Act II - Scene I

[Inverness. Court of Macbeth's castle.]

Enter Banquo, and Fleance, with a Torch* before him.

BANQUO:
How goes the night, boy?
FLEANCE:
The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.
BANQUO:
And she goes down at twelve.
FLEANCE:
I take't ’tis later, sir.
BANQUO:
Hold, take my sword. There's husbandry in heaven,(5)
Their candles are all out. Take thee that too.
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep. Merciful powers,
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose!(10)

Enter Macbeth, and a Servant with a Torch.]

Give me my sword.
Who's there?
MACBETH:
A friend.
BANQUO:
What, sir, not yet at rest? The King's a-bed.
He hath been in unusual pleasure and(15)
Sent forth great largess to your offices:
This diamond he greets your wife withal,
By the name of most kind hostess, and shut up
In measureless content.
MACBETH:
Being unprepared,(20)
Our will became the servant to defect,
Which else should free have wrought.
BANQUO:
All's well.
I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters:
To you they have show'd some truth.(25)
MACBETH:
I think not of them:
Yet, when we can entreat an hour to serve,
We would spend it in some words upon that business,
If you would grant the time.
BANQUO:
At your kind'st leisure.(30)
MACBETH:
If you shall cleave to my consent, when ’tis,
It shall make honor for you.
BANQUO:
So I lose none
In seeking to augment it, but still keep
My bosom franchised and allegiance clear,(35)
I shall be counsell'd.
MACBETH:
Good repose the while.
BANQUO:
Thanks, sir, the like to you.

Exeunt Banquo [and Fleance].

MACBETH:
Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready,
She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed.(40)

Exit [Servant].

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but(45)
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going,(50)
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest. I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There's no such thing:(55)
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one half-world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate's offerings; and wither'd Murder,(60)
Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace,
With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear(65)
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives;
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives. A bell rings.
I go, and it is done: the bell invites me.(70)
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven, or to hell.

Exit.

Footnotes

  1. Here Macbeth questions whether he is really seeing the dagger. This is when he starts hallucinating.

    — Tania Begum
  2. These last words before the ringing of the bell suggest that Macbeth was close to talking himself out of killing Duncan, as his courage was fading as he continued to obsess over the phantom dagger. The intense illusion is shattered by Lady Macbeth's signal that Duncan's guards are asleep, and Macbeth immediately leaves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. In attempting to explain his vision, Macbeth wonders if his heat-oppressed, or feverish, brain is the cause. During the Renaissance, heat in the body was considered a fluid that could actually press on the brain, causing fever and delirium.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Sextus Tarquin was the youngest son of the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, whose rape of Lucretia led to the overthrow of the Roman monarchy. The adjective ravishing here is applied to the strides to emphasize how quickly Murder moves.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. This is an example of personification, attributing human qualities to non-human or abstract things, in which the act of Murder is portrayed as a thin and ghostlike man.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Hecate is a Greek goddess who presides over magical rites and is associated with witchcraft, the night, and the underworld. Her mention here in Macbeth's soliloquy is important considering later developments in the story with the three witches.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The illusory dagger becomes covered in blood as Macbeth continues to watch it. This vision adds another supernatural element to the play with symbolic meaning: It represents Macbeth's inner turmoil and feelings of horror about the murder he is about to commit.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. In this context, the adjective fatal refers to the vision as something sent by fate rather than a vision that is deadly. As Macbeth struggles with this vision, he considers why he is seeing is and what it means.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Seeing that nothing is to be gained from Banquo, Macbeth ends the conversation. However, even these innocent words are full of innuendo as Banquo and Macbeth both have an idea of whose side they are on, making them very suspicious of one another.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Macbeth's underlying intent here (in fact, this dialogue is full of subtext) is to discretely offer Banquo an opportunity to join Macbeth's side. Since Banquo brought up the witches, Macbeth is using this opportunity to see if he has an ally or an enemy in Banquo.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Notice here how Macbeth somewhat uses the royal "we" in this passage and refers to himself in the plural. In doing so, he speaks as if he were already crowned king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. "Largess" refers to gifts or generosities that the King bestowed on Macbeth and his servants. These gifts not only explain why it was so easy for the entire castle staff to drink and feast, but they also help to carry our Lady Macbeth's initial plan to get Duncan's bodyguards drunk. However, this excess of gifts and drink has repercussions for Macbeth in the morning.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Banquo's immediate reaction upon seeing Macbeth's torch is to prepare himself for a fight. Even though he is a guest in Macbeth's castle, the lateness of the hour and the agitated state of Banquo's mind are likely explanations for this behavior. His response also helps to build up the tense atmosphere in the castle before Duncan's murder.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. This simile tells the audience how tired Banquo is: he feels the call of sleep ("a heavy summons") weighing on him ("like lead") and making him tired. However, he ignores the call, for reasons we shortly learn in his conversation with Macbeth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Banquo might be making a joke to amuse his son to state how dark it is: Heaven is trying to be economical ("there's husbandry") with their lights (candles). This also contains an interesting idea--that the lights in the sky are all candles used by the inhabitants of heaven to light their homes.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Here, a “Torch” may indicate an attendant bearing a torch, rather than the torch itself. Since the play would have been performed in broad daylight, the "torch" would be used as a prop to suggest that it was night. Additionally, Banquo and Fleance establish that the time is somewhat later than midnight.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Lady Macbeth will not strike upon the bell to signal that Macbeth's drink is ready. He just tells this to deceive the Servant. Lady Macbeth will strike upon the bell to signal that Duncan's two grooms have been successfully drugged and now the coast is clear for her husband to go into Duncan's chamber and murder him.

