Macbeth Act 2 Scenes 1 to 4 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

An overview and analysis of all scenes in Macbeth Act 2. Includes plot summary, an analysis of the action as it unfolds. The key quotes in each of the scenes are highlighted.

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Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 2 - Scene 1

 The scene opens with Banquo and Fleance walking alone though the castle after midnight. Macbeth meets the pair on his way to Duncan's chamber. He tells them that he is sleepless because he feels that he was unprepared for the king's visit.   Banquo assures Macbeth that the king is asleep and tells him that he has had strange dreams about the witches and their predictions. They agree to talk about the matter at a later point and bid each other goodnight.   Macbeth has a vision of a dagger in front of him, its handle pointing toward his hand and its tip aiming him toward Duncan. As he continues to look at the dagger, he thinks he sees blood on the blade, then abruptly decides that the vision is just a manifestation of his unease over killing Duncan. Upon hearing the bell that signals the maids' retirement, he continues to Duncan's chamber to kill him.   Analysis: In this scene, the audience feels momentarily suspended from the action, but in no way removed from the intensity of emotion as the innocent Banquo and his son pass the time of night. The moment at which Banquo so very nearly draws his sword on a potential intruder is a stroke of dramatic irony: Banquo has no idea of what the audience knows about Macbeth's intentions.   The dagger speech is well-known in Shakespeare's works for effectively displaying Macbeth's swings from lucidity to mental disturbance. The repetition of phrases like "I see thee still . . . I see thee yet . . . I see thee still!" show his fear of getting caught. Between each of these alarms comes a moment of respite in which Macbeth comes to his senses.   There is a shift in the last few lines of the soliloquy, the audience can start to see the effect that Lady Macbeth and the prospects of being king have on Macbeth. The change in tone at the end of the speech can be seen as Macbeth putting a mask on his language. By the time the bell rings, Macbeth has stopped caring whether Duncan goes to heaven or hell.    Important Quotes: "Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. - Macbeth   "I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell That summons thee to heaven or to hell." - Macbeth

Page 2

Act 2 - Scene 2

Lady Macbeth opens this scene, saying that making the maids drunk has made her bold.  Hearing Macbeth cry out, she worries that the maids have awakened. She says that she cannot understand how Macbeth could fail as she had prepared the daggers for the maids herself. She adds that she would have killed Duncan herself if he didn't look like her own father.    Lady Macbeth meets her husband in the lower courtyard as he emerges from the king's room saying that the deed was done.   Badly shaken, he remarks that he heard the chamberlains awake and say their prayers before going back to sleep. When they said “amen,” he tried to say it with them but found that the word stuck in his throat. He also says that he heard a voice cry out "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep” as he killed Duncan.   Lady Macbeth becomes angry upon noticing that Macbeth has brought the prepared daggers back with him. He refuses to go back into Duncan's room out of fear, meaning that Lady Macbeth had to go.   When Lady Macbeth leaves, Macbeth hears a mysterious knocking. He becomes flushed with fear and says; "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". The knocking continues when Lady Macbeth returns, but she insists that water will wash away what they have done before going to sleep.   Analysis: Lady Macbeth's opening words introduce a new level of emotional intensity. Fear of failure has been replaced with fear of discovery, and even though she describes herself as drunk with boldness and on fire with passion, she is just as easily alarmed as her husband is by the tiniest noises and movements.   The quick-fire dialogue throughout the scene creates a sense of urgency and panic.    It is clear that Macbeth regrets his decision to kill Duncan; he feels that he will never wash his hands of guilt and at the end of the scene, he wishes for the knocking to wake Duncan up.   Shakespeare uses a technique called elision throughout Macbeth. To keep up the rapid tempo of the drama, only the build up to and the results of an event are shown, not the event itself. This technique is seen with Duncan's death and throughout the rest of Macbeth. Duncan’s bedchamber becomes a sort of hidden sanctum into which the characters disappear and from which they emerge powerfully changed.   Important Quotes: "That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold." - Lady Macbeth   "I laid their daggers ready; He could not miss 'em. Had he not resembled My father as he slept, I had done ’t." - Lady Macbeth   "Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house. “Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”" - Macbeth   "Whence is that knocking? How is ’t with me when every noise appals me? What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes. 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

