Summary

Lady Macbeth adds some sleeping drugs to the wine of the king’s guards, and they sleep through the rest of the events. Macbeth murders Duncan, offstage, and meets Lady Macbeth elsewhere in the castle. Lady Macbeth says that she would have killed Duncan herself, if only he had not looked so much like her father. Macbeth begins to have regrets, and is startled by every little sound. Lady Macbeth urges him to forget about these problems, but Macbeth continues in his despair — he hears voices now, telling him that he has murdered sleep (and indeed, Macbeth will sleep very little from now on), just as the witches predicted. Lady Macbeth is ashamed of his apparent weakness, and takes the daggers from Macbeth to go and kill the king’s sleeping servants, to make it look like they killed Duncan. A loud knocking sound begins, again startling Macbeth, who complains that he will never be free of the guilt of the murder.

Enter

To come on stage.

The same.

The same location as before; Inverness, in Macbeth’s castle.

That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold

Lady Macbeth has had some wine, just like the king’s servants, but its effect has been different. The wine has put the king’s servants to sleep, and has made Lady Macbeth brave enough to do what she intends to do.

What hath quench’d them hath given me fire.

The wine has deprived them of ability, and given her determination.

Hark! Peace!

Listen! Quiet!

It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman, / Which gives the stern’st good-night.

The owl’s cry at night was believed to foretell death. Lady Macbeth is mentioning the owl along with the bell-ringer at the parish church, who announced a death in the town by ringing the church bell, the person who gives us the last, hardest “good night.”

He is about it

Macbeth is about the business, murdering Duncan, right now.

surfeited grooms / Do mock their charge with snores

Duncan’s servants, drunk with wine, ignore the king in their sleep.

surfeited — filled, stuffed. In this case, filled with wine. Drunk.

grooms — servants.

mock their charge — show contempt for their responsibility (to keep Duncan safe), by sleeping on the job.

I have drugg’d / their possets, / That death and nature do contend about them, / Whether they live or die.

I put sleeping drugs in their drinks, so effective that they may not ever wake up.

posset — a drink taken before going to bed

Within

From offstage. In this case, we hear Macbeth’s voice, but we can’t see him yet.

Who’s there? what, ho!

Who is it? What’s going on?

In the dark and the confusion of the action, Macbeth is uncertain of what’s going on.

Alack, I am afraid they have awaked, / And ’tis not done.

Lady Macbeth is now worried, because she’s hearing noises she doesn’t understand, that maybe the king’s grooms have awakened, and possibly the murder hasn’t been accomplished.

The attempt and not the deed / Confounds us.

If so, they could be in real trouble. A failed attempt might be harder to cover up than a successful murder. They can deny any knowledge of a plot if they succeed in the murder, but they would be accused of attempted murder if they got caught in the attempt.

I laid their daggers ready; / He could not miss ’em.

Lady Macbeth, after drugging the grooms, unsheathed their daggers and laid them out, ready for use. There’s no way Macbeth could have missed seeing them.

Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t.

Lady Macbeth is claiming here that she would have killed Duncan herself, if only he hadn’t looked so much like her own father as he slept. She may be preparing, in her own mind, an excuse to offer Macbeth, if the whole plot collapses and they get caught.

I have done the deed.

I have killed Duncan.

Now.

Just now, just a moment ago.

descended

Came down the stairs.

Ay.

Aye. Yes.

Who lies i’ the second chamber?

Who’s sleeping in the room next to Duncan’s?

Donalbain.

Donalbain, Duncan’s younger son.

This is a sorry sight.

Macbeth is dismayed, horrified, at what he sees — Duncan’s blood on his hands.

A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight.

Lady Macbeth is already scornful of her husband’s apparent weakness — she scolds him for being repelled at the sight of the blood.

There’s one did laugh in’s sleep, and one cried
“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.

While Macbeth was in the king’s bedroom, one of the grooms laughed in his sleep, and the other yelled out “Murder!” They woke each other up. Macbeth heard them say these things. But then they said brief prayers and slipped back into sleep.

There are two lodged together.

The two grooms are sleeping in the same room, just outside Duncan’s room.

As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.

As if they had seen me, with the guilty blood on my hands.

Consider it not so deeply.

It’s not that important. Don’t worry about it.

But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? / I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” / Stuck in my throat.

Why couldn’t I say “Amen”? I certainly needed all the help I could get, and I couldn’t say “Amen.”

Elizabethans believed, as some people do today, that anyone hearing a prayer should pronounce “Amen” at its end — that failure to do so is the sign of a guilty conscience. Only a sinner would not be able to say “Amen” at the appropriate time.

