Act 2 The dagger scene
The dagger scene is one of Shakespeare’s most often quoted soliloquys. Macbeth is walking through the castle on his way to kill Duncan when he has what may have been real or a vision. He sees a dagger in front of him and tries to seize its handle, but that dagger was only an insubstantial vision, leading him to the sleeping King.
Macbeth murders Duncan in a seemingly trance-like state, with his own dagger, not the illusory one.
He goes to his wife and tells her of the strange sounds he has heard. Lady Macbeth said that she would have killed Duncan herself if he had not looked like her father while he slept, but Macbeth explains that he has murdered the king. On his way back to Lady Macbeth, he heard two guests say their prayers, and is a little disturbed that he could not join them in saying ‘Amen’ when they said, ‘God bless us.’ He said that the words had stuck in his throat. At this point then, he feels some guilt.
Macbeth heard a voice that said several things, all prophesying doom for him. These are the words he heard: -
- 'Sleep no more!'
- ‘Macbeth does murder sleep.’
- 'Glamis hath murder'd sleep,’
- ‘therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more.’
- ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more.’
In Act 2 scene Macbeth becomes unravelled at the thought of his monstrous deed. Lady Macbeth is made of sterner stuff and tells him to wash his bloody hands and take his bloody daggers to the room the grooms are sleeping in so that he can smear them with Duncan’s blood so that it looks as though they were the murderers. She is calm and in control. Macbeth cannot do as she wants, so it is Lady Macbeth that deals with the daggers, the grooms and the blood.
Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of cowardice, of having a white heart.
Act 2 Scene 3
This scene begins with the porter at the castle gate and loud knocking. The porter is almost a comic character who offers some respite from the drama and tragedy that has unfolded in the two previous scenes. The porter says, ‘this place is too cold for hell’ The porter lets Macduff and Lennox into the castle and explains that he and others in the castle had been ‘carousing’ until the early hours.
On seeing Macbeth, Macduff asks if the king is awake because he had instructed him to call upon him early.
Lennox says that the night had been ‘unruly’ with ‘strange screams of death’ in the air. The owl has been screeching all night and there had been strange prophesies heard concerning ‘dire and confus’d events.’
Mucduff goes to the king’s chamber and sees his body and arouses the rest of the castle. On hearing the news, Macbeth says ‘renown and grace is dead.’ This of course is true of Macbeth who will be shrouded in infamy and condemned to hell. Macbeth then confesses to killing the grooms because he was so angry that they could have killed the king. Treachery indeed!
Banquo tells Macbeth in scene two of this act ‘Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all.’ The witches’ prophesies had all come true. Macbeth is jealous of Banquo who will father kings, while he, Macbeth will not. Macbeth cannot kill his friend Banquo himself and so hires three men to do the deed for him. Although Banquo is killed his son, Fleance escapes, thus meaning that the witches prophesy regarding Banquo could still come true.
From the time of his murder, Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is dismissive of her husband and his sightings of Banquo’s ghost, who really is the spectre at Macbeth’s feast.
Lady Macbeth gets rid of her guests rather unceremoniously and tell them that her husband is becoming unhinged. He decides to seek out the witches again to find out what other things will happen.
This begins with a ‘steaming cauldron’ and the witches making a brew with various obnoxious animals so than they can cats their spells.
The second witch senses the presence of evil, and Macbeth appears on stage. It is in this scene that Macbeth is told that he cannot be harmed by a man ‘of woman born’ and cannot be overcome until ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’ will oppose him. Naturally, Macbeth thinks this can’t happen, after all, trees can’t walk. The witches refuse to answer his question regarding Banquo’s heirs, so Macbeth is left to wonder if they will indeed become kings.
When Lennox appears, the witches vanish, and Macbeth is given the news that Macduff has ‘fled to England’ (Act 4 scene 1).
While Macbeth is near the witches cauldron, three apparitions appear, one after the other. The first tells him to beware of Macduff. The third once gain says that Macbeth is safe until Birnam wood arrives at Dunsinane, Macbeth’s castle.
Malcolm and Macduff speak together and then Ross arrives with the news that Macduff’s family have all been killed and decide to act against Macbeth.
This begins with Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and trying to get rid of a spot of blood she imagines to be on her hands. ‘Out damned spot!’ The doctor who had been summoned confesses that he has never seen anything like this before and is at a loss.
Scenes 2 takes place outside Dunsinane castle and scene 3 inside it. Scene 4 is the one in which the soldiers who are loyal to Malcolm cut branches from the trees in Birnam wood and use the as camouflage wile they march on Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth is told that his wife is dead and in scene 5 and almost immediately afterwards he is told that it appears that Birnam wood is moving by a messenger. This, of course, means the death of Macbeth. He is killed by Macduff who was as he says, ‘Untimely ripp'd’ from his mother’s womb, which means that he was not actually born from a woman. Finally, Malcolm becomes king of Scotland, his rightful position.