What does the ringing of the bell mean?

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The bell is a form of auditory imagery and an offstage theatrical device to signal a passing of passing of time.  Bells are rung at the stroke of midnight and at dawn.  Here, the bell signifies Duncan's death, and it foreshadows the shift in Scotland from a state of natural order to unnatural chaos.

Remember, the bell is used by the Macbeths to signal when to murder Duncan.  Macbeth comments on the bell during his famous soliloquy.  To his servant he says, "Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, / She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed."

Later, in the soliloquy: A bell rings

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.

After the murder, the Macbeths' paranoia and guilt are signified through sound.  Lady Macbeth says, "t was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman."

This is all juxtaposed with Macduff, the hero of the play.  When he finds Duncan's body, he says:

Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!
Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! awake!
Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit,
And look on death itself! up, up, and see
The great doom's image! Malcolm! Banquo!
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell.

In Act V, when Macbeth's castle is about to be invaded by Malcolm and Macduff's forces, he echoes Macduff:

Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack!
At least we'll die with harness on our back.

In short, bells are alarms that are sounded before and after death.  They are time signatures that show a passing transition.

fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Have you ever heard of the old saying "For whom the bell tolls"? This famous statement was coined by John Donne, a famous Renaissance poet. The bell is s symbol, of not only our mortally, but it also represents our connectedness, so Donne says.

When the bell is rung by Lady Macbeth, it is a signal telling Macbeth that the chamberlains are in a drunken stupor, but it also is summoning King Duncan to his grave. However, the irony here is astonishing, if we consider Donne's philosophy that the bell represents our connectedness, for Macbeth is about to sever that connectedness.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act II, Scene 1, the ringing of the bell is the sign that tells Macbeth it is time for him to go and kill Duncan.

The plan is that his wife will ring the bell when it is safe for him to go and commit the murder.  She will do this when the chamberlains are safely asleep.

While Macbeth waits for the bell, he has a vision of a dagger that is covered with blood.  He tries to grab it, but fails.  He then decides that he is only seeing it because he is nervous about killing Duncan.  After the vision, the bell rings, and he goes to kill Duncan.

wanjira-mukami | Student

The ringing of the bell  seems to be a prearranged sign for Macbeth to go and commit the murder of Duncan per Line 63 of Act II Scene I:

I go, and it is done. The bell invites me.             Hear it not Duncan, for it is knell                       That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.

The prearrangement is strictly between Macbeth and his Lady.We know that because in Line 63, Macbeth is willing Duncan not to hear the bell. We  that too because of the stress they both suffer before and after the bell. Prior to the bell Macbeth is so stressed that he hallucinates and sees a dagger, "Is this a dagger which I see before me,..". After the bell, Lady Macbeth is stressed in her own way when she states that: "That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold".

oceanberm | Student

Long times ago, when people were thought to be dead to make certain a bell was placed near to them in the coffin.  An individual had to stay in the graveyard to listen for the bells to ring in order to dig up the still living indiviuals.. Hence "dead ringer", "graveyard shift".

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Angels receive their wings as bells ring.