What are some important literary devices in Act Two, Scene 2 of Macbeth?

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act 2, scene 2 of Macbeth is the scene immediately after Macbeth has murdered Duncan off-stage. The scene displays Macbeth's unstable mental state and Lady Macbeth's boldness in the aftermath of the murder. 

Early in the scene, when Macbeth enters the chamber, we see his uncertainty, paranoia, and instability through his use of questions and exclamations. For example, Macbeth keeps asking his wife if she's heard a noise. He appears panicked and troubled by what he's done.

When Macbeth looks at his hands and says, "This is a sorry sight," this is an example of foreshadowing. Later in the play, Lady Macbeth's mental state deteriorates and she begins sleepwalking. One night, she is observed trying to wash her hands over and over again in order to clean imagined blood from them. Another example of foreshadowing in the scene is when Lady Macbeth tells her husband to stop obsessing over the details of the crime, because "it will make us mad." Of course, Lady Macbeth goes mad later in the play, which is also ironic, because she seems to be the stronger partner in this scene.

Macbeth uses a figurative expression when he thinks he hears the phrase, "Macbeth does murder sleep." He goes on to use a series of metaphors to describe sleep:

The innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
He describes sleep as a remedy, using metaphors comparing sleep to a "Balm," "bath," and "nourisher in life's feast." The phrase "Macbeth does murder sleep" is also metaphorical because it is not literally possible. Instead, it means that Macbeth has killed his chance at a good night's sleep, because he will be haunted by his crime.
 
Lady Macbeth continues the use of figurative language with the use of a simile:
The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. 
She compares the sleeping and the dead to pictures but also here compares them to one another; they are pictures of one another. Also, the deed is done; the dead cannot do anything to harm Macbeth at this point. She calls him childish for being scared of "a painted devil," or something that is artificially terrifying.
 
Another great example of figurative language occurs toward the end of the scene when Macbeth laments, 
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
Macbeth is wondering what it will take to free him of his guilt. He says that instead of being washed "clean," his guilty hand will cause the ocean that would cleanse him to turn red. Figuratively, his crime will infect the world around him. His metaphor also tells us that there is no going back from this; he has sealed his fate with his decision to kill Duncan. He will never be innocent again.
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dramatic Irony-Macbeth mentions to his wife that the chamberlains were shouting, "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep" (Act II, Scene 2, lines 35-36). He then insists that he hears knocking, and Lady Macbeth also hears noises. The audience realizes that the noises and Macbeth's belief that the chamberlains commented on his actions are simply figments of the characters' imaginations.

Personification-Macbeth laments about the chamberlains saying that he murders sleep. Macbeth then personifies sleep by referring to it as being "innocent." Innocence is a human attribute, and sleep cannot be innocent because it is not a being.

Metaphor-Macbeth refers to sleep as "great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast" (Act II, Scene 2, lines 39-40).

Simile-Macbeth refuses to return to Duncan's chamber to place the daggers next to the chamberlains. Lady Macbeth uses a simile by comparing the dead chamberlains to pictures. She says, "The sleeping and the dead are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil" (Act II, Scene 2, lines 53-55).

Hyperbole-Macbeth looks at his blood-stained hands and employs a hyperbole when he comments, "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red" (Act II, Scene 2., lines 60-64).

Litotes-Lady Macbeth uses a litotes when she says, "A little water clears us of this deed. How easy is it, then!" (Act II, Scene 2, lines 67-68). She drastically underestimates the impact of the crime on their conscience.

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some important literary devices at work in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth are as follows:

Symbolism:  Near the beginning of the scene, Lady Macbeth claims that she heard an owl shrieking, and she calls it the "fatal bellman."  The owl is a symbol for the death of Duncan. 

Allusion:   Later in the scene, Macbeth refers to "great Neptune's ocean" which is a reference to the Roman god of the sea.

Metaphor:    Lady Macbeth is disappointed in her husband's cowardice and says, "I shame to wear a heart so white."  The color white is a metaphor for fear and innocence.

Extended metaphor:  Macbeth talks of "murdering sleep" throughout the scene.  He uses sleep as a metaphor for peace, meaning that since he has committed such an evil crime, he will no longer have peace of mind.

Irony:  Later the audience learns that the knocking on the door is from Lenox and Macduff who are arriving at Inverness.  However, Macbeth is in a state of frenzy and believes that someone has heard him commit the murder--the audience, however, is fully aware that no one else knows of Macbeth's crime.