Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

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Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2 Full Summary | Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2 Summary

Just as Macbeth in Act 2, Scene 1 had waited in the courtyard for Lady Macbeth to ring a bell to signal him that she had drugged King Duncan’s guards, now Lady Macbeth stands in the same spot waiting for her husband to return to tell her that he has killed his cousin the king.

Lady Macbeth says the possets she made (bedtime drinks made of wine and milk) made the guards drunk, but the posset she made for herself has made her bold.

Note: Of course, the guards’ drinks were drugged, but Lady Macbeth’s was not.

Lady Macbeth says the drinks she made “quenched” the guards (put them to sleep) but her drink made her feel like she was fired up (full of energy).

Note: The drugged drinks were like water putting out a fire; they put out the energy in the guards and made them sleep. Lady Macbeth’s drink was like a strong fire; it gave her energy and made her excited about killing King Duncan.

Suddenly, Lady Macbeth is surprised by a strange sound. She tells herself to “Hark! [Listen!] Peace! [Quiet!].” Then she discovers she has not heard King Duncan crying out as Macbeth tries to kill him. She says it was only the call of an owl.

Lady Macbeth says the owl is the “fatal bellman.” (She is comparing the sound the owl makes to the sound a human guard makes when he rings a bell the night before a prisoner is scheduled to die the following morning.  She is also referring to an old belief that an owl’s call meant someone soon would die.)

Lady Macbeth says her husband “is about it.” She means he is doing his job of killing King Duncan. She says the guards are sleeping and snoring which shows they are not doing their job (protecting Duncan).

Lady Macbeth, listening outside a window, hears her husband call out, “who’s there? What, ho!” (Macbeth, like his wife, thinks he has heard someone.)

Lady Macbeth is worried and says to herself that she is afraid King Duncan’s guards have woken up and Macbeth has been unable to murder the king.

Lady Macbeth says if she and Macbeth have only tried to kill the king, but have failed, they will be ruined. She hears another sound and complains that she had the servant’s daggers ready for Macbeth to use to make it look as if they had killed King Duncan.

She says if the king had not looked like her father and made her think of him, then she would have been able to kill King Duncan herself.

Lady Macbeth sees her husband. She says, “My husband!” Macbeth says, “I have done the deed!” After telling his wife he successfully killed Duncan, he asks her if she heard a noise.

Lady Macbeth thinks about what she heard. She says she heard only an owl and some crickets. Then she remembers she had thought she had heard Macbeth speaking, and she asks, “Did not you speak?”

Macbeth asks, “When?” Lady Macbeth says she thought she heard him speak just now when he was on his way to her. Their conversation is interrupted when Macbeth thinks he hears something. He tells his wife to listen. Then he asks who is sleeping in the room next to King Duncan’s.

Lady Macbeth tells her husband that Donalbain (King Duncan’s younger son) is sleeping in the room next to King Duncan. Macbeth sees his bloody hands and says, “This is a sorry sight.”

Lady Macbeth says Macbeth is “foolish… to say [his hands are] a sorry sight.” Macbeth says he heard someone laugh in his sleep, and heard someone else shout, “Murder!”

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They woke each other up. Then, while Macbeth listened to them, they said their prayers and went back to sleep.

Lady Macbeth tells her husband that there were two men (Donalbain and another man) sleeping in the room next to Duncan’s room.
Macbeth says that when he heard the men ask for God’s blessing, he wanted to say “Amen,” but he could not.

Lady Macbeth tells her husband to not think so much about why he cannot say “Amen.” Macbeth again asks his wife why he could
not say “Amen.” He says, “I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat.”

Note: Shakespeare uses Macbeth’s words to symbolize that Macbeth, by killing Duncan, has disconnected himself from God. Macbeth cannot get God’s blessings; Macbeth now can only be helped by witches or Satan (the leader of evil forces).

Lady Macbeth says they must not think about what they have done or they will go crazy.

Note: Shakespeare is using Lady Macbeth’s words to foreshadow (give clues about) upcoming events

Macbeth says he thought he “heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep..”

Note: With these words, Macbeth begins his famous speech about sleep. His famous speech in Act 2, Scene 1 about the imaginary floating dagger occurred just before he went to kill King Duncan.

Now, just after killing the king, he tells his wife that as he was killing Duncan, he thought he had heard a voice accusing him of murder. Clearly, it was not easy for Macbeth to kill Duncan.

First, his sense of sight was affected and he saw something which was not there. Then his sense of hearing was affected and he heard a voice that had not spoken.

Macbeth continues his famous speech and describes sleep, “the innocent sleep, “Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast,–”

Note: When Macbeth talks about sleep, he is saying that innocent people can sleep. He says sleep is important because it lets people stop worrying; sleep fixes worrying just like a person fixes a sleeve that is falling apart by knitting it back together.

Sleep ends every day just like death ends life. Sleep is like a hot bath because it rests muscles sore from working. Sleep lets people rest their minds, and acts as the main course of a meal by giving what is necessary for life.

One of the reasons Shakespeare’s work is still so famous is because he made interesting comparisons that still make people think about ordinary things in new ways. In Macbeth’s famous speech about sleep, look at the comparisons Shakespeare makes.

Sleep = innocence

Sleep = knitter

Sleep=”death of each day’s life

Sleep = bath for sore muscles

Sleep = balm (healing cream, paste, or ointment)

Sleep= a feast

Sleep = the main course in nature’s feast

Sleep = the most important thing in life’s feast

Now we return to the story. After listening to her husband talks about sleep, Lady Macbeth asks him what he is talking about. Macbeth says when he was in King Duncan’s rooms, he thought he heard someone shout to everyone in the building, “Sleep no more!”

Then the voice continued, “Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor. Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.”

Note: Macbeth is the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, so he is saying that the voice said in three ways that Macbeth will sleep no more.

Lady Macbeth asks her husband who had said, “Sleep no more!” She says he is acting weakly and “brain sickly.” She tells him to get some
water to wash the bloody evidence from his hands.

She asks him why he had brought the bloody daggers from King Duncan’s rooms. She tells him to take them back and rub blood on the sleeping guards to make them look guilty of Duncan’s murder.

Macbeth says he will not go back to Duncan’s rooms. He says he is afraid to think about what he has done. He says he cannot look again at what he has done (killed King Duncan).

Lady Macbeth tells her husband that he is weak. She tells him to give her the daggers. She tells him “the sleeping [the guards] and the dead [King Duncan]/ Are but as pictures..”

Lady Macbeth says only “the eye of childhood.. fears a painted devil” (a scary picture). After telling her husband that he is a weak child afraid of pictures that cannot hurt him, Lady Macbeth tells her husband her plans.

Lady Macbeth plans to return the guards’ daggers to their room. She tells her husband that if King Duncan is still bleeding, she will paint the faces of his guards with his blood. She says it must look like the guards are guilty of killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth leaves.

Just as his wife leaves, Macbeth hears knocking. He wonders aloud where it is coming from and why every sound frightens him. Then he looks at his hands and forgets the knocking.

Macbeth says looking at his hands makes him feel like they are pulling his eyes out. (The sight of Duncan’s blood on his own hands makes Macbeth feel pain.) He asks if all of the water in the ocean can wash the blood away.

Macbeth answers his own question and says, “No.” He says his hand will turn all the oceans “incarnadine”  (blood-red). As Lady Macbeth returns, she hears her husband complaining about his bloody hands.

She says her hands are as bloody as his (because she has been putting Duncan’s blood onto the guards). She says she would be ashamed to have a heart as white (cowardly) as Macbeth has.

Lady Macbeth says she hears knocking at the south entry. She says they must return to their bedroom where a little water will “clear” them of their “deed” (wash away the blood and their guilt).

She says, “How easy is it, then!” She sees that Macbeth is still lost in his thoughts and tells him he has lost his purpose (his desire to be king).

She hears more knocking and begins to lead Macbeth to their room. She tells him to put on his nightgown so that if someone comes, it will not look like they have been awake all night.

As they walk to their room, Macbeth says, To know my deed, ’twere best not to know myself.” He means that if he thinks about how he has killed King Duncan, he will know that he has become a bad person, someone he would not want to know.

At the very end of the scene, as Macbeth goes to his room, he hears knocking again. The audience learns that Macbeth wishes he had not killed his cousin, King Duncan. Macbeth says, “Wake Duncan with thy [your] knocking. I would thou couldst [you could]!”

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