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Act Two

Act Two, Scene One


  • Fleance opens this scene symbolically bearing a torch. He's holding the light which Macbeth wants to avoid, also he is the symbolic light-bearer for future generations.

  • 'There's husbandry in heaven;/Their candles are all out' - Banquo is saying that it's dark in the sky because heaven is saving money, tells us that the state of nature is also dark and foreboding, reflecting the deeds of mankind.

  • 'A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,/And yet I would not sleep' - might refer to disturbed sleep later in the play, partly might refer to Banquo's inevitable death and return as a ghost.

  • Staging significant of the meeting of Banquo and Macbeth in darkness - Banquo asking who is there and Macbeth replying a friend. The darkness makes Macbeth's words suspicious, as though Banquo cannot truly see who is talking, or know the truth of these words. Macbeth asserts that he isn't thinking of the witches, yet Banquo is already suspicious.

  • Macbeth's major soliloquy in this scene begins with him seeing a dagger in front of him 'The handle toward my hand', guiding him to Duncan, and guiding him to take hold of the dagger. He wonders whether the dagger is a supernatural apparition, or a product of his madness - 'art thou but/A dagger of the mind'. An audience may think of the scene as a space between waking and dreams. After the witches, nobody else sees any supernatural apparitions, giving weight to the argument that much of this occurs in Macbeth's head. 'Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going' - the dagger doesn't simply lead Macbeth somewhere, but he was already going in that direction.

  • 'Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,/Or else worth all the rest' - Macbeth questions whether his eyes are being tricked or whether they sense more than his other senses combined. Adds to idea of uncertain sight/knowledge, and also Macbeth's uncertainty throughout the play.

  • During the scene, the dagger develops bloodstains, perhaps reflecting Macbeth's increasing intent to kill Duncan. It's as though he's already killed him. During this night, Macbeth remarks, people are having nightmares - the subconscious reflecting the events which are about to happen. Hell on earth is coming, sleep is seen throughout the play a form of death, so that hell is reflected in nightmares. Macbeth begins to become extremely paranoid, wondering if the very stones will tell people of his whereabouts, or stop him from doing what he is resolved to do. 'The bell invites me' - like Duncan's funeral bell. Macbeth expresses uncertainty as to how Duncan will be judged 'to heaven or to hell.'


Act Two, Scene Two


  • Lady Macbeth enters, saying that she has been emboldened by the guards' drunkness, and has heard the owl shriek outside. Birds are used as auguries (prophetic devices) symbolizing a future event. She says she has drugged the guards so much that they're almost dead.

  • 'Had he not resembled/My father as he slept, I had done't' - this is an interesting betrayal of the weaknesses of Lady Macbeth's character. Also hearkens back to the idea of parents and children and the sacred relationship between them.  A subject should love a King like a father, making it even worse when they murder them

  • 'I have done the deed' - euphemistic language returns, as though Macbeth can't bear to say what he has done, it is too awful.

  • Fragmented language at the start of the scene creates an extremely tense atmosphere, and an extremely confused sequence, as though there's some lack of understanding.

  • Darkness for the audience reflects our own confusion.

  • Macbeth's examination of his hands 'this is a sorry sight' shows his immediate regret about his actions. Seemingly prophetic sleep-talking of the guards shows them caught between life and death.

  • 'But wherefore could not I pronounce 'Amen'?' Macbeth can't say Amen, finishing the prayer because either he feels himself to be damned, or because he supernaturally cannot do so.  He has now rejected God and been rejected by him.

  • Lady Macbeth says 'These deeds must not thought/After these ways; so, it will make us mad' - dramatic irony as the deed does indeed make her mad later in the play.

  • Macbeth fails to respond to Lady Macbeth, instead carrying on his own tangents of thought - 'Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!' - his paranoia forbids him from thinking about anything else, and this failure in response may also signals their growing distance. Sleep here represents partly peace, partly a heavenly death, partly 'death' in itself. Macbeth continually wishes he had died earlier. We get a constant sense of Macbeth having lived too long.

  • 'Go get some water,/And wash this filthy witness from your hand' - Lady Macbeth fails to do so herself, foreshadowing the sleepwalking scene.

  • Knocking begins immediately after Lady Macbeth leaves. Macbeth is alone on stage, which suggests that the knocking may be part of Macbeth's imagination or foreshadowing for his fate. The knocking is then revealed as a man knocking on the door of hell - Dunsinane has become hell. Knocking is also literallly that of Macduff, foreshadowing Macbeth's hellish downfall which is being foreshadowed.

  • 'No, this my hand will rather/ The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/Making the green one red' - Macbeth uses hyperbole to emphasize that he will never be clean again. He re-states himself using first latinate language then very simple language. This re-stating shows that however much Macbeth tries to dress up his actions, ultimately they come down to a very anticlimatic thing. Reflects the course that Macbeth's understanding of himself will take throughout the play, initially as a very grand vision of his future Kingship, then as a man who thinks that life is meaningless.

  • 'To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself' - at the end of this scene, Macbeth states that it would be better to be dead than to know what he has done. This creates an immediate sense of remorse and a question of what path Macbeth might take.  Maybe he will repent? Instead Macbeth becomes increasingly ignorant of himself and he puts on a facade to try and erase the moral guilt of his actions.