Page 3

Act 2 - Scene 3

The knocking continues but the porter does not immediately open the door, he compares himself to a porter at the gates of hell and asks, “Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?”. Eventually, he opens the door to Lennox and Macduff, who have been commanded to call upon the king to arrange the royal departure. It is early morning, and most of those in the castle are still asleep.   Macbeth enters and says that the king is not yet awake but he will bring them to him. As Macduff enters the king’s chamber, Lennox describes the storms that raged the previous night, asserting that he cannot remember anything like it in all his years.   Macduff emerges with cries of "O horror, horror, horror!", sounding the alarm to the rest of the castle. Chaos ensues. Lady Macbeth enters and proclaims that it is a horrible event to have happened under her roof. Malcolm and Donalbain are told of their father's death. Macbeth says that if he himself had died an hour earlier in his sleep, he would've lived a blessed life.    Macbeth announces that he killed the maids out of anger, making Macduff suspicious. Lady Macbeth suddenly faints to draw attention, and both Macduff and Banquo call for someone to attend to her.    Duncan's sons feel in danger after the murder and decide to flee the country to stay safe.    Analysis: The scene opens with moment of comedy from the porter to distract from what has happened in the last scene.    Lennox's description of the last night's weather is an example of pathetic fallacy. The bad weather at the time of the murder suggests a direct connection between the events of the universe at large and the events within the castle.   When Duncan's death is revealed, the lines of the innocent Macduff contrast those of Macbeth, who the audience know is guilty. Macduff is literal in his words whereas Macbeth speaks in metaphors to hide his guilt; "The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees / Is left this vault to brag of".   Lady Macbeth's fainting is what would be expected of a woman during this time period. However, the audience know that this is not her character and it is merely to distract the other men so that they don't suspect Macbeth.   Important Quotes: "Wake up, wake up! Ring the alarm bell. Murder and treason! Banquo and Donalbain, Malcolm! Wake up! Shake off sleep, which looks like death, and look at death itself! " - Macduff   "O gentle lady, 'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak: The repetition, in a woman’s ear, Would murder as it fell." - Macduff   "Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessèd time, for from this instant There’s nothing serious in mortality." - Macbeth   "Here lay Duncan, His silver skin laced with his golden blood, And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature For ruin’s wasteful entrance; there, the murderers, Steeped in the colors of their trade, their daggers Unmannerly breeched with gore. Who could refrain, That had a heart to love, and in that heart Courage to make ’s love known?" - Macbeth

Page 4

Act 2 - Scene 4

The scene opens with the Thane of Ross talking to an old man outside the castle. They discuss the ominous things that have been occurring in and around the castle; it is daytime but it is dark outside, a falcon was killed by an owl, and Duncan's horses turned wild and ate each other.    Macduff enters and declares that Macbeth will be the new king and will be crowned at Scone. He says that the maids were probably paid by someone else do kill Duncan in his sleep, but it is also suspicious that Donalbain and Malcolm have fled the scene.    Analysis: The old man in this scene acts as a contrast to The Three Witches. He embodies the notion of age, tradition, natural continuity, and wisdom. While the witches give premonitions of the future, the old man talks about what has changed in the past.    The mysterious changes that the old man and Ross discuss bring back the uneasy, supernatural feeling that the witches introduced in the first act. All the named events are not simply natural disasters; they are reversals of the expected natural order: daylight has been replaced by night; a falcon (a bird of prey) has been killed by an owl, a much smaller creature; and the horses of the king's stables are said to have eaten each other.   The crowning of Macbeth as king acts as a bridge between the first and second halves of the play. Where Lady Macbeth was in action in the first half, Macbeth will soon take over.   Important Quotes: "Malcolm and Donalbain, the king’s two sons, Are stol'n away and fled, which puts upon them Suspicion of the deed." - Macduff