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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act II, Scene 3

Summary

The knocking that began in Scene 2 intensifies at the beginning of this scene. Finally one of the drunken porters awakens and comes to the door of the castle. He imagines he is opening hell's gate, and a number of sinners are outside waiting to come in, including a greedy farmer who hanged himself, an equivocator who "committed treason enough for God's sake," and an English tailor who was a thief. When the porter actually opens the door, he finds Macduff and Lennox, who have come to wake the king. As the porter humorously talks to the two of them about the effects of alcohol, Macbeth enters the scene and offers to lead them to Duncan's room.

As they walk, Macduff ironically says to Macbeth of the king's visit that it must have been "joyful trouble." He then enters the king's chambers, leaving Lennox and Macbeth outside in conversation about last night's foul weather (a flashback to the foul weather on the witches' heath). Lennox explained that in his neighborhood there were lamentings, screeching owls (like the one Lady Macbeth heard right before the murder), earthquakes, and strange screams of death. The citizens said that such things were prophesies of "dire combustion and confused events" (referring to the chaotic, war-torn status of Scotland). Macbeth succinctly responds in perfect understatement, "Twas a rough night."

Their conversation is interrupted by the wild-eyed Macduff screaming, "Horror, horror, horror." He then reports Duncan's murder by saying, "Confusion (evil) hath made his masterpiece!...... Murder has broke ope the Lord's anointed temple." Macbeth and Lennox head off towards the king's room, and Macduff gives orders to sound the alarm to announce the murder and treason. The scene is chaos, but Lady Macbeth enters calmly and asks what is going on. Ironically, Macduff calls her, "O, gentle lady' and explains that he cannot tell her, for the news would "murder" her ears and gentleness. Banquo next enters and is told of the murder. Lady Macbeth pretends to overhear and exclaims, "What, in our house?"


Macbeth and Lennox return, and Macbeth, in total hypocrisy and trying to eloquently express his grief, speaks some of the greatest truth in the play. " Had I but died an hour before this chance (murder), I had lived a blessed time; for from this instant there's nothing serious in mortality (nothing worth living for)...grace is dead." As he concludes this speech, the king's sons, Malcolm and Donaldbain, enter and learn of their father's death, seemingly at the hands of his servants who were smeared with blood. Then Macbeth confesses to having killed both servants out of feigned fury over their murderous deed (but in reality to protect himself from being discovered).

In order to diffuse the tension of the moment and to detract attention from her husband, Lady Macbeth, the great pretender, acts as if she has fainted. Banquo, the personification of goodness in the scene, takes charge. He tells the servants to tend to Lady Macbeth, and to the others he suggests that they all get dressed and then meet to discuss the situation and the next steps. Banquo closes by saying, "In the great hand of God I stand...to fight treasonous malice." The others all agree to meet, except for Malcolm and Donaldbain, who are going their separate ways to England and Ireland, in order to protect themselves from the traitor's hand.

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