Macbeth Act Two, Scene One

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1 Macbeth Act Two, Scene One As scene one begins, we are given images of light and dark. Banquo and Fleance, his son, are wandering late at night because he cannot sleep. Fleance says the moon is down and Banquo says there are no stars ( there s husbandry in heaven, / their candles are all out ). Something is amiss and these images and Banquo s inability to sleep reflect the murderous scheming of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Banquo cannot sleep because he is bothered by cursed thoughts. He has dreamt of the witches and their prophecy which means that Duncan must die. This is disturbing to Banquo. When Macbeth walks in, Banquo reacts apprehensively. He says, Give me my sword Who s there? His state of mind maybe suspicious. He s on edge. The conversation between Banquo and Macbeth dramatizes the contrast between them. Banquo is the honorable man and Macbeth, the deceiver. Banquo fights against evil thoughts ( Restrain in me ). He uses kind and open words in his report of Duncan. He wishes to stay free of guilt ( keep / My bosom franchised ) and remain loyal to Duncan ( allegiance clear ). In sharp contrast, Macbeth speaks untruths. When Banquo asks who s there, Macbeth says, A friend, but their relationship is becoming increasingly uneasy. Other lines by Macbeth that show his deception are: Being unprepared and I think not of them when Banquo mentions the three witches.

2 Macbeth even tries to tempt Banquo to his side when he says: If you shall cleave to my consent in return for honor. Remember Macbeth s line that ends Act One, False face must hide what the false heart must know and you will realize that he s doing this very thing in his conversation with Banquo. After Banquo and Fleance leave, Macbeth sends a signal to his wife. He tells a servant that when Macbeth s drink is ready, that his wife should ring the bell. When Macbeth is alone, he sees a dagger before him. His hallucination of the dagger is both a warning and an invitation. At first, his terror leads him to try to argue away the fatal vision, questioning the reliability of his senses. But gradually, he changes his approach. Instead of resisting the horror, he intensifies it, seeing gouts of blood on the dagger. He then dismisses the vision, interpreting it as created by his knowledge that he is about to murder Duncan. He knows the dagger is not real because he cannot clutch it and he sees blood on it but he has not committed the murder yet; however, the dagger leads him to where he was going, to kill Duncan, and as Macbeth follows it, that s when he sees the blood (the change the dagger undergoes). That the dagger is unreal shows Macbeth s psychological state, that he has a conscience that is conflicted (guilt/ambition). Remember this play is less about supernatural powers, and more about the interior, psychological depths of the human mind that can prompt an individual to perform an act as heinous as murder.

3 The reader cannot help linking Macbeth with the witches here. In his soliloquy, he speaks what sounds like a spell or incantation (remember Lady Macbeth spoke like this earlier too), imagining a personified Witchcraft at a fiendish ceremony ( Witchcraft celebrates pale Hecate s off rings ). When he compares himself to the rapist Tarquin, it adds a sinister sexual excitement to the imminent murder. The only sound to be heard is the bell ringing. When Macbeth says, 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. The bell has two meanings for Macbeth: the bell means Duncan s death and his departure for heaven ( fair) and it also means Macbeth s invitation to sin, associated with hell ( foul ). Act Two, Scene Two As this scene begins, Lady Macbeth is alone. She is exhilarated by drinking, and she awaits Macbeth s return from Duncan s room. She hears an owl shriek, possibly an omen that makes her fear that the king s bodyguards have awakened and that Macbeth didn t commit the murder. She s nervous; originally she was going to handle the murder herself, then she included Macbeth, and because Duncan looked like her father, she weakened and forced Macbeth to commit the murder ( Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done t ). We get another view of Lady Macbeth here. She is

4 shaken profoundly by the sight of the sleeping king and his resemblance to her father. We might see a vulnerability in Lady Macbeth s character here. Lady Macbeth s and Macbeth s dialogue when Macbeth enters dramatizes the nervousness they feel. These quickly spoken lines are called stichomythia, rapid fire dialogue. Such rapidly alternating lines accentuate the dark night, the terrible murder and the fact that the murdered king s sons are still in the castle. When Macbeth enters, he s carrying the daggers, the murder weapons. This is wrong they should have been left with the drunken bodyguards to implicate them. Shakespeare chose not to show the murder of Duncan on stage. The Greeks never showed violent acts on stage, as well. Maybe this was to ensure that the horror of the act lies more in its moral significance than in the sight of blood. From the chamber where Malcolm and Donalbain sleep, Macbeth hears a voice that says God bless us and Amen, and a voice that cries sleep no more. What do these voices imply? As he struggles to say Amen, we realize that Macbeth is conscience-stricken. His attempt to pray is thwarted. He is separated from God. Not being able to speak Amen implies that God will not bless him and he is doomed to eternal damnation. His selfcondemnation continues as he thinks that he hears a voice foretelling that he will sleep no more. Many actors portray Macbeth as talking to himself,

5 ignoring his wife. Other actors have played him feverishly telling her his story, as if she can offer help. When Macbeth recounts what he thinks he heard, he uses vivid images to portray sleep: it knits up the ravelled sleeve of care, ends each day s life like death, is like a refreshing bath after heavy labour, soothes troubled minds, and is like the main course in a formal banquet. Lady Macbeth seems devoid of conscience or fear after hearing Macbeth. She is concerned only to avoid blame. She orders him to give her the daggers and she takes them to smear Duncan s blood on the bodyguards faces. After Lady Macbeth leaves to do Macbeth s dirty work, he hears a knocking. The knocking occurs four times with a sort of ritualistic regularity. It conveys the heavy sense of the inevitable, as if the gates must eventually open to admit doom. Macduff is the source of the knocking. As Macbeth gazes on his blood-stained hands, he is appalled to think what he has done. He feels that not all the water in the ocean can clean away Duncan s blood. Rather, his hands will make the measureless seas bloody ( multitudinous seas incarnadine ). Macbeth has seen blood on his hands countless times before on the battlefield. But seeing the king s blood is another matter. In many ways, the play is a Christian allegory: Duncan represents the Christlike figure and Macbeth represents Judas. Like

6 Judas Iscariot, Macbeth kills the Christian king he has Christ s blood on his hands. This blood is powerful. It will spread. The scene ends with Lady Macbeth saying she is alarmed to have a heart so white. She, too, is horrified and overwhelmed by their crime, but she acts tough with Macbeth again. She says, a little water clears us of this deed be not lost so poorly in your thoughts. At the end of the scene, Macbeth says, To know my deed, twere best not know myself. Macbeth is a man completely divided against himself. He s got great attributes in his favor drive, ambition and foresight but he goes terribly wrong with them. Evil is often banal or commonplace. In terms of contemporary psychological malaise (feeling bad, discomfort), being divided against yourself is very common, even today.

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