Plot Summary / The Story-line
In Act II Scene III, in the castle of Macbeth, a porter (gatekeeper) is awakened by the repeated knocking at the gate. The porter complains about the noise and compares himself to the porter at the gate of hell. He then imagines that if he were the porter of hell, he would have to admit a variety of sinful people, such as liars, drunkards, and cheaters.
Eventually when he opens the gate. Lennox and Macduff (two Scottish nobles) enter and scold him for being late. The porter tells them that he was tired after drinking alcohol. He also delivers a long speech on the ill-effects of drink.
When Macbeth arrives, Macduff says that the King commanded him to call him early in the morning. So, Macduff goes towards Duncan’s chamber to awaken him. Lenox and Macbeth discuss the strange occurrences of the night, including the unnatural weather and the cries of strange animals. Macduff returns soon after with the horrific news of the King’s murder.
Everyone including Macbeth reacts with shock and horror. Macbeth pretends to be so outraged by the incident that he kills the king’s guards, claiming that he did so out of anger and a desire for justice. Lady Macbeth pretends to faint in order to put up a show of grief and shock.
Malcolm and Donalbain (Duncan’s two sons) feel their life may be in danger too, and they decide to run away, Malcolm to England and Donalbain to Ireland.
Commentary on Act II, Scene iii
Act II Scene III of “Macbeth” (known as the “porter scene“) is an important scene that reveals much about the characters of Macbeth and his wife. Their reaction to the news of the murder is a study in hypocrisy, as they feign shock and horror at the crime that they themselves have committed. Macbeth’s killing of the two guards without a trial or any evidence of their guilt shows the extent to which he is willing to go to maintain his grip on power.
The porter’s soliloquy at the beginning of the scene is an example of Shakespeare’s use of humour to offset the tragedy and violence of the play, as he gives the audience a much-needed comic relief. The knocking at the gate and the porter’s rambling talks give an impression of passing of time, allowing Macbeth and his wife enough time to wash their hands and also to plan their next actions. It also helps maintain the tension by delaying the discovery of the murder.
There is a dramatic irony when the porter imagines himself as a porter at the gate of hell. Little does he know that Macbeth’s castle has actually become a hell on earth with the heinous crime of regicide committed there the previous night.
Overall, Act II Scene III of “Macbeth” is a powerful and dramatic moment in the play that reveals much about the two leading characters of the play. It highlights the themes of appearance vs reality, and the corrupting influence of power on those who seek it.