Discussion Topic

Comparison of Lennox's description of the night to the Macbeths' experience in a previous scene

Summary:

Lennox describes the night as chaotic and unsettling, with strange screams and ominous events, which parallels the Macbeths' earlier experience of guilt and paranoia after Duncan's murder. Both descriptions highlight the unnatural disturbances reflecting the moral disorder unleashed by the regicide.

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How does the night described by Lennox in act 2, scene 3, compare to Macbeth's experience in the previous scene, and how does Macbeth's behavior change?

In act 2, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Macduff and Lennox have come to Macbeth's castle to rouse King Duncan for the day's activities. While Macduff goes to Duncan's rooms to wake him, Lennox tells Macbeth about strange events which occurred during the night which Lennox believes portend upheaval in the world.

LENNOX. The night has been unruly. Where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down, and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air, strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird [an owl]
Clamor'd the livelong night. Some say the earth
Was feverous and did shake. (2.3.55-62)

Macbeth responds with one of the greatest understatements in all of Shakespeare's plays:

MACBETH. ’Twas a rough night. (2.3.63)

In the previous scene, which occurs during and immediately following Macbeth's murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth is frightened by the same owl—"the obscure bird" that "Clamor'd the livelong night. (2.3.60-61)—that Lennox mentions later to Macbeth.

LADY MACBETH. ...Hark! Peace!
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern'st good-night. (2.2.3-5)

When Macbeth comes back to Lady Macbeth from Duncan's rooms after the murder, he asks Lady Macbeth if she heard anything in the night. She responds that she heard nothing more than the usual night sounds, although she interprets the sounds as bad omens.

MACBETH. ...Didst thou not hear a noise?

LADY MACBETH. I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. (2.2.18-19)

Macbeth himself, intent solely on the murder of Duncan, heard nothing other than the voices of Duncan's guards crying out in their sleep and praying, and voices in the distance, crying out that "Macbeth doth Murder sleep."

MACBETH. There's one [of Duncan's guards] did laugh in's sleep, and one cried, “Murder!”
That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them:
But they did say their prayers and address'd them
Again to sleep... (2.2.30-34)

MACBETH. Me thought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth doth Murder sleep”—...

Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house;
“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.” (2.2. 45-46, 53-55)

Otherwise, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are so focused on Duncan's murder that they're seemingly oblivious to anything that occurs outside their castle. Their solitude is preserved until the outside world comes to them when Macduff starts knocking at the castle gate.

In act 2, scene 4, Shakespeare emphasizes the portentous events that occurred during the night by having Ross and an Old Man discuss strange and troubling events that they, too, experienced.

ROSS. ...Thou seest the heavens, as troubled with man's act,
Threaten his bloody stage. By the clock ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.
Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,
That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
When living light should kiss it?

OLD MAN. ’Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last
A falcon towering in her pride of place
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd. (2.4.6-15)

Ross brings the outside events even closer to the events that occurred inside Macbeth's castle by relating an incident involving Duncan's horses.

ROSS. And Duncan's horses—a thing most strange and
certain—
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ’gainst obedience, as they would make
War with mankind.

OLD MAN. ’Tis said they eat each other.

ROSS. They did so, to the amazement of mine eyes
That look'd upon't. (2.4.16-24)

It's hard to believe that Duncan's horses actually ate each other, but Lennox reported a violent storm which very likely frightened the horses to such an extent that they broke out of their stalls. Ross might have been simply exaggerating the horses's activities fighting and biting each other.

Nevertheless, the events reported by Lennox, Ross, and the Old Man show that the world outside the castle walls was undergoing a disastrous upheaval, which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth were wholly unaware had been caused by their murder of Duncan.

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How does the night described by Lennox in act 2, scene 3, compare to Macbeth's experience in the previous scene, and how does Macbeth's behavior change?

Considering the scenes in the sequence they occur, we can see how certain themes and symbols connect the two.

In act 2, scene 2, Lady Macbeth awaits news of Macbeth’s completing the murders. She hears the owl shriek, calling it “the fatal bellman”—referencing the man who tolls a bell when someone dies. When Macbeth arrives, he seems distracted. He admits to her that he had misgivings about the murders and could not say any blessings over their bodies: “Amen stuck in my throat.” He tells her that he heard voices shouting about sleep, saying he had murdered it. The next lines, among the most famous in Shakespeare, are about the elusive sleep that he so badly needs and cannot get:

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,

The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast,--

At this point, his wife becomes alarmed and tells him to stop thinking such “brainsickly things,” and she takes the bloody daggers to wash them. They hear the others knocking at the door.

In scene 3, after the porter lets Lennox and Macduff into the castle, they meet up with Macbeth. Lennox describes in great detail the storm that occurred the previous night—the worst he can ever remember. This strongly contrasts with Macbeth tersely saying, in which the audience will hear irony, that it was a rough night. Lennox not only says there was a bad storm but also that there might have been an earthquake.

What makes Lennox’s description memorable is the personification of the events, which he associates with animals, and his impression that spirits had been abroad in the night. He calls the night “unruly,” and he says he heard in the air “lamentings” and “strange screams of death” and terrible accents prophesying of “dire combustion and confused events . . . [in a] woeful time.” He also heard an owl (“the obscure bird”) screeching all night long.