    — William Delaney
  18. Macbeth personifies Murder and then calls the wolf Murder's sentinel. The wolf's howl is equated with the a watchman's call, or "watch," as he makes his rounds.

    — William Delaney
  19. Banquo is afraid to fall asleep because he is aware that he is capable of having evil thoughts in the form of dreams. He is not entirely lacking in ambition. He has been promised that he will be the sire of a whole line of Scottish kings, and naturally he wants this to happen. In his dreams he must be imagining the ways in which this might come about. It is hard to see how it could happen without the deaths of Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, and Macbeth. The witches only told him "what" and not "how." Macbeth has taken it upon himself to expedite his part of their prophecy by committing murder. No doubt the three Weird Sisters figure in some of Banquo's "cursed thoughts." In fact, he tells Macbeth: "I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters." They may even be telling him to commit murders. With their contradictory prophecies they have spoiled the friendly relationship that existed between Banquo and Macbeth. When the two men meet in this scene they will both be wary and suspicious. Banquo is carrying his sword although he is a guest in Macbeth's castle and should not have to go about armed. One of the thoughts that is obvious to Banquo is that Macbeth might consider murdering him and Fleance to interfere with Fate. By killing Fleance, Macbeth could prevent the young man from having sons who could become kings. But Macbeth would have to kill Banquo too (as he in fact does) in order to prevent Banquo himself from having any more sons. Presumably Fleance is Banquo's only son at the present time.

    — William Delaney
  20. This opening dialogue between Banquo and his son Fleance is solely intended to establish that the time is late at night. The audience will have to imagine it as dark, although they will be watching the play in the theater in broad daylight. Shakespeare's plays are often performed in public parks in the daytime and contemporary audiences who watched Macbeth in the open air would have to imagine this scene is occurring at night, just as was done by Elizabethans.

    — William Delaney
  21. This is probably said with a big smile--but it is innuendo. Macbeth is saying, in effect, that he is well aware that Banquo is afraid to go to sleep and that he had better not interfere with what he strongly suspects to be Macbeth's intention to murder Duncan or he will be next. This brief meeting between these two warriors is masterfully conceived and executed. They have discussed a great deal--past, present and future--without putting anything into plain words.

    — William Delaney
  22. These two men have become suspicious of each other ever since they heard the witches' prophecies. It is significant that Banquo is carrying a sword in his host's castle. Shakespeare calls attention to the weapon by having Banquo give it to his son and then take it back from the boy when he sees figures approaching in the darkness. He apparently keeps his hold on the sword throughout his conversation with Macbeth. Macbeth is possibly already thinking that he will have to dispose of Banquo if he wants to keep the Scottish crown in his own line of succession. Banquo knows what Macbeth must be thinking. Each man is afraid to go to sleep because the other has a strong motive for murdering him in his bed.

