Editor's Choice

Explain this quote from Macbeth: “God’s benison go with you, and with those that would make good of bad and friends of foes!” (Act 2, Scene 4).

Quick answer:

In Macbeth's Act 2, Scene 4, the quote “God’s benison go with you, and with those that would make good of bad and friends of foes!” is said by the Old Man as a farewell to Ross. It is a blessing and a hope that God will favor those who can turn adversity into benefit and enemies into friends. This sentiment echoes the "fair is foul; foul is fair" theme of the play, suggesting that the killer of Duncan was a trusted individual who turned out to be a foe.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After Macbeth and Lady Macbeth kill Duncan, and Malcolm and Donalbain flee the country, the Thane of Ross and an Old Man discuss the strange and unnatural occurrences that have taken place since the king died. Everyone seems somewhat uneasy given the king's murder and the weird things that have happened since. Ross bids the Old Man goodbye, and the Old Man says,

God's benison go with you and with those
That would make good of bad and friends of foes. (2.4.43–44)

In other words, he offers Ross God's blessing and hopes that God will also bless those people that make bad things seem good and friends out of people who ought to be their enemies. This repeats the "fair is foul; foul is fair" motif begun by the Weird Sisters in the first scene of the play. Like Malcolm and Donalbain, the Old Man seems to realize that whoever killed Duncan must have been someone close to him, someone who people believe is a friend, though he is actually a foe.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "benison" is from Middle English and means "spoken prayer," as in a benediction or blessing.  The modern translation of this speech in eNotes etexts reads:

God's blessings go with you; and with those
That would make a good situation out of a bad one and friends of foes! (Act 2, scene 4)

When the scene opens Ross and a character called Old Man are standing outside Macbeth's castle and talking about all the strange things that have been happening. The Old Man says this line as they part, so it could be that this was a typical farewell people said to each other. It could also be a prayer for protection from all the "signs and portents." The eNotes commentary states: "The blessing is a counterpoint to the evils related at the beginning of the scene. It will not, however, be sufficient to neutralise the damage that Macbeth has done."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial