Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Banquo and Fleance have a short talk while on the night's watch. Banquo has a bad feeling about this night and can't sleep. They hear a noise that causes Banquo to draw his sword, but it is Macbeth. He assures Banquo that he has not been thinking about the witches' predictions but says the two of them can talk about it later. Macbeth then encourages Banquo and Fleance to get some rest and sends his servant away as well. Once alone, Macbeth reflects on his plan and on the subjects of sleep, death, and evil deeds. He contemplates his dagger, first seeing it as a vision, then as a real weapon that he draws from his belt. He hopes he will be able to carry out his plan, and when he hears a bell in the distance, he moves on to Duncan's chamber.

Analysis

The conversation between Banquo and Fleance is one of many in the play where the characters talk about bad omens and ill feelings about events yet to come. The dramatic irony in this scene is that Banquo is startled when Macbeth appears, but once he identifies Macbeth, he puts his sword away. Banquo does not know what the audience knows, which is that Macbeth's development from an honorable individual to a lying and dangerous character is well under way. He is the one they should be guarding against, but Banquo and Fleance have no way of knowing that, especially when Macbeth lies and tells Banquo he hasn't thought about the witches.

Once Macbeth is alone with his thoughts and away from his wife's goading presence, his conscience provokes yet another moment of hesitation. He sees a vision of his dagger; whether this vision is the result of supernatural influence or a manifestation of his guilty conscience is unclear, even to Macbeth. He observes that the vision points his way to Duncan, but when the dagger shows bloodstains, Macbeth determines the vision is a product of his anxious mind. He decides he must act before he talks himself out of committing the deed. Observing that the hour is ripe for the murder and that the ringing bell is inviting him to strike, he decides the bell is Duncan's death knell and approaches the king's chamber.

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