Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why is act 2, scene 2 the most dramatic scene throughout Macbeth?

Act 2, scene 2 is the most dramatic scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth because it's the emotional apex of the play. The audience watches Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer the emotional trauma of murdering Duncan played out for them on stage, while at the same time they visualize and experience the horror of the murder scene in their own minds. Nothing else that happens in Macbeth reaches the emotional level of this scene.

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The fascinating aspect of act 2, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Macbeth is that very little actually happens in the scene other than dialogue between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, but the scene is the emotional apex of the play.

It's true that the dialogue is vitally important to show the emotional contrast between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's intense remorse and regret and near mental collapse at having murdered Duncan. Otherwise, the scene takes place almost entirely in the audience's imagination, as Shakespeare intends.

Lady Macbeth enters quietly, talking to herself, essentially giving the audience a glimpse of what she's done to prepare Duncan for his murder by Macbeth First she says that she got Duncan's guards drunk. It's not hard for the audience to envision that scene.

An owl shrieks, which frightens Lady Macbeth and the audience. The audience laughs at their own reaction, then Lady Macbeth brings them back to the scene. She left the doors to Duncan's rooms open for Macbeth, she says,...

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The dramatic intensity of the scene chiefly lies in Shakespeare's presentation of Duncan's murder through a system of mirroring: the 'deed' done, the tension of mind the doing of it brings on. Shakespeare does not depict the act of murder in physical terms; he alternatively chooses the psychological responses of the murderer and his collaborator in crime so that the pitfalls of sensationalism can be avoided.

The scene begins with Lady Macbeth's soliloquy which reveals that she is far from a Medea or a Clytemnestra. She needs a stimulant before she can even enter Duncan's chamber just to lay the daggers ready. The soliloquy shows her nervously sensitive temperament:

"Hark! Peace!

It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,

Which gives the stern'st good-night."

She has invoked the powers of darkness; she has claimed to possess the most abnormal cruelty. But she cannot draw the dagger herself for Duncan resembles her own father.

As Macbeth enters, he sounds rather frightened, remorseful & distracted. Looking on his bloody hands, Macbeth calls it 'a sorry sight'. Macbeth's guilt and fear find expression in his delirious ravings and frenzied outbursts which verbalise the pangs of his tormented conscience, e.g.

"Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep..."


"What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes!

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 focalises the theatre in the soul, and the scene of the protagonist's first crime wonderfully underscores the elements of fear, remorse, self-pity & anguish that constitute the theatre in the soul of Macbeth alongside the extreme nervous tension underlying the hard exterior of Lady Macbeth.