Geraldine Hakewill as Lady Macbeth
PHOTO: Jeff Busby

Macbeth translations

We translate key scenes from Macbeth into twenty-first century English.

By Sarah Corridon

‘When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurlyburly’s done, When the battle ‘s lost and won’. Witches (Act I, Scene I).

The Witches plan to meet, regardless of the weather, in an open field when the battle is over and one side has won.

‘If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me’. Macbeth (Act I, Scene III).

Macbeth hopes in this line, that ‘chance’ will take care of what is necessary to make him king i.e. murdering Duncan. The word ‘may’ deliberately suggests that if chance fails, Macbeth ‘may’ have to take matters into his own hands, which of course he does.

‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red’ Macbeth (Act II, Sc. II).

Macbeth laments in this passage that all the oceans in the world wouldn’t be capable of washing the blood from his hands. Instead, it is likely that his red stained palms would turn green seas crimson in his attempt to clean them.

‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The near in blood, The nearer bloody.’ Donalbain (Act II, Sc. III).

In this line, Donalbain is saying that he and his brother Malcolm are not safe if they stay where they are. That the men who smile at them are actually concealing daggers, wanting their blood. Of all these men, it is their closest relatives that they should be most wary of.

‘Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.’ Witches (Act IV, Scene I).

One of the witches’ most famous lines from Macbeth, and a passage many fans of the play relish, is when the witches speak in rhyming riddles whilst stirring a potion in their fiery cauldron.

‘Be this the whetstone of your sword. Let grief Convert to anger. Blunt not the heart, enrage it.’ – Malcolm (Act IV, Scene III).

In this line, Malcolm tells Macduff to convert the devastation of his family’s murder into anger, and use it to sharpen his sword in their ultimate revenge against Macbeth.

‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’. – Witches (Act I, Scene I).

The witches speak in unison here, and are essentially saying that reasonable is wrong and wrong is reasonable.

‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’ Lady Macbeth (Act V, Sc. I).

In this line, Lady Macbeth is disturbed by the smell of blood lingering on her hands and in her mind. All the perfume in Arabia won’t change this.

‘Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under ‘t.’ Lady Macbeth (Act I, Scene V).

In this line, Lady Macbeth is instructing Macbeth on how to conduct himself when he meets and greets the king, telling him to look like a friendly flower, but be the snake that lurks under the flower.

‘Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Macbeth (Act V, Scene V).

Here, Macbeth philosophises on the illusionary and fleeting nature of life. Claiming that we are all merely characters walking around on the stage of life, making angry noise in the process. It’s only a brief time before our days come to an end, and we are forgotten leaving nothing in our wake to be remembered.

Macbeth plays at Southbank Theatre from 5 June. Book now.

Published on 12 June 2017

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