Plot Summary / The Story-line
In Act II Scene II of “Macbeth”, Lady Macbeth anxiously waits for her husband to return after committing the murder of King Duncan. When Macbeth finally arrives, he is visibly shaken and horrified by what he has done. He reveals to Lady Macbeth that he heard someone cry out “Sleep no more!” as he was leaving the king’s chamber. She dismisses his fears and scolds him for his weak-heartedness.
Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth to return the bloody dagger to the scene of the crime and smear the sleeping guards with blood to make them look guilty of the murder. But Macbeth in his nervousness cannot go back to the crime scene again. So, Lady Macbeth has to undertake this task.
When they hear a knocking at the door, Lady Macbeth leads her husband to their room to wash the blood from their hands and change him into his dressing gown.
Commentary on Act II, Scene ii
Act II Scene II of “Macbeth” contains the central incident of the play, namely the murder of King Duncan. It is a huge moment and its political and moral repercussions are beyond Macbeth’s calculations. There is no going back for them now as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s ambition and ruthlessness lead them down a path of destruction and despair.
Macbeth is now seen overwhelmed with tension, anxiety, and fear. He even forgets to leave the dagger at the scene of the crime. We see him suffering from a sense of immense guilt as he revels to his wife his inability to pronounce the word “Amen” when he heard the King’s guards utter the word. His actions and words reveal his growing madness and instability. He struggles to come to terms with the enormity of what he has done.
In contrast, we see Lady Macbeth taking charge of the situation, urging her husband to wash the blood from his hands and returning the bloody dagger to the scene of the crime. Her calm and calculated actions highlight the extent to which she can go to achieve her ambitions, and her complete lack of remorse for the murder is surprising. This contrast between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth highlights the corrupting influence of power and ambition, and the extent to which it can change a person’s character and behavior.
Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of terror fitting for the murder scene by ill-omened sounds (the shrieking of the owl) and loose imagination of Macbeth. Again, it’s an irony when Lady Macbeth talk of washing blood off their hands but the audience sense that no water is sufficient to remove the metaphorical bloodstains from their hands.
Overall, Act II Scene II of “Macbeth” is a powerful moment in the play that explores the themes of guilt, ambition, and the corrupting influence of power. It highlights the differences between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and sets the stage for the tragic events that will follow.