Detailed Summary of Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 6

Enter Lennox and another Lord:
This is the sort of scene that is difficult to do well — just two people talking about things that the audience needs to know. Such an expository scene can be unconvincing and boring, like those Monday sequences on soap operas, in which characters do plot summary for all the members of the viewing audience who missed the previous week. Shakespeare overcomes the problem by letting us in on the middle of a conversation. Lennox, who was a guest at Macbeth's banquet, is speaking with somebody. Lennox probably knows this somebody's name, but to us he's just "another Lord" — that is, anybody, any Scotsman. The two of them live under a tyrant who has many spies, so they need to be careful about what they say and to whom they say it. They have just gotten to the point at which they are sure that they are on the same side and have many of the same thoughts. As Lennox says, "My former speeches have but hit your thoughts, / Which can interpret further" (3.6.1-2). Perhaps the other Lord nods agreement, because Lennox now launches on a string of sarcasms about Macbeth.

Lennox says, "The gracious Duncan / Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead" (3.6.4). This bitter joke describes both Macbeth's facade — that he was sorry for King Duncan — and the truth about Macbeth, which was that he was sorry for King Duncan only after he killed him. Then Lennox proceeds to ridicule Macbeth's version of everything that has happened to this point. Banquo died because he took a walk after dark, and Fleance must have killed him, because Fleance ran away. And speaking of that, wasn't it terrible for Malcolm and Donalbain to kill their father? And of course Macbeth felt terrible about Duncan's murder, which is why he killed the only two possible witnesses, Duncan's grooms. If Malcolm, Donalbain, and Fleance were in Macbeth's power, he'd certainly teach them a lesson or two about killing a father!

After a bit, Lennox drops the sarcasm and turns to the subject of Macduff. He has heard that Macduff has gotten on Macbeth's bad side because Macduff used some "broad words" (3.6.21) about Macbeth, and because he failed to show up for Macbeth's banquet. Does the other Lord know, Lennox asks, where Macduff might be?

The other Lord does know. Macduff is on his way to the English court, where Malcolm has been respectfully received by King Edward the Confessor. Macduff has gone to plead with King Edward to help Malcolm by sending to Scotland the forces of Northumberland and Siward, two English nobles famous as warriors. If Macduff is successful, Scotland will be freed of Macbeth's tyranny. Then "we may again / Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights, / Free from our feasts and banquets bloody knives, / Do faithful homage and receive free honours" (3.6.33-36). The other Lord adds that Macbeth has heard about Macduff's plans and is preparing for war.

Upon hearing this, Lennox asks if Macbeth sent for Macduff. The other Lord's answer gives some insight into both Macduff and Macbeth. Macbeth did send for Macduff, but "with an absolute 'Sir, not I,' / The cloudy messenger turns me his back, / And hums, as who should say 'You'll rue the time / That clogs me with this answer'" (3.6.40-43). The "Sir, not I" came from Macduff. The "me" in "turns me his back" is a kind of slang that is used as "like" is used now. If we heard that someone "like, turned his back on him," we would know that the back was turned in an insulting way. So we see that Macduff is blunt; he doesn't make any polite excuses for not going to speak with Macbeth. And we see that Macbeth is dangerous. Macbeth's messenger is sure that Macduff is going to suffer, but he's afraid that Macbeth is going to be angry at him, too.

This little story of Macduff and Macbeth's messenger makes Lennox hope that Macduff stays out of Macbeth's grasp. Lennox also wishes that some angel could fly ahead of Macduff with Macduff's message to the English King, so that a "swift blessing / May soon return to this our suffering country" (3.6.47-48).