Macbeth Act 2, Scenes 1–2 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scenes 1–2 Summary and Analysis

Act 2, Scene 1

Night has fallen, and most of Macbeth’s guests are asleep after the royal feast. Banquo and his son Fleance wander the halls, as Banquo cannot sleep. Macbeth meets them by chance and discusses the witches' prophecy with Banquo once more; Banquo indicates that he has dreamed about them, but Macbeth lies, saying, "I think not of them." Bidding goodnight to Banquo and Fleance, Macbeth prepares to go to Duncan’s bedchamber and murder the king. He sees a vision of a dagger floating in the air, pointing the way. He tries to grasp the dagger and wonders what it is before concluding that it is only a hallucination brought on by the pressure of the deed he is about to perform. He hears the ringing of a bell, Lady Macbeth’s signal, and feels it pulling him to do what must be done. He makes his way to Duncan’s chamber.

Act 2, Scene 2

Lady Macbeth waits while Macbeth does the deed. She has already drugged Duncan’s servants so heavily that their sleep seems close to death, and she laid out their daggers, which Macbeth will use to stab Duncan. She remarks that if the sleeping Duncan had not looked like her father, she could have killed him herself.

Macbeth enters and tells his wife that he has done the deed and killed Duncan. He is highly agitated, believing he has heard various disturbing sounds, including a cry of “murder.” He also thought he heard someone praying and wanted to say “Amen” but could not. He takes this as a sign that he is cursed, since he was in need of blessing but could not speak the sacred word.

Lady Macbeth largely ignores his nervous babbling, more concerned with practical matters. She tells her husband to wash the blood from his hands and angrily asks why he brought the daggers back with him, when he was supposed to leave them beside Duncan’s sleeping servants. Macbeth is afraid to return to the scene of the crime, so Lady Macbeth takes the daggers herself and returns to Duncan’s chamber to plant them on the servants. As she leaves, Macbeth thinks he hears the sound of knocking. He reflects that, however much he washes his hands, they will never be truly clean again.

Lady Macbeth returns, having planted the daggers and smeared Duncan’s servants with blood. She too hears the knocking, which turns out to be not a figment of Macbeth’s imagination, but someone really demanding entry at the castle gate. She takes charge of the situation and hurries Macbeth off to bed so that they may both appear to have been sleeping when Duncan’s dead body is discovered.

Analysis

Macbeth’s soliloquy in act 2, scene 1 shows that, although he has renewed his promise to his wife that he will kill Duncan, he is actually full of anxiety and misgivings. The second half of his speech becomes almost incoherent with its talk of Hecate, Tarquin, wolves, ghosts and talking stones. The murder itself, as is common in a Shakespeare play, takes place offstage and the next time the audience sees Macbeth, in act 2, scene 2, he has done the deed, though he is even more apprehensive than before.

At the beginning of act 2, scene 2, Lady Macbeth shows her first hint of human weakness. Although she later berates Macbeth for his weakness, he actually kills Duncan, whereas she could not, as she says, because Duncan...

(The entire section is 871 words.)