

       Son
 46    What is a traitor?

       LADY MACDUFF
47. one that swears and lies: a person who swears an oath without meaning to keep it.
 47    Why, one that swears and lies.

       Son
 48    And be all traitors that do so?

       LADY MACDUFF
 49    Every one that does so is a traitor, and
 50    must be hanged.

       Son
 51    And must they all be hanged that swear
 52    and lie?

       LADY MACDUFF
 53    Every one.

       Son
 54    Who must hang them?

       LADY MACDUFF
 55    Why, the honest men.

       Son
 56    Then the liars and swearers are fools, for
57. enow: enough.
 57    there are liars and swearers enow to beat
 58    the honest men and hang up them.

       LADY MACDUFF
 59    Now, God help thee, poor monkey! But
 60    how wilt thou do for a father?

       Son
 61    If he were dead, you'ld weep for him: if you
 62    would not, it were a good sign that I should
 63    quickly have a new father.

       LADY MACDUFF
 64    Poor prattler, how thou talk'st!

          Enter a MESSENGER.

       Messenger
 65    Bless 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!
 66    Though in your state of honour I am perfect.
 67    I doubt some danger does approach you nearly:
 68    If you will take a homely man's advice,
 69    Be 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.
 70    To fright you thus, methinks, I am too savage;
 71    To do worse to you were fell cruelty,
 72    Which is too nigh your person. Heaven preserve you!
73. abide: stay.
 73    I dare abide no longer.          

          Exit Messenger.

       LADY MACDUFF
                                          Whither should I fly?
 74    I have done no harm. But I remember now
 75    I am in this earthly world; where to do harm
 76    Is often laudable, to do good sometime
 77    Accounted 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.
 78    Do I put up that womanly defence,
 79    To say I have done no harm?          

          Enter MURDERERS.

79. What are these faces?: why are you making faces? The murderers are probably frowning and sneering, as bullies do.
Illustrator:
H. C. Selous
                                               What are these faces?

       First Murderer
 80    Where is your husband?

       LADY MACDUFF
 81    I hope in no place so unsanctified
 82    Where such as thou mayst find him.

       First Murderer
                                                           He's a traitor.

       Son
83. shag-ear'd: long-haired and long-eared. This is a childish insult, probably meaning that the murderer looks like donkey.
 83    Thou liest, thou shag-ear'd villain!

       First Murderer
egg i.e., tiny little unformed thing.
                                                         What, you egg!

          [Stabbing him.]

84. fry: spawn, offspring.
 84    Young fry of treachery!

       Son
                                             He has kill'd me, mother:
 85    Run away, I pray you!

          [Dies.]

          Exit [Lady Macduff] crying "Murder!"
          [and pursued by the Murderers].