Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Lady Macbeth feels energized and emboldened by the excitement of the night's events, although an owl's hoot startles her as she waits for Macbeth to return. When she hears him at the door, she wonders if something has gone wrong. She notes that she would have killed Duncan herself had he not resembled her sleeping father. When she lets Macbeth in, he carries two daggers, and his hands are bloodstained. He confirms he has killed Duncan. He then relays that, after the murder, he overheard two men waking in another room, one of whom cried out, '"Murder!" as he woke. The men then said a short prayer and fell asleep again. Macbeth dwells on the fact that he could not say "amen" when he overheard the men's prayer, even though he needed a blessing.

Lady Macbeth tells her husband that they shouldn't think too much about the murder, but Macbeth continues to worry. He says he heard voices that said he and his house would "sleep no more." She tells him again not to think about it, lest he drive himself insane. Then she sends him to wash his hands and notices he still has the daggers, which he was supposed to leave with the guards to incriminate them in the murder. Macbeth refuses to return to Duncan's room, so Lady Macbeth goes back instead.

While she is gone, Macbeth hears the sound of knocking and worries about being discovered. When Lady Macbeth returns, her hands are bloody, but she says her conscience is clear. The knocking continues, and Lady Macbeth realizes it is someone at the castle gate. She says they should wash and get in bed so they appear to have been sleeping. Macbeth expresses a final note of regret, saying he wishes the knocking could wake Duncan.

Analysis

Lady Macbeth's words and actions illustrate her investment in the plot and paint her as the brains behind this operation. Again rejecting a traditional feminine role, she says she has been drinking with Duncan's guards; the drink put them to sleep, but it made her feel bold. She even admits that she considered committing the murder herself, although her reason for restraint—Duncan's resemblance to her own father—reveals a sliver of the guilt that she denies feeling. When she realizes that Macbeth has botched his part of the job and brought the daggers back with him, she takes action with ruthless efficiency and returns to the scene of the crime to plant the evidence, but not before scolding her husband and delivering another strike at his manhood for being "infirm of purpose."

Macbeth is finding it difficult to deny his guilt. He fixates on having overheard a man in another room cry out, "Murder!" This is the first sign of the tormenting burden that this murder will be, though he will go on to other acts of murder. He then worries about not having been able to pray silently with the men he overheard and wonders why he could not speak the word "amen." While it is an instance of dramatic irony that Macbeth feels he needs, or deserves, a blessing after committing a murder, this fixation with the word—as well as the voices he hears cursing his house—implies he is concerned about the state of his soul. It is unclear whether these voices are supernatural, the products of his own guilt, or both, but they accurately predict the downfall that awaits Macbeth.

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