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ACT II SCENE I Inverness. Court within the castle.
Enter BANQUO, and FLEANCE, bearing a torch before them
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;
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!
Enter MACBETH, and a Servant with a torch.
Give me my sword.
Who’s there?  10
MACBETH A friend.
BANQUO What, sir, not yet at rest? The king’s a-bed:
He hath been in unusual pleasure, and
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
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:  20
To you they have show’d some truth.
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.
MACBETH If you shall cleave to my consent, when ’tis,
It shall make honour for you.
BANQUO So I lose none
In seeking to augment it, but still keep
My bosom franchised and allegiance clear,
I shall be counsell’d.
MACBETH Good repose the while!
BANQUO Thanks, sir: the like to you!  30
MACBETH Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready,
She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed.
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
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable  40
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
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:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse  50
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
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
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:  60
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
A bell rings.
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

Next: Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 2

Explanatory notes below for Act 2, Scene 1
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)

The second act is devoted wholly to the murder of Duncan. There is practically no time interval between this and the preceding act. It begins after midnight on the day of the king’s arrival at Inverness, with a scene devoted to the preliminaries of the murder, and closes late in the following day with a scene telling us of the immediate consequences of the deed, the flight of the princes and the election of Macbeth to the sovereignty.

The first scene falls into three parts; the dialogue between Banquo and his son, the dialogue between Macbeth and Banquo, and the soliloquy of Macbeth before the murder. It is laid in the inner court of Macbeth’s castle, from which there was easy access to the bedchambers by means of the gallery that surrounded the court. Banquo is on his way to bed, accompanied by his son, who bears the torch. On his way he hands over to Fleance his sword (line 4) and perhaps his dagger (line 5), which he will not need to have by his bedside in a friendly house.

4. husbandry, frugality, economy.

5. thee, to thyself, the dative of interest.

6. A heavy summons, a drowsy influence.

7. I would not sleep. Banquo’s reason for wishing to remain awake is given in the next lines. On the night before this he had dreamt of the witches (1. 20), and their prophecy has seemed to him, in his sleep, a temptation to evil. This explains his prayer to heaven to restrain “the cursed thoughts.” Shakespeare, no doubt, means us to contrast the two figures who appear in this scene, both tried by the same temptation, Banquo praying against its power over even his hours of sleep, Macbeth waking, and watching to turn its suggestions into deeds.

9. Gives way to, gives free rein to.

9. my sword. It marks, perhaps, the excited state of Banquo’s mind, that when he sees the light of Macbeth’s torch, he at once calls to Fleance to return him his sword.

14. largess, gifts.

14. offices, servants’ quarters.

16. shut up, concluded, i.e. finished the banquet, and went to bed. Note the irony of the situation as described in these lines.

17-19. Being unprepared … wrought. Since I was taken by surprise, my desire, to entertain fhe king fittingly, was impeded by unavoidable deficiencies; otherwise, it would have displayed itself at full, liberally.

19. All’s well, Banquo assures Macbeth that his entertainment has been suitable.

22. entreat an hour to serve, beg an hour of your time for our service. Note how Macbeth in this speech adopts unconsciously the royal mode of speaking of himself in the plural. He knows that when he has this conversation with Banquo he will be king, and speaks as if he were already crowned.

25. cleave to my consent, Macbeth is throwing out a line, so to speak, for Banquo. “If you join my party,” he says, “you’ll gain new honours by so doing.”

25. consent, counsel.

25. When ’tis. This phrase is purposely obscure; Macbeth does not care to speak out plainly. We may take it, however, as referring to the proposed conference on the subject of the witches’ prophecy.

26-29. So I lose … counsell’d, It is hard to decide just what was in the mind of Banquo when he uttered these words. He may possibly have suspected Macbeth of wishing to form some conspiracy against the king. In this case he wished to give him a friendly but emphatic warning that he would be no party to it. “I’ll take your advice,” he says, referring to Macbeth’s phrase, “cleave to my consent,” “so long as I do not forfeit thereby my character as an honourable man, but still keep my heart free from guilt and my loyalty to my king unstained.”

28. franchised, free.

28. clear, unstained.

29. Macbeth sees that nothing is to be gained from Banquo, and closes the conversation.

32. The bell is really to let Macbeth know that everything is in readiness for the murder.

36. sensible, perceptible.

33-64. In this long soliloquy we find Macbeth, whose mind is wrought almost to madness by the deed he is about to perpetrate, the victim of a hallucination. He thinks for a moment that he actually sees a dagger floating before him; but with a strong effort he recovers his self-possession and pronounces the vision unreal. Then he plunges into a gloomy reverie, illumined by lightning flashes of poetic imagination. He is roused from this mood by the sound of the signal for action, and without hesitating longer hurries to Duncan’s chamber. [For more on this soliloquy please click here.]

44, 45. Mine eyes … rest. If the dagger is unreal, his eyes, which testify to its presence, are pronounced foolish by his other senses. If on the contrary, the dagger is really there, the testimony of his eyes is more reliable than that of his other senses.

46. dudgeon, handle.

46. gouts, drops.

46. Notice how the dagger seems to grow more real to Macbeth; he can now distinguish drops of blood on its blade and handle.

48. informs, takes shape.

48. the bloody business, the murder, which is occupying his mind, seems to take visible shape in the form of a dagger.

50. abuse, deceive.

51. An unaccented syllable is lacking in the third foot of this line. Its place is taken by the pause between two clauses. “Sleep” is here personified as a man resting in a curtained bed. Evil dreams play about him and deceive his mind.

52. Hecate, one of the many names of Diana. In Shakespeare’s day she was regarded as the goddess and queen of the witches. Shakespeare always pronounces her name as two syllables.

52. wither’d murder, murder is here personified as a gaunt an ghostlike man.

53. Alarum’d, called to arms. The word comes from the Italian phrase all ‘arme, “to arms.”

54. Whose howl’s his watch, the long howl of the wolf is thought of as the call of a sentinel upon his watch.

55. Tarquin’s, Sextus Tarquin who ravished Lucretia. The adjective “ravishing” is transferred from Tarquin to the “strides” that took him into Lucretia’s chamber.

57. Hear not … take. Hear not the direction my steps take, i.e. toward Duncan’s chamber. Macbeth fancies in his overwrought mood that if the very stones of the courtyard knew which way he was going they would cry out and reveal his presence.

58. whereabout, purpose.

59. take the present horror, take away, by their outcry, the prevailing silence, “present horror,” which so befits the time.

61. gives, another instance of the Northern plural. The line means that words blow cold upon the heat of action.


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


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