    — William Delaney
  23. Banquo is obviously suspicious of Macbeth and a little afraid of him. Here he is trying to sound Macbeth out about his thoughts and feelings. Macbeth understands that Banquo is interested in his own prospects and those of his son and future grandsons. Macbeth takes Banquo's mention of the weird sisters as an invitation to talk about a possible joint conspiracy againist Duncan--but he is wrong. Banquo doesn't trust Macbeth and is loyal to Duncan. If his heirs are to become kings, this will have to come about in a natural way. He is content to be patient and watchful.

    — William Delaney
  24. This is almost comically ironic. Macbeth is Banquo's worst enemy and will soon be responsible for his murder.

    — William Delaney
  25. Shakespeare wants to call attention to the fact that Banquo is carrying a sword. This seems a little strange, since he is a guest in a friendly castle. Banquo must be feeling apprehensive. No doubt he has been thinking about the witches' prophecies. If Macbeth were to become king, Banquo and his son might be in great danger; Banquo can see that Macbeth would be capable of violence to prevent Banquo from siring a whole line of heirs to the Scottish throne. Banquo may feel that his and Fleance's lives could be in danger even now, since they are in Macbeth's power. Banquo might even have a foreboding that Macbeth might be capable of committing multiple murders, or having them committed, that very night--disposing of Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Banquo, and Fleance while he had this golden opportunity to do so.

    — William Delaney
  26. Though the play would be peformed in daylight, Shakespeare endeavors to create the feeling that it is the dead of night. Banquo and Fleance have a lighted torch. Fleance mentions that the moon has gone down, and his father says that it goes down at midnight. Then Banquo observes that the inhabitants of heaven have put out all their candles (i.e. all the stars), which further contributes to the illusion of night and darkness. 

    — William Delaney
  27. Why should Banquo want his sword when he is a guest inside Macbeth's castle? Is he already thinking that Macbeth might want to try to prevent him from siring a whole line of Scottish kings? Duncan and his two sons are at Macbeth's mercy while sleeping under his roof. But Banquo and his son Fleance are also vulnerable--and Banquo knows it! Perhaps that is why Banquo hasn't gone to bed. He may be planning to stay awake all night and then leave tomorrow. 

    — William Delaney
  28. Macbeth is hinting that he would like to talk to Banquo about how they could cooperate in making the witches' prophecies come true. It would mean killing Duncan and his two sons, as they both know. Macbeth would only bring this subject up at this time because he has Duncan, Malcolm, and Donalbain under his roof for one night only, and he would very much like to have some help in committing three murders. Banquo cuts him off flatly. Banquo is not only loyal to Duncan but has no desire to make Macbeth king. Banquo is also skeptical about the witches' promises and is smart enough to realize that if he helped Macbeth become king through disposing of Duncan and the two legitimate heirs to the throne, he himself would probably be next on Macbeth's assassination list. If Macbeth is treacherous enough to kill the king and his two sons, he could also, once he became king himself, be treacherous enough to pin all three murders on Banquo!!!

    — William Delaney
  29. This is intended to explain to the audience something that will come up later. Macbeth is forced to come out of his bed chamber because of the persistent unanswered knocking. It turns out that it is Macduff doing the knocking because he was appointed to wake King Duncan. This brings the protagonist and antagonist together for the only time before their death duel at the end. But why was Macduff, an important thane, forced to spend the night in a hovel outside the castle? Macbeth explains to Banquo that they were "unprepared" to accommodate so many guests. This is a weak explanation. Why didn't Duncan order someone who would be sleeping inside the castle to wake him? But it is the best Shakespeare could think of if he wanted Macduff to be doing all the knocking and Macduff to discover the King's murdered body. Shakespeare also wanted Macbeth to be present when he did. That is the explanation of the long, persistent knocking which Thomas De Quincey writes about in his famous essay "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth." Macbeth has to stop playing possum and come down to find out why nobody is opening the gate. 

    — William Delaney
  30. This quote illustrates foreshadowing (a clue as to what may come). Macbeth "seeing" the dagger foreshadows the manner by which Duncan will die and Macbeth's coming hallucinations. The bloody dagger becomes a symbol for Macbeth's rampant ambition.

    — Lorna Stowers
  31. The suggestion here is that Banquo too is feeling temptation from the witches prophesy when he lies down to sleep. However, the audience also understands that he has not yielded to such temptation because of the help from his merciful powers (something like guardian angels).

    — Jamie Wheeler