Act II - Scene II

[The same.]

Enter Lady [Macbeth.]

LADY MACBETH:
That which hath made them drunk hath
made me bold;
What hath quench'd them hath given me fire. Hark! Peace!
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern'st good-night. He is about it:(5)
The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores: I have drugg'd their
possets,
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.(10)

Enter Macbeth

MACBETH:
Who's there? what, ho!
LADY MACBETH:
Alack, I am afraid they have awaked
And ’tis not done. The attempt and not the deed
Confounds us. Hark! I laid their daggers ready;
He could not miss ‘em. Had he not resembled(15)
My father as he slept, I had done't.
My husband!
MACBETH:
I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?
LADY MACBETH:
I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?(20)
MACBETH:
When?
LADY MACBETH:
Now.
MACBETH:
As I descended?
LADY MACBETH:
Ay.
MACBETH:
Hark!(25)
Who lies i’ the second chamber?
LADY MACBETH:
Donalbain.
MACBETH:
This is a sorry sight.
LADY MACBETH:
A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.
MACBETH:
There's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried,(30)
“Murder!”
That they did wake each other: I stood and heard them:
But they did say their prayers and address'd them
Again to sleep.
LADY MACBETH:
There are two lodged together.(35)
MACBETH:
One cried, “God bless us!” and “Amen” the other,
As they had seen me with these hangman's hands.
Listening their fear, I could not say “Amen,”
When they did say “God bless us!”
LADY MACBETH:
Consider it not so deeply.(40)
MACBETH:
But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”?
I had most need of blessing, and “Amen”
Stuck in my throat.
LADY MACBETH:
These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad.(45)
MACBETH:
Me thought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth doth Murder sleep”—the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,(50)
Chief nourisher in life's feast—
LADY MACBETH:
What do you mean?
MACBETH:
Still it cried, “Sleep no more!” to all the house;
“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.”(55)
LADY MACBETH:
Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy
Thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go, get some water
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.(60)
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there. Go carry them, and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.
MACBETH:
I'll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;(65)
Look on't again I dare not.
LADY MACBETH:
Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; ’tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,(70)
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.

Exit. Knocking within.

MACBETH:
Whence is that knocking?
How is't with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? Ha, they pluck out mine eyes!(75)
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

[Re]-enter Lady [Macbeth.]

LADY MACBETH:
My hands are of your color, but I shame(80)
To wear a heart so white. Knock
I hear a knocking
At the south entry. Retire we to our chamber.
A little water clears us of this deed:(85)
How easy is it then! Your constancy
Hath left you unattended. Knock
Hark! more knocking:
Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us
And show us to be watchers. Be not lost(90)
So poorly in your thoughts.
MACBETH:
To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself. Knock
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. By "infirm" Lady Macbeth uses the antiquated understanding of the word: not firm, or unstable. In a previous scene, Lady Macbeth told Macbeth that they could not fail if he shored up his courage. However, with this line, Lady Macbeth recognizes that he was not as firm as she wanted him to be, and thus they are in danger of being caught.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. By "sorry sight" Macbeth means two senses of the word: both something painful and distressing and something that induces feelings of remorse or sorrow. Macbeth's comment on his bloody hands reveals his immediately guilty conscious over King Duncan's murder. Lady Macbeth's unsympathetic response that he is foolish also reveals a lot about their relationship. She lacks empathy and respect for Macbeth's feelings or mental state.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. This line is significant in that Macbeth wishes the knocking could wake up Duncan. This is the first mention of actual remorse that he has expressed in this scene.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The contrast between how Lady Macbeth and her husband react to the blood is significant. While Macbeth sees it as a symbol of his crime that will not go away, Lady Macbeth considers it evidence that can be removed and appears to have no remorse for playing her role in Duncan's murder. However, notice how Lady Macbeth's perception and attitude toward the crime changes later in the story

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The verb incarnadine here means "to redden." Macbeth is saying that the blood on his hands will turn the whole ocean red rather than be cleaned off. Prior to Macbeth this word's meaning was primarily associated with coloring objects red; however, since Shakespeare, the word is most often associated with blood.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. In Roman mythology, Neptune is the god of the sea. Macbeth invokes this name to emphasize his belief that all the water in the world will not be enough to wash the blood (guilt) from his hands.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Shakespeare wants both husband and wife smeared with blood. Naturally Lady Macbeth will return with bloody hands and some blood on her garment after smearing the faces of two men with Duncan's blood. In doing this, Shakespeare creates the illusion that the audience has witnessed a horrible murder without showing it on stage.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. In an effort to get her husband to stop raving, Lady Macbeth tries to remind him of the necessity for action to avoid getting caught. She tells him to wash the bloody evidence ("filthy witness") of his crime from his hands. As far as she is concerned, the blood is only physical and washing it away will destroy the evidence of Macbeth's crime. Notice how she continually tries to calm Macbeth and remain the voice of reason.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Notice how before murdering Duncan, Macbeth imagined seeing a floating dagger before him. Now, after committing the crime, he has imagined hearing voices. These illusions will continue to plague him as he struggles with his guilty conscience.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. These words are filled with dreadful irony and foreshadowing. Considering how Macbeth has already imagined a floating dagger prior to killing Duncan and his current agitated state, the likelihood that one or both of them will mentally suffer as a consequence of this action is a distinct possibility.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Notice the shortness of Lady Macbeth's replies. She is attempting to quiet her husband, and here she calmly states that Donalbain and an attendant are sleeping in the second chamber.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Macbeth's hands are bloody from killing Duncan. While many consider hangmen as only responsible for conducting hangings, at the time they were also tasked with the bloody work of disemboweling and quartering the bodies of the executed--particularly for the bodies of those who committed treason.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. This exclamation is an example of Macbeth's overwrought nerves: He imagines he hears a sound while speaking with his wife. The continuing dialogue shows that he imagines that he has heard a voice as well.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Duncan has two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain. This is the first mention of Donalbain in the story. If Macbeth were to ensure his claim to the throne, he would have needed to kill both of Duncan's sons as well.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Shakespeare often made his characters, even villains, more complex and sympathetic. Lady Macbeth's reference to her father is an example of how Shakespeare "humanizes" her, and it is also one of the few moments when she reveals herself as a very human character and not simply wicked and hungry for power.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. Since Duncan bestowed many gifts on Macbeth's company, there was much drinking and feasting earlier in the evening. This word, surfeited, tells us that Duncan's grooms, or bodyguards, overindulged in food and drink.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. A posset is a hot drink of sweetened and spiced milk curdled with ale or wine. Lady Macbeth created a sleeping potion to drug Duncan's guards, and here she indicates that it was so strong that it may have half poisoned them.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. As Macbeth leaves the courtyard to carry out the deed, Lady Macbeth enters it. Since there is no change of scene, her brief soliloquy is meant to pass the time until Macbeth returns from Duncan's chamber.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. In Renaissance England, the hoot of an owl flying over a home was considered a bad omen, and it meant death for someone inside the house. Shakespeare compares the owl to a bellman, whose job was to ring the church bell when someone in town was near death. This signal let others know to pray for the dying person. In this case, the owl's shriek represents a fatal ringing of the bell for King Duncan.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Since this is Macbeth's tragedy, Shakespeare tries to retain some modicum of sympathy for his hero. The audience is, of course, repelled by Macbeth's cold-blooded murder of Duncan, to whom he is obligated in so many ways. But Shakespeare obviously tries to mitigate the crime by making Macbeth reluctant to go through with it and then making him feel guilty and remorseful throughout the rest of the play. Here, he says he cannot go back to Duncan's chamber because he cannot bear to see what he has done. He cannot even bear to think about it. So his wife takes over. This helps to pass some of the guilt over to her, thereby hopefully diluting some of Macbeth's own guilt. The three Weird Sisters are also partially to blame for encouraging Macbeth to take the necessary steps to seizing the throne. They assure him that it is inevitable, already preordained by Fate. Macbeth really should murder the King's two sons on the same night he kills their father. He will never have a better chance, and they stand in his way to the throne. Duncan has already proclaimed Malcolm his successor. But Shakespeare does not want to show Macbeth murdering two young boys in their beds. That would lose all audience sympathy for the tragic hero. As it turned out, Macbeth was unable to kill the boys on the night he killed their father--if that was his plan--because he lost his nerve, he thought he heard a loud voice crying "Sleep no more!" to wake up the entire house, and then there was the persistent knocking at the gate. Fortunately, both of Duncan's sons decided to flee for the lives right after their father's body was discovered. This enabled Macbeth to blame Duncan's murder on them and thereby eliminate them from consideration as Duncan's successors. This was evidently something that Shakespeare had not planned in advance but something his genius provided him with when he had to come up with a solution. He himself wrote:

    "There is no virtue like necessity."

    — William Delaney
  21. The actor playing Macbeth probably was instructed to pronounce the word "Amen" with difficulty, as in a hoarse whisper. Macbeth would still be having trouble saying "Amen." This would illustrate the trouble he had trying to say the word in the King's chamber. The actor playing Shakespeare probably would also be instructed to pronounce the words "Stuck in my throat" in a choking voice as if he actually had something stuck in his throat.

    — William Delaney
  22. This passage of dialogue is intended to "humanize" and also "feminize" Lady Macbeth. She has been acting supremely confident, but once she is alone she is anxious. This is the first time she says, "I am afraid"-- afraid of anything. She admits it to herself. She is afraid something went wrong. She realizes their plan was hardly foolproof. A dozen unexpected things could have happened. She would like to be reassured and comforted. When she says, "My husband!" it signifies that she welcomes his strength; he is someone to lean on.

    — William Delaney
  23. This whole speech by Lady Macbeth is intended to "humanize" her. It shows that she is not nearly as confident as she has been acting with her husband. She is good about hiding her fears, worries, and guilt from other people, but she is human. Shakespeare usually tried to show that all his characters were mixtures of good and bad, strength and weakness. That was why he showed the wicked King Claudius at prayer in Hamlet. It is the only way an author can make characters seem like real people. When Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth say

    Had he not resembled
    My father as he slept, I had done't

    the purpose is consistent with everything she says in this speech. It shows that she has a tender side to her nature. She is not only a real human being but a real woman. She loved her father and is not a monster.

    — William Delaney
  24. Lady Macbeth is actually completely dependent upon her husband to fulfill her ambitions. The fact that she says she would have killed Duncan if he had not resembled her father does not necessarily prove she really would have done it. Shakespeare often has characters rationalize to explain their behavior to themselves. Hamlet is full of such rationalizations. King Lear threatens to do all kinds of terrible things to his daughters although he must realize, at some level of consciousness, that he has become totally powerless. Lady Macbeth expresses a lot of vicious intentions, but she leaves the dirty work up to her husband, who is used to it.

    — William Delaney
  25. It seems likely that Macbeth might have been planning to kill Malcolm and Donalbain that same night. Shakespeare gives several reasons why Macbeth would have had to abandon that plan and retreat to his own chamber. One is that he is afraid one of the grooms might have seen him standing there "with these hangman's hands." Another is that he thought he heard a strange voice crying, "'Sleep no more! to all the house.'" A third reason is that he just lost his nerve. He won't even take the grooms' daggers back to Duncan's bedchamber. Then a loud and prolonged knocking at the gate makes it out of the question to do anything but wash up and pretend to be asleep.

    — William Delaney
  26. "Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little death." — Arthur Schopenhauer

    We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep. 

    Shakespeare, The Tempest

    — William Delaney
  27. This is probably intended to explain why Macbeth returns to his chamber with two daggers. His wife wanted both grooms' daggers to be used on Duncan so that there would be no chance of the murder being construed as only one man's guilt. Macbeth ends up personally killing both grooms right after Macduff discovers Duncan's body, but this may not have been part of the original plan. 

    — William Delaney
  28. Thomas De Quincey wrote a famous essay titled "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" in which he focuses on the effectiveness of this offstage sound effect. However, the knocking has a more important purpose. It may force Macbeth to open the gate himself, because the Porter and the entire household staff are drunk, and although he had planned to pretend to be sound asleep, Macbeth will have to be present when Duncan's body is discovered.

    — William Delaney
  29. If he has any hope of being elected king, Macbeth certainly should plan to kill Duncan's two sons the same night he murders their father. Shakespeare offers a number of possible reasons why Macbeth does not at least try to do so--if that is what he intended. Apparently Macbeth doesn't know where to find the two boys. Furthermore, he hears or imagines a voice crying out "to all the house," and he is standing there with two daggers and bloody hands. (The fact that Macbeth is still carrying the daggers suggests he intended to use them on Malcolm and Donalbain.) Then there is a knocking at the gate which keeps getting more insistent because the Porter is too drunk to open it. If Macbeth had any thoughts of killing the king's sons, he not only has to abandon them but has to wash up quickly and go down in his nightgown to open his own gate.

    — William Delaney
  30. Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth go to Duncan's chamber because he wants her to get covered with blood too. That is the main reason Shakespeare has Macbeth return with the two daggers. These daggers also, of course, symbolize the murder performed offstage. 

    — William Delaney
  31. Duncan's murder occurs offstage, but Shakespeare creates the illusion of a bloody murder by having both Macbeth and his wife displaying bloody hands. In order for Lady Macbeth to get her hands bloody, Shakespeare has Macbeth return with the two bloody daggers and then refuse to take them back to Duncan's chamber. His wife takes the daggers from him and also says she will smear the grooms' faces with blood. So both husband and wife end up with bloody hands, and the audience has seen the two bloody daggers. Then Lady Macbeth, suiting the action to the word, holds up both hands, looks at the palms, turns them toward her husband as she says, "My hands are of your color." When she says, "But I shame to wear a heart so white," still suiting the action to the word, she wipes one hand across her "breast" with the word "shame" and the other across her other "breast" with the word "white." Since she is already wearing her nightgown, it would be less of a problem to remove these bloodstains for the next performance of the play than if she were dressed in an elaborate gown. Thus Shakespeare would be exhibiting still more blood to his audience and they would feel as if they had actually witnessed a harrowing murder.

    — William Delaney
  32. As much as Lady Macbeth covets seeing her husband as king, Duncan's virtue and his father-like goodness makes it difficult to justify his murder.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  33. Here, Macbeth admits that his murder of Duncan speaks against his true character. He no longer likes who he is since murdering Duncan. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  34. Macbeth realizes that nothing will clean (wash) the blood from his hands. Now that he has murdered, his hands will always be covered with blood (figuratively), and he will never be free of guilt. This is also an allusion to Pontius Pilate and his washing of his hands (stating that he was innocent of Jesus' blood which was spilled during his crucifixion). 

    — Lorna Stowers
  35. This quote foreshadows the fact that Macbeth will suffer from insomnia because of his guilt and, therefore, will begin to have more hallucinations because of his lack of sleep. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  36. This quote illustrates the fact that Macbeth recognizes his sin (since he tries to pray). Unfortunately, "Amen" gets figuratively stuck in his throat, indicating that one who just sinned should not be able to immediately ask forgiveness. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  37. This quote alludes to the fact that nature is speaking out against Duncan's murder. His murder throws nature out of balance; he should not have died in such an unnatural way. 

    — Lorna Stowers
  38. Lady Macbeth refuses to admit that the blood is anything more than simply physical; washing it off with get rid of everything. 

    witness = evidence

    — Jamie Wheeler
  39. Lady Macbeth seems very childlike in her assertion that just rinsing away proof of the crime will absolve them both from the consequences of murder. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  40. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth "show how the murder is isolated from the society that repesents the injured party and can see to restitution." 

    Auden, W.H.  *Lectures on Shakespeare. *Ed. Arthur Kirsch.  Princeton:  Princeton U.P., 2000. Print. 

    — Jamie Wheeler