Macbeth: Summary & Analysis
Act 2, Scene 1
Banquo, who has come to Inverness with Duncan, wrestles with the witches’ prophecy. He must restrain himself from the “cursed thoughts” that tempt him in his dreams (II i 8). When Banquo raises the subject of the prophecy as Macbeth enters the scene, Macbeth pretends that he has given little thought to the witches’ prophesy. After Banquo and his son Fleance leave the scene, Macbeth imagines that he sees a bloody dagger pointing toward Duncan’s chamber. Frightened by the apparition of a “dagger of the mind,” he prays that the world will “hear not [his] steps” as he completes his bloody plan (38, 57). The bell rings—a signal from Lady Macbeth—and he triggers toward Duncan’s room.
Act 2, Scene 2
Lady Macbeth waits fitfully for Macbeth to return from killing Duncan. Upon hearing a noise within, she worries that the bodyguards have awakened before Macbeth has had an opportunity to plant the evidence on them.
Macbeth enters, still carrying the bloody daggers with which he killed Duncan. he’s deeply shaken: as he entered Duncan’s chamber, he heard the bodyguards praying and will not say “Amen” once they finished their prayers. Lady Macbeth’s counsels to think “after these ways” as “it will make [them] mad” (32). Nonetheless, Macbeth also tells her that he also thought he heard a voice saying, “’ sleep no more, / Macbeth does murder sleep… Glamis hath murdered sleep, and thus Cawdor / Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more” (33-41). Lady Macbeth again warns him to not consider such “brain-sickly of things” and tells him to scrub the blood from his hands (44). Seeing the daggers he carries, she chastises him for bringing them in and tells him to plant them on the bodyguards consistent with the plan. When Macbeth, still horrified by the crime he has just committed, refuses to reenter Duncan’s chamber, Lady Macbeth herself brings the daggers back in.
While she is gone, Macbeth hears a knocking and imagines that he sees hands plucking at his eyes. he’s guilt-stricken and mourns: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?” (58-59)? When Lady Macbeth hears his words upon reentering, she states that her hands are of an equivalent color but her heart remains shamelessly unstained. “A little water,” she continues, “will clear [them] of th[e] deed” (65). because the knocking persists, the 2 retire to place on their nightgowns so as to not arouse suspicion when others arrive.
Act 2, Scene 3
In a scene of comic relief, the Porter hears knocking at the gate and imagines that he’s the porter at the door to Hell. He imagines admitting a farmer who has committed suicide after a nasty harvest, an “equivocator” who has sinned by swearing to half-truths, and an English tailor who stole cloth to form fashionable clothes and visited brothels. Since it’s “too cold for hell” at the gate, he opens the door rather than continuing with an extended catalog of sinners (16). Outside stand Macduff and Lennox, who scolds him for taking goodbye to reply to their knocking. The Porter claims that he was tired after drinking until late and delivers a brief sermon on the ills of drink.
Macbeth enters and Macduff asks him whether the king is awake yet. On hearing that the king remains asleep, Macduff leaves to wake him. While he’s gone, Lennox tells Macbeth that the weather by night was filled with strange events: chimneys were blown down, birds screeched all night, the world shook, and ghostly voices were heard prophesying ominously. A stunned Macduff returns with the news that the king is dead. He tells them to travel see for themselves and calls to the servants to ring the tocsin.
Lady Macbeth and Banquo enter and Macduff informs them of the king’s death. Macbeth and Lennox return and Macbeth laments the king’s death, proclaiming that he wishes he were dead rather than the king. When Malcolm and Donalbain arrive, Lennox blames the regicide on the guards by pointing to the incriminating bloody evidence. Macbeth states that he has already killed the bodyguards during a grief-stricken rage. At now, Lady Macbeth feigns shock and faints. Aside, Malcolm and Donalbain confer and choose that their lives could also be in danger which they ought to flee Scotland. As Lady Macbeth is being helped off-stage, Banquo counsels the others to convene and discuss the murder at hand. Left behind on stage, Malcolm decides that he will flee to England while Donalbain will attend Ireland.
Act 2, Scene 4
Ross and an old man discuss the unnatural events that have taken place recently: days are as dark as nights, owls hunt falcons, and Duncan’s horses have gone mad and eaten one another. When Macduff enters, Ross asks whether the culprit has been discovered. Macduff tells him that the bodyguards killed the king. The hasty flight on the part of Malcolm and Donalbain, however, has also cast suspicion on the 2 sons. Ross comments that Macbeth will surely be named subsequent king, to which Macduff responds that he has already been named and has gone to Scone to be crowned. Ross leaves for Scone to ascertain the coronation while Macduff heads home to Fife.
Macbeth’s famous soliloquy at the start of this act introduces a crucial theme: visions and hallucinations caused by guilt. The “dagger of the mind” that Macbeth sees isn’t “ghostly” or supernatural such a lot as a manifestation of the inner struggle that Macbeth feels as he contemplates the regicide. It “marshal[s] [him] the way [he] was going,” leading him toward the bloody deed he has resolved to commit, haunting and maybe also taunting him (II i 42). an equivalent is often said for the ghostly voice that Macbeth hears after he kills Duncan, also because of the ghost of Banquo that appears in Act 3. Indeed, most of the supernatural elements during this play could be—and often are—read as psychological instead of ghostly occurrences.
(But if this is often the case, one also wonders about the witches: are they, too, products of Macbeth’s fevered mind? the very fact that merely formulate to the Macbeth’s dormant ambitions would appear to verify this concept, but this is often countered by the very fact that Banquo also sees an equivalent witch and hears them speak.)
The “dagger of the mind” is merely one among many psychological manifestations within the play. because the bodyguards mutter “God bless us” in their drunken stupor, Macbeth finds that he’s unable to utter the prayer word “Amen.” A psychological literary analyst may perceive this as a physical inability to talk, caused by Macbeth’s paralyzing doubt about the correctness of the murder. The inner world of the psyche thus imposes itself on the physical world. an equivalent is often said for the voice that Macbeth hears crying “Macbeth shall sleep no more” (II ii 41). an awesome sense of guilt will prevent “innocent sleep” from giving Macbeth respite from his tormented conscience. While he has consigned Duncan to rest, he lives now in eternal anxiety.
In addition to his troubled existence, Macbeth’s perturbed sleep also can be read as a metaphor for the troubled state of the country. In Macbeth—as with many other Shakespearean plays—there may be a close and mirrored relationship between the king and therefore the country. In scene 4, for instance, Ross reports that “by the clock ‘tis day, / And yet night strangles the traveling lamp” (II iv 6-7). This image of the darkness strangling the sunshine of day may be a meteorological manifestation of the murder of Duncan; the sunshine of nature is suffocated even as Duncan’s life is extinguished. Victorian writer Ruskin called such mirroring of a character’s mental state in inanimate natural objects “pathetic fallacy.” Inanimate natural objects too, an identical mirroring occurs. The old man describes Duncan’s noble horses eating one another and an owl eating a falcon–events that echo the slaughter of Duncan by Macbeth. Thus the unnatural death of Duncan plunges the country into both physical and spiritual turmoil.
The image of an owl hunting a falcon is a component of a greater framework of symbolism surrounding birds within the play. When Duncan approaches Inverness in Act 1, for instance, he comments on the martlets that he sees nesting on the castle walls. He takes this as an honest sign—martlets are lucky birds. Lady Macbeth, on the opposite hand, mentions earlier during this scene that ravens are croaking on the battlements. She takes this as a harbinger of Duncan’s death. Duncan, the trusting optimist, sees lucky birds, whereas Lady Macbeth sees ominous ones. One sign doesn’t exclude the other: for Duncan, “fair” becomes “foul” because the lucky martlets metamorphose into the deadly ravens.
In Act 2, characters discuss or see birds in almost every scene. While Lady Macbeth is expecting Macbeth to end killing Duncan, for instance, she hears an owl hooting and calls the owl a “fatal bellman”—a bird whose call is sort of a bell tolling for Duncan’s death (II ii 3). The owl could even be “fatal” as an instrument of Fate, even as Macbeth is in some ways an instrument of Fate through the intervention of the Fates (keeping in mind that “wyrd” derives from the Old English word for “fate”). during this respect, one observes a mirroring between Macbeth and therefore the owl: both hunt at night; the owl is observed killing a falcon, even as Macbeth kills Duncan.
Throughout Macbeth, dreams, symbols, fantasy, and visions impinge upon the “real world.” The witches’ fantastic prophecy is realized. The “dagger of the mind” points the thanks to a murder committed with a true dagger. And within the Porter scene, the Porter imagining that he guards the gate to Hell ironically creates a gate of “real” hell caused by regicide. When the Porter opens the gate for the thanes, he mentions that he and his friends were out “carousing till the second cock” (II iii 23). This statement calls to mind the cock that crows within the New Testament after Peter betrays Jesus by denying knowledge of him (Matthews 26; Luke 22). In Macbeth, the betrayal occurs during a more active form as Macbeth murders Duncan after the crows of the cock.