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ACT II  SCENE II The same. 
LADY MACBETHThat 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
MACBETH[Within] Who's there? what, ho!
LADY MACBETHAlack, 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 resembled15
My father as he slept, I had done't.
My husband!
MACBETHI have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?
LADY MACBETHI heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did not you speak?20
MACBETHAs I descended?

Who lies i' the second chamber?
MACBETHThis is a sorry sight.
[Looking on his hands]
LADY MACBETHA foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.
MACBETHThere's one did laugh in's sleep, and one cried30
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 MACBETHThere are two lodged together.35
MACBETHOne 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 MACBETHConsider it not so deeply.40
MACBETHBut wherefore could not I pronounce 'Amen'?
I had most need of blessing, and 'Amen'
Stuck in my throat.
LADY MACBETHThese deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so, it will make us mad.45
MACBETHMethought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep', the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,50
Chief nourisher in life's feast,--
LADY MACBETHWhat do you mean?
MACBETHStill it cried 'Sleep no more!' to all the house:
'Glamis hath murder'd sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more.'55
LADY MACBETHWho 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.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?60
They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.
MACBETHI'll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on't again I dare not.65
LADY MACBETHInfirm 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,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal;70
For it must seem their guilt.
[Exit. Knocking within]
MACBETHWhence is that knocking?
How is't with me, when every noise appals me?
What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood75
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
LADY MACBETHMy hands are of your colour; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.80
[Knocking within]
I hear a knocking
At the south entry: retire we to our chamber;
A little water clears us of this deed:
How easy is it, then! Your constancy
Hath left you unattended.85
[Knocking within]
Hark! more knocking.
Get on your nightgown, lest occasion call us,
And show us to be watchers. Be not lost
So poorly in your thoughts.
MACBETHTo know my deed, 'twere best not know myself.90
[Knocking within]
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!

Next: Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)


There is really no change of scene here. Lady Macbeth enters the courtyard as Macbeth leaves it and waits there for his return from Duncan's chamber. Her soliloquy fills up the time during which the murder is performed and her dialogue with her husband on his return carries us on till the knocking at the gate shows that the day is dawning and the inmates of the castle awaking.

1. That which, etc. Lady Macbeth has fortified herself with a draught of wine against the strain of these terrible hours. This is another proof of her physical weakness.

5. the stern'st good-night. The grimmest good-night, or farewell. The owl's cry was then and long afterward considered an omen of death.

5. He is about it. Macbeth is actually committing the murder.

6. The doors are open. Lady Macbeth must have unlocked the doors into Duncan's room. Her words in lines [14, 15] show that she had been in this room after the king had gone to sleep.

5. the surfeited grooms, the drunken attendants of the king.

7. mock their charge, turn their care of the king's person into a mockery.

8, 9. The sleeping-potion which Lady Macbeth had mingled in the possets was so strong that the grooms were half poisoned by it.

11. Who's there? Macbeth utters these words as he is returning from Duncan's chamber. As he says in line [18], he heard a noise, and he probably thought for a moment that some one had surprised him.

13. the attempt and not the deed, an unsuccessful attempt.

16. Had he not resembled. This reference to her father is one of the few traces of womanly feeling that Lady Macbeth shows. It is a genuinely Shakespearean touch which saves even so wicked a character from utter inhumanity.

25. Hark! This line is usually accompanied in stage representations by a clap of thunder. This really detracts from the horror of the scene. Macbeth's nerves are so overwrought that he starts at imaginary noises. His next words show that he fancies he has heard a voice.

26. the second chamber, the room next to Duncan's.

27. Donalbain, the second son of Duncan, here mentioned for the first time.

30. There's. Macbeth is perhaps referring to the "second chamber." As he descended he heard some people in it talking in their sleep.

33. address'd them, turned themselves.

25. two lodged together. Lady Macbeth, who is trying to quiet her husband, remarks calmly that there are two men sleeping in the second chamber, Donalbain and an attendant.

37. hangman's hands, bloody hands. In Shakespeare's day the hangman not only adjusted the noose and pushed the victims from the ladder, but in cases of treason chopped up the bodies of the criminals. Thus this phrase suggested a vivid picture to Shakespeare's hearers.

38. 'Amen.' The phrase "God bless us" was used as a charm against witchcraft and the devil. Macbeth, who has sold himself to evil, cannot say amen to this prayer.

44, 45. thought After these ways, thought of in this fashion.

45. mad. There is a dreadful irony in these words; Macbeth is half mad already; and before the play closes, Lady Macbeth's strong mind breaks down utterly. Cf. v. i.

50, 51. nature's second course, Chief nourisher, etc. In Shakespeare's day the second course of a dinner was the most substantial.

52. What do you mean? Macbeth is talking so wildly that his wife cannot follow him.

56-60. Lady Macbeth tries to recall her husband from his ravings by pointing out the necessity for prompt action if they are to escape discovery.

59. witness, evidence; the king's blood which would testify to Macbeth's guilt.

70, 71. gild ... guilt. The pun on "gild" and "guilt" was doubtless plainer to Shakespeare's hearers than to us. Gold was regularly spoken of in the old songs as "red." Lady Macbeth's ghastly jest was perhaps intended to rouse her husband to a perception of his cowardice; he is afraid to re-enter the chamber of death, she is ready not only to go there, but even to jest about it.

72. knocking. This knocking is explained by the dialogue of the next scene. De Quincey has a famous essay upon The Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth, in which he points out that the knocking makes known that the reaction against the world of unnatural horror, which we have been contemplating, has commenced; that the pulses of life are beginning to beat again. The whole essay should, if possible, be read by every student of the play.

78. one red, entirely red.

81, 82. With these lines compare the broken utterances of the sleep-walking scene, v. i. 35, 39, 48, 49, and 68-70.

84, 85. Your constancy ... unattended. Your firmness has deserted you.

87. nightgown. In Shakespeare's day people went to bed naked. The "nightgown" was the garment they threw around them on first rising, corresponding to our dressing-gown. Lady Macbeth wants her husband to undress and put on his "nightgown" so that he may appear, when the alarm is given, just to have sprung from his bed.

87, 88. lest occasion ... watchers, lest necessity summon us, and reveal the fact that we have not been in bed.

90. To know, etc. This obscure line is an answer to Lady Macbeth's reproach that he is "poorly lost" in his thoughts. Macbeth says in effect that he had better remain lost, "not know myself," than awake to a full realization of what he had done, "know my deed."

91. I would thou couldst. This is the first note of genuine remorse that has appeared in Macbeth's speeches in this scene.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < >.

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On the Knocking at the Gate

Thomas De Quincey "When the deed is done, when the work of darkness is perfect, then the world of darkness passes away like a pageantry in the clouds: the knocking at the gate is heard; and it makes known audibly that the reaction has commenced: the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish; the pulses of life are beginning to beat again; and the re-establishment of the goings-on of the world in which we live, first makes us profoundly sensible of the awful parenthesis that had suspended them." Thomas De Quincey. Read on...


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