LENNOX

The night has been unruly: where we lay,

Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,

Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,

And prophesying with accents terrible

Of dire combustion and confused events

New hatch'd to the woeful time: the obscure bird

Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth

Was feverous and did shake.

MACBETH

'Twas a rough night.

Thus, the screams in the air that Lennox heard are associated with the voices Macbeth heard about murdering sleep. Both men associate the previous night with death and its omens. Furthermore, the “confused events” that Lennox mentions are foreshadowing; soon Macduff returns to report Duncan’s murder, saying “Confusion hath made his masterpiece.”

Macbeth, who must pretend to be sad at Duncan’s death, says that with him, “renown and grace are dead.” He admits to having acted out of rage, but he says it was in killing Duncan’s men because they had killed the king. The audience knows that he is framing the innocent dead men and that the feelings he is expressing about them are really what he felt in killing his king: he is rationalizing having committed three violent homicides.

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How does the night described by Lennox in act 2, scene 3, compare to Macbeth's experience in the previous scene, and how does Macbeth's behavior change?

Lennox described a violent storm that had occurred earlier the night of Duncan's murder.  In the previous scene, Macbeth heard, while committing the murder of Duncan, voices saying that Macbeth had "murdered sleep" and "Macbeth shall sleep no more" among other things.  It's fitting that the night of the murder was unruly (the old man in the last scene of Act 2 describes a night of very strange events) because it was the night that a king was killed.  King James I, the king of England when Macbeth was written, believed that he was divinely chosen to be king after a plot to assassinate him was thwarted.  Since it was God's plan that he be king, any disruption of that plan such as murder, should result in a disruption in the natural ways of nature.  Shakespeare wanted to flatter James I, so when the king in the play is killed, the result is that wild night of strange weather and odd events.

In scene 2 of Act 2, Macbeth has just killed Duncan and he is in a stunned state.  He shows remorse when he looks at his bloody hands, when he can't go back into Duncan's room and look at him, and when he says that he wishes the knocking at the gate could waken Duncan.  In scene 3, Macbeth shows cunning when he quickly kills the guards and then declares that his rage over their crime caused him to do so.  His desire to get away with his crime overruns his remorse.

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How does Lennox's description of the night compare to the Macbeths' experience in the previous scene in Macbeth?

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, comparing Act Two, scene two and theMacbeths' experiences, and Act Two, scene three and Lennox'sobservations, it is safe to say that both evenings seem to be controlled by chaos and death.

It is, of course, in Act Two, scene two, that Mabeth and his wife carry out the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth is greatly disturbed by what he has done: sounds nearby distress him enormously. He returns from the scene of Duncan's death, and his warrior's courage has deserted him—perhaps because he has not acted honorably and bravely for his King, but is a dishonorable, frightened murderer of his King.

As soon as the King has been killed, nature reflects an imbalance within the world: Elizabethans believed that once Duncan was killed, the world was out of sorts. They felt that God ordained who came to the throne, not men. In this case, however, Macbeth has taken the God-chosen King from the throne, disrupting the Great Chain of Being. (Until the throne is once again in the hands of the rightful heir to the throne, this imbalance will not end.)

It is important to note that in line fifteen of this scene, as Macbeth returns and wonders fearfully what sound he has heard, Lady Macbeth responds that she heard an owl's scream (a harbinger of death) as well as the sound of crickets "crying." Macbeth then recounts what happened as he carried out the deed: while the guards spoke in their sleep, calling out, "Amen," Macbeth was unable to do so. He seems unaware that murdering his King mightseparate him from the will of God, and that his creator might be far-distanced from the man who has killed His chosen ruler of Scotland.

Macbeth has also, to his wife's horror, brought the murder weapons back with him. He refuses to put them back:

I'll go no more:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look on't again I dare not. (50-52)

In the following scene (three), Lennox comments on the behavior of nature and its creatures the night before, saying that the night was "unruly." Lennox describes a terrible wind that knocked down a chimney. Others reported that they heard "wailing" (lamenting) and "strange screams of death," and even an earthquake. The term "confused events" translates to "disorder," which reflects thedisruption of order that Macbeth's actions have caused. And again, the screams of the owl are heard.

While this might foreshadow the discovery of Duncan's murder, it also parallels what was occurring immediately after Macbeth killed the King.

Interestingly, Macbeth in scene two is in much the same condition as the guards when they are "discovered." When Macbeth returns to his chambers, he is covered with Duncan's blood—looking fearful. His wife tells him: "Go get some water, / And wash this filthy witness from your hand." We can imagine that he is distracted as well: he is hearing noises and rambles on about prayers he can't say and voices he hears (in his head?) that whisper "Macbeth does murder sleep..." He is frantic, and even refuses to return the murder weapons to Duncan's room.

When the guards wake in the morning to the ravings and clamoringaround them, they are much the way Macbeth was the previous night: they are confused, covered in blood, and giving the appearance of being dangerous...

They stared and were distracted, no man's life

Was to be trusted with them. (114)

Ironically, these descriptions of Macbeth the night before and the guards the next day are very similar, as are the sounds heard during the night.

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