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

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The actual murder of Duncan takes place between scenes, offstage. We hear Macbeth and Lady Macbeth planning to kill Duncan in Act I, and during Act II, we hear that the deed has been done.

In Act II, Scene I, Macbeth is awake late at night and roaming the castle grounds. He meets Banquo, who asks why he is not sleeping; Macbeth tells him he has been thinking about the witches. This is true, actually, because the witches' prediction that he'd be king is what motivates him to kill Duncan. At the end of the scene, he hears a bell. 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. (II.i.19-21)
The bell means that Macbeth is now going to commit the murder, which is why it's Duncan's death knell. 
 
When we next see Macbeth in Scene II, he is no longer calm and determined but panicked. He keeps claiming to hear strange noises and is very jumpy and on edge. Lady Macbeth discovers that Macbeth still has the knife, the murder weapon. He was supposed to plant it on the guard, who they drugged so he'd be asleep during the crime. Macbeth cannot work up the nerve to go back and plant the knife, so Lady Macbeth has to do it herself. In this scene, we already see the toll the murder has taken on Macbeth. He cries, 
Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder 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. (II.ii.35-40)
In addition to noticing his paranoia (hearing a voice), the audience can tell that Macbeth is feeling remorse and knows that he will never be the same. He will "sleep no more" because his conscience will never recover from this act. He will never experience the "Balm of hurt minds," sleep, since he will never feel at ease or at peace again. For Shakespeare's purposes, it is not important to see the murder itself, but it is crucial that we see the immediate impact of those events. Interestingly, Macbeth becomes rather hardened to this initial murder over time, while Lady Macbeth seems to be more psychologically damaged, as she clearly descends into madness. In Act II, Scene II, the opposite is depicted. 
Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.