You are here

Imagery: "night's black agents"
Context and Language Videos
Act 3,
Scene 2
Lines 49-60

An explanation of the phrase "night's black agents" in Act 3, Scene 2 of myShakespeare's Macbeth

myShakespeare | Macbeth 3.2 Imagery: "night's black agents"


Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,
Till thou applaud the deed. Come, sealing night,
Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;    
And with thy bloody and invisible hand
Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond
Which keeps me pale. Light thickens, 
and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse.
Thou marvell'st at my words, but hold thee still.
Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.
So, prithee, go with me.
Video Transcript: 

RALPH:  Once again, Macbeth calls on the night to be an accomplice in his evil plans…

DAVINA:  "Come, sealing night, scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day...Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, while night's black agents to their preys do rouse."

RALPH:  You might remember that Macbeth made a similar appeal when contemplating Duncan's murder in the first place…

DAVINA: "Stars hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires, the eye wink at the hand."

RALPH:  And Lady Macbeth expressed a similar sentiment after learning of Duncan's planned visit to their castle…

DAVINA:  "Come, thick night and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes."

RALPH:   At first, it might look like these lines just draw a connection between evil actions and nighttime, of evildoers doing wicked things under the cover of night. This is something we see in lots of works of art – or even just sense for ourselves: things can get scary at night!

DAVINA:  But there seems to be a little bit more going on here. The Macbeths call on the darkness not to hide their crimes from others, but from themselves. Lady Macbeth hopes that her “keen knife [sees] not the wound it makes”.

RALPH:   It’s as if Macbeth and his wife are in a state of self-denial; their crimes are so hideous that even they can’t bear to look on them. 

DAVINA:  And yet they committed them willingly, and are planning to commit still more.

RALPH:  It makes you wonder, Davina – we’re used to seeing lots of evil people in the movies – people who do bad things because they really want to do them!  But maybe it’s mostly in the movies that people are that way; maybe most people who do bad things have conflicted feelings about what they do.

DAVINA:  Good point, Ralph.  I guess that also means that we’re a little more like the Macbeths than we might like to think.  Most of us experience inner conflicts but try our best to choose what’s right. The Macbeths are feeling the inner conflicts, but are choosing what’s wrong.  It’s worth thinking about why these two characters start tipping in that direction.