Act II, scene 2, Line 32 to 73
The extract under study immediately follows the killing of King Duncan by Macbeth, the first of many murders to come. The scene takes place at night, at Inverness, in Macbeth’s castle, when everybody is asleep. It stages Macbeth, who has just returned from King Duncan’s bedchamber discussing with Lady Macbeth who has been waiting for her husband anxiously. Thisscene is very important as it is going to reveal the true impact of Duncan’s murder on Macbeth and his wife. It is the turning point of the play as now things have become irreversible and the increasing tensions resulting from Macbeth and Lady Macbeth horrible deed, will lead to the fatal downfall of the protagonists.
After Duncan’s murder, this is a completely different Macbeth who comes to hiswife as he declares “I have done the deed…”. At this moment, the audience understands that things have come to a point of no return. Whereas he was a confident, a valiant cold blooded warrior, able to “unseam “the enemy “from the nave to th’chops” (Act 1, scene 2,L. 25), he becomes dubious and remorseful. He is so shocked by his own deed that he has forgotten to leave the daggers on the crimescene as he was supposed to and refuses to bring them back, terrified by his crime, “look on’t again I dare not” (II,2,51).
Macbeth knows his life will never be the same now, that he has irreversibly destroyed the natural order of things and so does the audience. He has committed regicide, killed the representative of God on earth, the one who ruled by divine rights. Macbeth feels all the moreguilty that he truly appreciated Duncan and makes it clears on several occasions as he talks about him “his silver skin laced with his golden blood” (II,3,124).
The atrocity of the crime is also amplified by the series of metaphors on the sleep used by Macbeth. Shakespeare also personifies the sleep “Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep”. Sleep is associated to the lexical field of purity,it cleans “sore labour’s bath” (II,2,37) and it cures “Balm of hurt minds…” (II,2,38) like God would. Macbeth feels that when he murdered the King in his sleep, he killed sleep and reached God himself and his forgiveness. So Macbeth knows he’s condemned not to sleep anymore, he will not be forgiven for his crime. This situation is irreversible.
Macbeth has the feeling that everybody knows abouthis killing and this certitude is brought up by the imperceptible presence of a few “witnesses” all along this scene. Just before the extract under study, Macbeth reports to his wife that he heard two men in the other room and one shouted “Murder!”. Macbeth interprets this as though the man could see his bloody murder even in his sleep. When watching his bloody hands, Macbeth, who is full of guilt,is persuaded that God also witnessed his murder and that He will never forgive him and declares “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”. Water is here associated to pureness and so to forgiveness. Finally, blood is almost personified by Shakespeare when Lady Macbeth urges herhusband to wash the “filthy witness” (II,2,46) from his hands. The knocking that occurs four times along the scene also scares Macbeth as he fears that someone may discover his horrible act.
Shakespeare also heightens the atrocity of Macbeth’s deed and its irreversible aspect by creating an important tension trully palpable in scene 2 and all along our extract.
For this, the author relies on thetechnique of elision when it comes to mention Duncan’s murder. The audience is then suspended to Lady Macbeth’s suggestive words “He is about it” (II,1,4) and by not seeing the deed itself is inclined to imagine the worst.
Tension is also noticeable between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In fact, after the murder, the relationships between those two characters are going to change drastically....
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