Act Two, Scene Three

  • A Porter controls who comes in and out of the castle. This Porter is an example of the wise fool in Shakespeare, who appears to speak in strange language or riddles, but these are revealed to hold truths about other characters or themes in the play.  'Fools' create a bridge between the audience and world of the stage, we could think of this Porter as also opening the door between the audience and the world of Macbeth. The fool scene in a Tragedy is also often used for comedy, to lighten the tone in places, yet also by doing so to draw attention to the tragedy that has unfolded. We could also think of this scene as a door between the tragic action of Macbeth and its consequences.

  • Porter opens the scene by saying that someone is knocking loudly on the gates, and if he were the porter of hell he would grow old turning the key, as he would have to open the door so many times. This shows a very negative view of humanity, simply on their way to death and hell.

  • The knocking recalls the knocking that Macbeth heard after Duncan died.

  • The Porter's three examples all encapsulate one aspect of Macbeth's fate.

  • The first is of a farmer who killed himself because he expected something to be gained which wasn't, and so killed himself due to the loss. This reflects Macbeth gaining the Kingship, but never being secure in it and so dying.  The second meaning is of a farmer whose crops were devalued due a large harvest and so had nothing to sell, suggesting that Macbeth will destroy himself over something he thinks will happen, but which doesn't - aka his successful reign as King.

  • To equivocate is to use ambiguous language to avoid saying the whole truth. Equivocation may be seen as a key theme in Macbeth, partly in the witches, partly in Macbeth's refusal to accept the whole truth of his actions.

  • Macbeth, the Porter states in his second examples, equivocates to himself, 'yet could not equivocate to heaven' - he will always be ultimately damned.

  • The third example is of a tailor who scrimped on fabric, yet is now damned as the fashion is to wear tight clothes. Suggests that Macbeth will be damned for creating some kind of fashion which is predicated upon loss. In this play, it is the fashion of regicide and murder.

  • The Porter's use of language is heavy in analogy and euphemism, suggestive of the ambiguous use of language throughout Macbeth.

  • 'Remember the Porter' shows the importance of this character and also is a breaking of the fourth wall, providing a direct link between play and audience.

  • Macduff and Lennox then enter, Macduff asks the Porter whether he was up so late that he also slept in late, to which the Porter says that he up until 2am drinking, . Porter embarks on a series of sexual innuendos, creating humour for the Jacobean audience.

  • The knocking is Macduff's, which awakens Macbeth - Macduff is a major force for good in the play, and more significantly Macduff will kill Macbeth, and so this may be seen as the knocking of fate.

  • Macduff, it transpires, has been asked to call on Duncan, meaning that the murder is about to be found out.

  • Lennox reveals that the night has been been filled with supernatural and unnatural happenings, showing the way in which nature represents the health of the kingdom. Also reflects the effect on the natural world when the natural order (Duncan as King) is disrupted. 'Some say, the earth/Was feverous and did shake' - the words 'some say' here adds to the sense of confusion, rumour and uncertainty.Macbeth's response to Lennox's speech is deliberately understated, as though he does not know what to say, and showing his guilt. Macduff then comes in having seen Duncan's body - this is the moment where Macbeth could be finished or could be pushed forward.

  • Macduff comes on, lamenting the death of Duncan - 'Tongue nor heart/Cannot conceive nor name thee' - again we have reference to a deed too terrible to be named, yet now because of Macduff's sorrow.

  • Duncan here is compared to 'Lord's anointed temple', which has been broken open. He is God's representative on earth, as he ruled by 'divine right'. Thus, this is a 'most sacrilegious murder'.

  • 'The repetition, in a woman's ear/Would murder as it fell' shows that Macduff thinks of women as weak, fragile and delicate.  Yet ironically, it was Lady Macbeth who poured the idea into Macbeth's ear in the first place.

  • 'Had I but died an hour before this chance,

        I had lived a blessed a time; for from this instant,

       There's nothing serious.'

  • Inhis quote, Macbeth is trying to play a part in order to deceive others, but really this is a central truth of Macbeth's character, exposing the meaninglessness of life to him, which he will increasingly feel during the play.

  • Banquo establishes himself as an extremely holy character: 'In the great hand of God I stand.'


Act Two, Scene Four


  • Enter Ross and an Old Man, who are discussing the dreadful things which have happened on the night of the murder. For example, a 'mousing owl' killed a falcon, showing the natural order being reversed - 'fair is foul and foul is fair'. Similarly, it is still so dark in the daytime, 'That darkness does the face of earth entomb'. The overt symbolism of this might be death, hellishness and eternal misery. More subtly we could link this to Macbeth's bidding of supernatural entities to put out lights, and also Macbeth's problems with time - he is stuck in a metaphorical eternal night of the soul.

  • Ross also uses a lexical field of the theatre, a symbol which recurs throughout Macbeth. Relates to themes of costumes (people pretending to be who they're not) relating then to Macbeth's later idea that all this is simply an act which is meaningless.

  • Rumours are rapidly circulating, showing an atmosphere of panic and suspicion.

  • Macduff says that the guards killed Duncan, but they were hired by Duncan's sons. Ross is outraged, saying that 'Thriftless ambition, that wilt ravin up/ Thine own life's means.' He is saying that ambition which is greedy but thoughtless will eventually destroy all that they have as well - a really good quote for Macbeth's ambition.

  • Macbeth is going to Scone to be crowned, but Macduff is going home to Fife. This may suggest that Macduff is slightly suspicious of Macbeth and doesn't want to be around him. Even before he says anything, his actions show his good judgement.

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