The trouble was that we have choice: we have freedom of choice. But if we choose violent options they come back to plague us. And it was that law, that even-handed justice, that was the problem. When we poison others we poison ourselves.
Duncan. Macbeth sighed. What was he to do?
The King trusted him completely. For two very good reasons: first as Macbeth was his cousin and his subject -both very powerful arguments against murder – and then as he was Duncan’s host, who should shut the door against his murderer, not bear the knife himself!
Macbeth walked slowly down the stairs and back into the courtyard. And anyway, Duncan was so gentle as a man, and so strong as a king, that his virtues would cry out for revenge at the brutality of his death. There would be outrage at the slaughter of such a good man: everyone would be so filled with pity that the whole nation would grieve.
No, there was no excuse – only vaulting ambition, which threatened to overreach itself and bring him crashing down.
A dim light fell across the courtyard. It was his wife, coming from the great hall.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘What’s the matter?’
She came across to him. ‘He’s almost finished eating,’ she whispered. ‘Why have you left the banquet?’
‘Has he asked for me?’
‘Of course he has!’
‘We won’t go any further with this business. He’s honoured me lately.’ Macbeth’s voice was almost pleading. ‘And I’ve earned golden opinions from all sorts of people. I want to enjoy them like new clothes – not cast them aside so soon.’
‘Were you drunk when you dreamt of wearing a king’s robes?’ she said. And has that dream slept since then, waking now, sick and trembling at what you wanted to do?’ She snapped her fingers. ‘From now on, that’s how much I value your love.’
When he didn’t say anything she took his arm and shook it.
‘Are you afraid to be the same in your actions as you are in your desire? Do you want to spend the rest of your life longing for a crown, knowing that you’re nothing more than a coward, letting ‘I don’t dare’ answer ‘I want’? Do you want to eat fish without getting your feet wet like the poor cat in the saying?’
‘Stop,’ cried Macbeth. ‘Please don’t. I would dare to do anything a man should do. There are some things no human being should even think of doing.’
‘What animal were you then when you thought about it, only to break your promise to me? When you dared to do it, then you were a man. And the more you dared the more of a man you were in my eyes. There were no excuses then and now you’re all excuses: they’re just pouring out – making themselves! And unmaking you!’
He turned away and she went round him and faced him squarely. ‘Look here,’ she said. ‘I have breast fed and I know what a tender thing it is to love the baby that milks me. I would rather pull my nipple from its boneless gums and dash its brains out than break a promise I’ve made to you!’
They stood glaring at each other. But Macbeth’s gaze began to soften and admiration crept in.
‘What if we fail?’ he said.
‘We fail!’ she said adamantly. ‘But if you keep your nerve we won’t fail.’
They were silent for a long time. Then she spoke again, fast and low: ‘When Duncan is asleep – which shouldn’t be too long, after the ride he’s had – I’ll make sure his two chamber attendants are so drunk that they won’t be able to remember a thing. And when they’re lying sleeping like pigs, what can’t you and I do to the unguarded Duncan? And what can’t we pin on them? They’ll take the blame for what we do!’
She crept into his arms and he held her close. ‘You should have only boys,’ he said. ‘Your qualities are so masculine. Won’t everyone think, once we have smeared them with blood and even used their daggers, that they’ve done it?’
‘Who would dare think otherwise after we’ve had our say?’
Macbeth’s uncertainty had evaporated. ‘I’m ready,’ he said. ‘And all my muscles are wound up for this act. Let’s go. We’ll go back and put on an act. False faces must hide the secrets of false hearts.’