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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act III, Scene 2

Summary

This scene opens with Lady Macbeth sending a servant to bring her husband to her. She is obviously lonely and curious to know what is going on. While she is waiting on the king's arrival, she reveals her concern for the brooding Macbeth and his fears. In a soliloquy, she states, "Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." She knows that her husband is too fearful to gain any pleasure from the crown, and she wants to try and calm him down. She is still the practical advice giver. When Macbeth arrives, she asks him, "Why do you keep alone of sorriest fancies your companions making? ... What's done is done." Macbeth explains that they have wounded the snake, not killed it. He admits to growing fears of retribution for his actions. He also claims that he would rather be dead than to endure the "torture of mind" he is feeling. Lady Macbeth, surprisingly, does not scorn his fearful words as earlier, but gently warns him to appear bright and jovial amongst the guests at dinner. He promises to disguise what is in his heart and asks her to pay special attention to Banquo during the meal. (Macbeth's state of mind is so clouded and confused that he seems to have forgotten for the moment that Banquo should be murdered before the dinner.)

She tells him to quit worrying about Banquo and Fleance, but the audience, like Macbeth, knows this is an impossibility. In fact, the king replies to his wife that his mind is "full of scorpions" and that "there shall be done a deed of dreadful note." When Lady Macbeth asks what is to be done, her husband leaves her in the dark, saying to her, "Be innocent of the knowledge till thou applaud the deed." He is in charge now, not his wife as in earlier scenes; he, however, is still confident that she will agree with the murders after they are accomplished and "applaud the deed." The scene ends with Macbeth once again asking for night to come quickly. This time he wants the darkness to "cancel and tear to pieces that great bond (Banquo) which keeps me paled."

Notes

This short scene reveals much about the relationship of the king and queen at this point in the play. Lady Macbeth, although still practical about their state of affairs, appears more kind and concerned than in previous scenes. She seems genuinely worried about Macbeth's brooding for two reasons that are partially selfish; she knows he is finding no joy in his new position because of his fear (and, in turn, depriving her of pleasure), and she is also afraid that his fear will cast suspicion upon both of them. She offers calm advice to Macbeth, prodding him to forget the past, saying "What's done is done." She obviously is not doing battle with her conscience. She has been able to easily "wash away the blood" as she suggested earlier. Lady Macbeth also warns her husband to put on a mask at dinner in order to hide his troubled heart from his guests. Her words are a flashback to Duncan's belief that you cannot see a traitor's heart in his face.


Macbeth, in complete contrast to his more tranquil wife, is a desperately haunted man (far from the image of the brave warrior of Act I). He is certain that they have only "scotched the snake", and he is determined to kill it (thus, his plans for the murders of Banquo and Fleance). He also lives in fear of being discovered throughout the day, and the darkness (which he has often called upon for protection) offers no relief since he is haunted at night by terrible dreams. There is now no relief for Macbeth; he cannot escape from himself.

It is important to note that Macbeth has plotted the murders of Banquo and Fleance by himself without the help of his wife, who was the plotter and planner of Duncan's murder. In fact, he does not even share his plans with her. He says he wants her to be "innocent of the knowledge," but in Macbeth's current state of mind, he has perhaps even begun to distrust his wife. There is certainly a new distance between them that Lady Macbeth has recognized.

Although the scene between husband and wife, the king and queen, is pleasant on the surface, the division between them can be seen. Macbeth is now operating on his own, the true royal tyrant. He seems to no longer need his wife's input as he did earlier, and the result is that he is hurling himself into even greater chaos at an alarming rate.

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