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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Macbeth, as Macbeth kills Duncan, what does Lady Macbeth hear?...

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schomburg | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM via iOS

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In Act 2, Scene 2 of Macbeth, as Macbeth kills Duncan, what does Lady Macbeth hear? What does Macbeth hear?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 18, 2013 at 12:08 AM (Answer #1)

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Macbeth's killing of Duncan occurs entirely offstage. What he and Lady Macbeth hear--or think they hear--is described in their dialogue in Act 2, Scene 2, with the exception of the knocking at the gate produced by offstage sound effects. Knocking begins towards the end of Scene 2 and continues into Scene 3. It is the  knocking Thomas De Quincey discusses in his famous essay "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth."

The first reference to what has been heard is by Lady Macbeth. She thinks she hears a noise offstage and then tells herself:

Hark! Peace!
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern'st good-night.

Then when her husband appears they have the following exchange:

MACBETH
I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

LADY MACBETH
I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?

All these references to sounds heard are significant for the same reason, including the knocking at the gate.

Macbeth tells his wife what happened when he was killing Duncan.

There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried
'Murder!'
That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them:
But they did say their prayers, and address'd them
Again to sleep.

One cried 'God bless us!' and 'Amen' the other;
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say 'Amen,'
When they did say 'God bless us!'

Then comes the most important things Macbeth heard:

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast,--

His wife doesn't understand him. She interrupts him momentarily, and then he continues:

Still it cried 'Sleep no more!' to all the house:
'Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.'

Then they both hear the ominous knocking at the gate. Macbeth says:

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 in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

Shakespeare must have had to give some thought to the obvious question: Why didn't Macbeth kill Duncan's two sons at the same time he killed Duncan? Malcolm is the heir apparent, and Macbeth could have achieved little by murdering his father because the son would almost certainly inherit the crown. Duncan has publicly proclaimed that Malcolm is his heir apparent and named him Prince of Cumberland in Act 1, Scene 4.

All of the sounds referred to in Act 2, Scene 2 are probably intended to explain why Macbeth did not try to kill the two sons, although that was apparently his intention. First he heard Duncan's two attendants waking up. He was afraid they would find the King's body and raise an alarm. Then he thought he heard a voice shouting "Sleep no more!" He describes it as shouting "...to all the house," meaning that it must have been loud enough to wake the entire castle. This voice must have been real and not imaginary. Lady Macbeth heard something. She says:

I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.

But then she asks:

Did not you speak?

So she thinks she may have heard a human voice. Shakespeare's audience would also hear something offstage, but it may have been too vague to identify.

Sources:

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