These deeds must not be thought / After these ways; so, it will make us mad.

We can’t keep thinking about these things this way. If we do, we’ll lose our minds.

Methought I heard a voice cry “sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep

Macbeth thought he heard a voice crying out “Sleep no more! Macbeth murders sleep!”

This is in keeping with what the witches predicted in Act 1, Scene 3, just before meeting Macbeth:

Sleep shall neither night nor day / Hang upon his pent-house lid; / He shall live a man forbid.

the innocent sleep . . .

Macbeth poetically describes sleep as innocent, that which heals us, the end of each day, the bath after hard work, a balm for sore thoughts, and the most important part of the food of life.

Still 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.”

Macbeth, greatly upset, continues to describe the guilty hallucination — a voice screaming that he has murdered sleep, and therefore shall sleep no more.

You do unbend your noble strength

You’re losing your grip.

to think / So brainsickly of things.

To worry so weakly over these things.

wash this filthy witness from your hand

Lady Macbeth is suggesting that water will get rid of the evidence — the blood on his hands.

Why did you bring these daggers from the place? / They must lie there: go carry them; and smear / The sleepy grooms with blood.

Why did you bring the murder weapons here? They must be found by Duncan, and the grooms must have blood on them, to make it look like they did it.

I’ll go no more: / I am afraid to think what I have done; / Look on’t again I dare not.

I can’t go back there. I can’t even bear to think about what I’ve done, let alone look at it again.

Infirm of purpose!

Weakling!

the sleeping and the dead / Are but as pictures: ’tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil.

Sleeping and dead people are no more dangerous than pictures; only children fear pictures.

If he do bleed, / I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal; / For it must seem their guilt.

I’ll paint the faces of his servants with Duncan’s blood — they must look guilty of this.

Punning wordplay with gild (to make golden) and guilt (rhyming with gilt, past tense of gild). In the next scene, Duncan’s blood is referred to as golden.

Exit.

Lady Macbeth leaves the stage, leaving Macbeth alone.

Knocking within.

A loud knocking sound is heard from offstage, from the main entrance to the castle. This would be very unexpected in the middle of the night, and Macbeth is startled to hear it.

Whence is that knocking? / How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?

Where’s that knocking coming from? What’s wrong with me, that every noise startles me?

Macbeth is already suffering from guilt over the murder he has committed. Lady Macbeth is right to worry that he won’t be able to carry it off.

What hands are here? ha! they pluck out mine eyes. / 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.

How horrible my hands look, with the blood! I can’t stand to see them; my hands want to tear out my eyes! Can even the whole ocean of water wash all this blood — guilt — from my hand? No, instead, my hand will make all the seas red, making all the green sea one single color — red.

Another reading of this text places a comma after the word one, giving the sense “making the one sea red.”

Incarnadine — to make red.

My hands are of your colour; but I shame / To wear a heart so white.

My hands are the same color as yours — red with blood — but I’d be ashamed to be so cowardly, so fearful, so weak. Saying a heart so white was roughly equivalent to a more modern expression — lily-livered.

Knocking within.

More loud knocking is heard. Whoever it is isn’t going to go away.

retire we to our chamber

Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to come with her back to their bedroom.

A little water clears us of this deed

Lady Macbeth feels that all it will take is water, rinsing off the blood, to make them look innocent.

She will discover, in time, how poor a solution this really is.

Your constancy / Hath left you unattended.

Your usual dependability doesn’t seem to be with you now.

nightgown

Sleeping robes.

lest occasion call us, / And show us to be watchers

In case we’re called to wake up (as she knows they will be, when the murder is discovered), and people find us already awake (watching). It would be hard to explain why they were awake, unless they knew something about the murder.

Be not lost / So poorly in your thoughts.

Don’t be so lost and wrapped up in miserable thought.

Lady Macbeth is keenly aware of what will, and won’t, make them look guilty to others.

To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.

It would be better if I didn’t have to deal with the knowledge of my guilt. I no longer know who I am.

Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!

Macbeth is so upset by all the recent events, and feeling so guilty over the murder, that he yells his wish that the knocking, which won’t stop, could wake the dead.

Aside

In an aside, the character speaks privately to himself for a moment, or directly to the audience, or privately to some (but not all) of the other characters present.

As a matter of convention, an aside is always a true statement of what the character thinks. A character speaking in an aside may be mistaken, but may not be dishonest.

An aside (again as a matter of convention) cannot be heard by those not spoken to.

Exit

He leaves the stage.

Exeunt

Latin, literally “they leave.” Everyone leaves the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.