For Act Two, scene two, of Shakespeare's Macbeth, analyze the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth based on what is known so far, specifically with regard to their objectives—I mean, has...

For Act Two, scene two, of Shakespeare's Macbeth, analyze the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth based on what is known so far, specifically with regard to their objectives—I mean, has anything changed?



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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both want the same things, but based upon their behavior in Act Two, scene two, each character is very different with regard to his/her ability to see the job through.

Macbeth is praised as a great hero in Act One, valiantly fighting in Scotland's war with Norway. The Scots take the day and the King rewards Macbeth.  However, by the time the above-noted scene takes place, the audience knows that Macbeth has been having second thoughts, that he doesn't really need anything (so money is not a motivator) and that the only thing that is really pushing him is his ambition—he calls it "vaulting ambition," a hunger to have more and more. And when that is realized, his ambition drives him to have even more. It is an obsession he cannot control.

The question is also raised as to what Macbeth is willing to do to win the throne. We find that he has a much more sensitive side—for he must be badgered into the killing by Lady Macbeth; and when it is done, he is babbling foolishly over imagined fears, regretting what he has done.

Macbeth worries that after the murder, the guards talk in their sleep, whispering words of prayer that Macbeth cannot speak himself—this is the first indication of his guilt:

Listening their fear, I could not say “Amen,”

When they did say “God bless us!” (38-39)

Then he believes that he heard a voice saying that Macbeth has killed not only the King, but also the ability to enjoy an innocent sleep—that Macbeth will never be able to sleep again.

After the fact, Macbeth almost spoils it all because he is afraid to return the murder weapons to the scene, having taken them from the room. Even though he and his wife would be discovered as Duncan's murderers, Macbeth cannot face the murder scene again:

I'll go no more:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look on't again I dare not. (64-66)

By the end of the scene, Macbeth is full of regret, wishing that those who knock on the door could waken Duncan—that Duncan was still alive.

Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, is not the soft touch Macbeth is. She has viciously pressed Macbeth to murder his King, his cousin, his friend, and his guest. She has no qualms about killing the King. She wants Macbeth on the throne so she can rule by his side.

As her husband trembles in abject fear, Lady Macbeth takes charge of the situation:

...Why, worthy


You do unbend your noble strength, to think

So brainsickly of things. Go, get some water

And wash this filthy witness from your hand. (56-60)

When she realizes that Macbeth still has the daggers, she directs him back to Duncan's chambers:

They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear

The sleepy grooms with blood. (62-63)

At this point, Macbeth refuses. He seems unconcerned with being discovered, but Lady Macbeth is more than aware, and is in complete control of the circumstances surrounding them. Cognizant of the smallest details, she also knows they must not be found awake as the knocking sounds on the door:

Retire we to our chamber.

A little water clears us of this deed: 

How easy is it then!... (84-86)

Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us

And show us to be watchers. (89-90)

While they have achieved their objective, what has changed is the way each responds to Duncan's murder, and who takes charge. The once-valiant Macbeth is hysterical, but the charming Lady Macbeth shows a heart of flint as she readies herself to face whoever is knocking on the gate.