From Macbeth, how do you interpret Lennox's lines just before the discovery of murder in Act 2, scene 3: "Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say, Lamentings heard I' th' air, strange screams of death, and prophesying with accents terrible." Why does Lennox comment on the natural world disruptions that happened on the night King Duncan is murdered?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare wanted Macbeth to be present when Duncan's body is discovered by Macduff. But Macbeth wanted to pretend to be sound asleep in his chamber. Shakespeare invented the loud, prolonged knocking at the gate in order to force Macbeth to appear in person. Shakespeare has to make the lame excuse that no one was answering the knocking because all the servants and guards were drunk. (See the drunken Porter's speech, which is more than just comic relief.)

It is Macduff doing all the knocking. He explains that the King appointed him to wake him in the morning. Why weren't Macduff and Lennox sleeping inside the castle? Why didn't Duncan appoint someone to wake him who would be sleeping inside the castle, someone such as Banquo, for example? Maybe Duncan didn't know that Macduff would have to sleep in some hovel outside the castle? And maybe Macduff didn't want to tell Duncan that fact because it might seem he was reluctant to obey an order?

Lennox is only trying to make conversation while Macduff goes inside Duncan's bedchamber. Naturally he talks about the weather, as people will do when they are trying to make conversation. This informs the audience that both Lennox and Macduff had to sleep outside the castle, and it explains all the pounding on the gate which forces Macbeth to go through the excruciating pain and embarrassment of being present when Macduff comes out shouting that Duncan has been murdered. The fact that the weather was bad only has collateral implications.

Thomas De Quincey made a big issue out of the knocking at the gate in Macbeth, but he failed to understand the cause. Apparently he thought it was just a theatrical effect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act 2, Scene 3 from Macbeth, Lennox comments on the disruptions of the natural world on the night King Duncan is murdered. He reports that the earth was feverish and shook throughout the night. There were chimneys blown down from the storm. Strange screams of death and prophesying with terrible accents were occurring on this horrible night of King Duncan's death and the hidden bird screamed all night long: 

The night has been unruly. Where we lay,(55) 
Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say, 
Lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death, 
And prophesying with accents terrible 
Of dire combustion and confused events 
New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird(60) 
Clamor'd the livelong night. Some say the earth 
Was feverous and did shake.

Since Elizabethan England believed that the King was appointed by God, it makes sense that the natural world would be in chaos on the night that God's king was murdered. God would be highly upset at the murdering of his appointed king. No doubt, the natural world would be in chaos. Truly, the storms and natural world disruptions are caused by a supernatural God who is grieved at his very heart for the murdering of his chosen man King Duncan. Shakespeare confirms that the king is God's temple in the words of Macduff :

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.(70) 
Most sacrilegious Murder hath broke ope 
The Lord's anointed temple and stole thence 
The life o’ the building.

Here, Macduff is saying that murder has stolen the life from the Lord's temple. Macduff is referring to King Duncan as being the Lord's temple. Again, it makes sense that there would be earthquakes, storms, strange screams of death, and prophesying on the night that the Lord's temple was struck down by murder. 

Since King Duncan was appointed by God, it is fitting that the natural world would be turned upside down by supernatural events on the night of King Duncan's murder. God is more than grieved. He is outraged, as is evident by the natural world disruptions on the night the Lord's temple is murdered.    


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial