Act Two is concerned with the murder of Duncan and its immediate aftermath. Scene one builds tension as Macbeth prepares to commit the act.
Examine the dialogue between Macbeth and Banquo at the start of the scene. How would you describe Macbeth's state of mind? In what ways is he different to the man we saw at the end of Act One?
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep: merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose!
Read the "Is this a dagger..." soliloquy carefully. Paraphrase the soliloquy.
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes.
In what ways does this soliloquy represent an apparent change in Macbeth?
What does Lady Macbeth admit to having done to strengthen her resolve? What does this suggest about her strength of character?
That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold;
What hath quench'd them hath given me fire.
Explore how Shakespeare builds tension throughout the scene.
What does Macbeth mean when he says that he has murdered sleep?
Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep,
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,--
Explain the importance of Lady Macbeth's comment: “These deeds must not be thought / After these ways; so, it will make us mad.”
When Lady Macbeth realizes that Macbeth has failed to remove the daggers from the scene she appears strong and angry. How does she respond to Macbeth's weakness?
Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.
How is water used as an image in this scene?
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
How would you describe Macbeth's feelings at the end of the scene?
This scene introduces a brief moment of comic relief. This is a technique used to relieve the tension that has been built up in the audience so that they are emotionally able to cope with the tension that is to follow. The Porter is a drunken peasant who jokes about a range of people well known to a Shakespearean audience who he believes will go hell for their pretentiousness. He also makes a number of sexual jokes.
How does Macbeth justify his murder of the grooms?
Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,
Loyal and neutral, in a moment? No man: The expedition my violent love
Outrun the pauser, reason. Here lay Duncan, His silver skin laced with his golden blood;
And his gash'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature For ruin's wasteful entrance: there, the murderers,
Steep'd in the colours of their trade, their daggers Unmannerly breech'd with gore: who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart Courage to make 's love kno wn?
Why do you think Lady Macbeth faints at this point?
How does Banquo respond to the murders?
And when we have our naked frailties hid,
That suffer in exposure, let us meet,
And question this most bloody piece of work,
To know it further. Fears and scruples shake us:
In the great hand of God I stand; and thence
Against the undivulged pretence I fight
Of treasonous malice.
Why do Malcolm and Donalbain flee?
To Ireland, I; our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer: where we are,
There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood,
The nearer bloody.
What is interesting about the events which they discuss?
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.
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.
What do you think those events symbolize?
What does Macduff's decision not to attend the coronation suggest about his attitude to Macbeth?