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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, when does Macbeth kill Duncan?

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missamysarah | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 30, 2009 at 2:06 AM via web

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, when does Macbeth kill Duncan?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted December 30, 2009 at 3:15 AM (Answer #1)

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, as is typical in Shakespeare, violence takes place offstage.  The audience does not see Macbeth kill Duncan any more than we see Macduff kill Macbeth later in the play.  At the close of Act II, Scene 1 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.

Then he exits.  He returns to stage in scene 2 after only a brief absence and tells Lady Macbeth, "I have done the deed."  The results of the assassination are revealed to the audience for the remainder of the play, but the act itself is not seen.

Just so you know, I edited the question in order to reflect the accepted convention of referring to details within a work of art in present tense rather than past tense.  Thus, "does" works better in the question than "did."  When you analyze literature, think of it as if it's happening whenever it's being read, or in this case, maybe, performed. 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 30, 2009 at 2:25 AM (Answer #2)

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I am not completely clear on what you mean by this question.  Do you just mean at what point in the play did Macbeth kill Duncan?  I can not think of any other way to understand this question.

Anyway, Macbeth kills Duncan in Act II.  You could say he does it in Scene 1, or you can say he does it in Scene 2, or you can say he does it in between.  At any rate, we do not see him do it.

At the end of Scene 1, he has just said that it is time to go and kill Duncan (because the bell rang).  At the beginning of Scene 2, he comes in and tells his wife he has killed Duncan.  So somewhere in between those two things, he killed Duncan.

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