An adapted scene from Macbeth, Act I, Scene VII
Night had fallen across the castle. The inky sky was bare of clouds; not a blemish marred the sight. The perfect stillness of the heavens was cunningly deceptive – all across the grounds, servants dashed to and fro, clutching huge silver pitchers spilling over with wine, never-ending platters of smoking pork and skewered beef. They dipped, ducked and dodged their way through the throngs of household staff all converging towards the hall. The noise booming forth from behind those walls was astounding. Duncan’s raucous laughter rang clear into the night, its joyful timbre injecting sparks of colour into the bitter night sky.
One man took no such pleasure in the king’s high spirits. Macbeth stood alone on the parapet, leaning heavily against it. His eyes barely took in the action below; he had bigger things on his mind. The antics of dilly-dallying servants could wait. His hand rested slack on the wooden barrier.
The king. The king. One prophecy came true, did it not? But at what cost? The thane’s own stupidity, which looped thrice around his neck and robbed him of his life. A man cannot escape punishment in this lifetime; would that be his fate too, to be hung as a traitor and abhorred across the nation?
To kill a king… God, even the thought was a sickening one. In his own home, too! The man who should take a knife in the heart for his honoured guest, to be the one to bear it!
That boisterous laugh burst through the doors once again. Macbeth raised a smile – there was no man quite like Duncan, that was for sure. A fierce leader, a humble father and a fine drinking companion. Scotland would carve a river of tears straight down the nation in the case of his demise. With an almighty bang, the great hall doors were yanked open, but Macbeth turned away. The petty squabbles of his servants were banal on the best of days. A symphony of laughter reached a crescendo, but it fell upon deaf ears. He felt the basest of emotions stirring within him, threatening to overwhelm. His sweat reeked with its infernal influence; he needed to move, to get away from this place, to –
“Why did you leave? He has almost finished dining!” Lady Macbeth’s voice pierced him, like a knife shredding through cloth. God give me strength for this, he thought, as he turned to face his wife. God, she was a woman possessed. The manic gleam had taken root in her eye – he knew only bad things came from that look.
“We will proceed no further with this plan”, Macbeths stated, struggling to keep his voice level, “Our good king has treated me graciously as of late; to risk throwing these things away, at so early a stage, is sheer madness!”
Silence. He could see the cogs whirring in her mind, ticking and turning. He gulped down his fear – he’d survived all manner of wars, he could handle his wife, for goodness sake.
How wrong he was. She rammed him against the wall, arm under his windpipe, and hissed, “Were you drunk when you first suggested this enterprise to me? The brave Macbeth, cowering with his tail between his legs.” She stepped back, disgust etched upon her face. Macbeth rubbed his neck, running his fingers over his wife’s fingerprints. She’d left deep groves in his skin, much like the last time.
Rain began to cascade from the sky, great shards of bullet-water pounding down onto the castle. Standing tall, he said, “I merely do my duty as man, to serve my king; who dares to do more is nothing.”
“So were you a blundering animal when you wrote to me, then? It would explain an awful lot.” Lady Macbeth spat with scorn upon the ground, and jabbed her finger into her husband’s chest, “When you told me you would become king, that made you a man – you dare to do what no other would dream of doing! No opportunity will be as good as this, and yet you pussyfoot around, like a lost child without its mother.”
Her words seeped with venom. Jaw clenched, Macbeth could not look her in the eye. Was she right? Was he merely a babe lost in the woods? The rain spattered against her face, giving it a sickly pallor. In the moon’s pale light, she looked like she was melting. Macbeth’s eyes narrowed – that yellow tone, the dripping skin, it couldn’t be…
A witch. Just like the others. In his home. He fell back against the wall, reeling. What did this mean?!
“The Thane of Cawdor making such bold claims, but yet he cannot follow through. What kind of king would you be?” she chuckled derisively, ignorant to her husband’s horror-struck eyes. “Let me tell you what kind of queen I would be – a woman of her word. I would take a new-born baby, not even weaned from its mother, and smash its skull against the wall if I had promised the way you had.” She stepped towards Macbeth and grasped his cheeks between one hand.
“Look at me.” she said softly. His scared eyes met iced blue stones, ablaze with hatred, “If we fail -” he began. Her hand tightened.
“We, fail?” She smiled a mirthless smile, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we will not fail.” Her other hand began to caress his neck. “We shall ply his guards with enough drink to fell a horse, and pin the murders on them. Sleeping like stuffed pigs, how will they know what occurred?”
Never before had Macbeth noticed the sharpness of his wife’s incisors. They were daggers, ready to cut at a moment’s notice. She was like a caged animal, freed for the first time in its pitiful life and thirsty for vengeance.
Another round of belly-laughs broke the silence between them. Macbeth roughly shook his head and pushed past his wife, hurrying down the parapet. He needed time, he needed to think and escape from her.
He didn’t get far; a vice-like grip snatched his wrist and twisted him around. “Where do you think you’re going?” Lady Macbeth exclaimed, “Your task awaits you. Do not wear a heart of white, my husband.” Macbeth simply turned away.
“I must think for a while. Meet me here at midnight, and we will talk further.” Before she could answer, he walked away.
He didn’t look back.
Macbeth approached the stables to shelter from the rain. Thunder had taken hold of the night sky, rumbling ominously. What had happened to his beloved wife? Had he been at war that long, that she was now unrecognisable to him? True, she had always been a fierce woman, a woman of conviction – indeed, that was one of the things he loved most about her. But now? Now she was a woman overcome by the threshes of violence, of madness and unscrupulous actions. The talk of bashing children’s brains in, those not even able to walk, it made him want to wretch.
He ran his fingers through his hair; it couldn’t go on like this. If he did murder Duncan, what would happen afterwards? There would be no end to the bloodshed – just body upon body, all with bloodied necklines. She was no different from those wenches that sat upon the heath.
She was evil.
Macbeth clutched his head between his hands. What was happening to him? Yesterday, life had seemed so simple – now it was painted in shades of grey, unevenly stroked against ripped parchment. He looked up.
No… It couldn’t be…
He blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. It was still there, glistening in the dark.
A flash of lightening illuminated the full moon in all its glory. Macbeth reached out blindly, desperate to clutch the blade. It slipped away, just out of his grasp. Viscous blood dripped from the tip, but left no mark on the ground. Was this another trick of the weird sisters? Was it his wife? Or was it his fever-induced brain, melding his dark fantasies with reality? This bloody business was driving him insane.
The blade began to float through the air, moving back towards the parapet. Macbeth followed, transfixed. The rain was relentless, pounding into his skin, but still he followed, eyes never wavering from the dagger. He followed it up the stairs, to the balcony. And there she was, with her back turned to Macbeth. She was tapping her foot against the floor, agitated. He stopped, but the dagger continued; it passed straight through her heart, once, twice.
Again, and again, and again.
The sky was flecked with rivers of red – Macbeth stepped forward. The wood groaned under his feet. Lady Macbeth spun around. “What took you so long? The guards are passed out, the time to act is –”
Macbeth put his finger to her lips. “Hush, my love,” he whispered, “someone will hear you.” His finger drifted to her neck. He smiled.
The thunder masked her screams.
No dagger required.