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Macbeth Act 3, Scene 6: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: John Gonzales

John has 20+ years experience teaching at the college level in areas that include English and American literature, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

This lesson will provide you with a general overview of Act 3, Scene 6 (III.vi) of the play 'Macbeth' and give you an idea of how to position the scene within a larger Shakespearean context.

Setting Up the Scene

Imagine that your boss completely lost it at a dinner party and started yelling at people who weren't there, accusing his guests of conspiring with his invisible tormentors, challenging them to fight while demanding to know whether you see them as well. Well, that is a lot like the set up to Act III, Scene VI of Macbeth. We don't know whether the ghost of Banquo--whose appearance at a banquet in the earlier scene drove Macbeth to exactly those sorts of antics--should be considered real or hallucinated, but the impact on the story and the characters remains the same however we resolve that question for ourselves.

Scene III.vi takes place in a hall of Macbeth's castle not long after the banquet incident. The scene consists of a brief conversation between two characters, one of whom is simply an unidentified Lord. The other, Lennox, appears at several points in the play, but doesn't come across as a fully realized character within the larger story line. In this scene, however, Lennox's function-- beyond being a vehicle for reviewing key plot points to keep the audience on board-- is to provide an engaging human presence to dramatically enhance this information-focused interval.

Lennox the Sarcastic

We need to remind ourselves as readers of Shakespeare's dramatic work that we are dealing with a play. The words we encounter in Scene III.vi of Macbeth were not meant to be read in private, but to be experienced through an actor in a live performance. For the first time, Lennox reveals a distinct personality and a dry sarcastic style. As a result, the information he confides as the scene opens can be misleading if read at face value. Complicating things even more is the fact that the audience/reader is thrust into the conversation in media res, or right in the middle of things.

'My former speeches have but hit your thoughts,

Which can interpret further: only, I say,

Things have been strangely borne. The

gracious Duncan

Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead:

And the right-valiant Banquo walk'd too late;

Whom, you may say, if't please you, Fleance kill'd,

For Fleance fled: men must not walk too late.'

We can't know what Lennox's 'former speeches' were, but he reminds us that things are not as they should be with the phrase 'strangely borne.' He is, in fact, emphasizing to his audience through his report to the Lord that the sincerity of the pity Macbeth showed Duncan was questionable and that the circumstances of Banquo's death and the suspicions cast on his son Fleance are even more so. Lennox's dark humor becomes clear with the line, 'men must not walk too late.' We already knew Macbeth was corrupt; now we know that those around him are catching on as well.

Dramatic News Brief

Lennox goes on to apprise the listening Lord of several other incidents already known to the audience, essentially summarizing key story events: Malcolm and Donalbain stand accused of killing their father Duncan but have fled Macbeth's arrest as did Fleance (and having witnessed both murders, we know that Macbeth is responsible). Lennox indicates that there would be grim retribution if Macbeth were to capture the accused, all the while implying that Macbeth's true motives are what is actually suspect, going so far as to name Macbeth a tyrant. From there, he gives the floor to his fellow Lord, asking about the situation with Macduff, who declined to attend the earlier banquet. Macbeth's recent behavior is downplayed in order to address the larger circumstances and the fact that Macduff has fallen into disfavor.

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