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Macbeth Act 2 . Scenes 1 - 4. How to Read a Shakespeare Play .

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macbeth act 2

Macbeth Act 2

Scenes 1 - 4

how to read a shakespeare play
How to Read a Shakespeare Play

Go slow. Reading Shakespeare is not the same as reading T.V. Guide. Acknowledge that the language is poetic and challenging. If you try to race through it, the complexity of the words and phrasing will frustrate you, and all of its beauty will be lost.


Don’t get hung up on the details…at first.

An ideal compromise is to read the play first without the notes to get an uninterrupted first impression. Then go through it again and fill in the gaps provided by the annotations.


When reading verse, note the appropriate phrasing and intonation.

DO NOT PAUSE AT THE END OF A LINE unless there is a mark of punctuation. Shakespearean verse has a rhythm of its own, and once a reader gets used to it, the rhythm becomes very natural to speak in and read. Beginning readers often find it helpful to read a short pause at a comma and a long pause for a period, colon, semicolon, dash, or question mark.


The quality of mercy is not strain'd, (short pause)It droppeth as the gentle rain from heavenUpon the place beneath: (long pause) it is twice blest; (long pause)It blesseth him that gives, (short pause) and him that takes; (long pause)‘Tis mightiest in the mighties; (long pause) it becomesThe throned monarch better than his crown; (long pause)

act 2 scene 1
Act 2 Scene 1

Aristotelian omens – pathetic fallacy

act 2 scene 11
Act 2 Scene 1
  • Banquo is also thinking about killing Duncan because he’s tempted to have his children be kings. But he’s asking for the heavens to get rid of his thoughts.

“Merciful powers, restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature gives way to in repose.”

    • Nature to be tempted – not a sin to commit the temptation is a sin.
  • Banquo is equally tempted by the witches.

“I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters: to you they have shown some truth.”

  • Banquo gives a diamond to Lady Macbeth for being a great host from the King – nothing significant except perhaps that diamonds don’t decay easily, except when under great pressure. It might prove she is a strong woman now, but will eventually break down.
act 2 scene 12
Act 2 Scene 1

Macbeth leans in to say to Banquo that if he is loyal to him he will be rewarded. But Banquo quickly pledges allegiance to the king. Macbeth is in a pickle now because Banquo knows something.


Macbeth’s 2nd major Soliloquy Phantom floating dagger.

Might represent how this will affect him in his life. He will slowly lose his mind

Two Allusions to stories “Hecate” and Tarquinii's”


Hecate is the Greco-Roman goddess of witchcraft, and you can view her as the leader of the three witches. She will appear later on in the play, Act 3 Scene 5, where she will demand to know why she has been excluded from the plot against Macbeth.

sextus tarquinius
Sextus Tarquinius
  • SextusTarquinius and his cousin, Collatinus, were feasting together, a dispute arose about the virtue of their wives. So they mounted their horses to visit their homes by surprise. They first went to Rome, where they sur­prised the king's daughters at a splendid banquet.
  • They then hastened to Collatia, The beauty and virtue of Lucretia had fired the evil passions of Sextus.
  • A few days he returned to Collatia, where he was hospitably received by Lucretia as her husband's kinsman. In the dead of night he entered the chamber with a drawn sword; by threatening to lay a slave with his throat cut beside her, whom he would pretend to have killed in order to avenge her husband's honour, he forced her to yield to his wishes.
  • Soon after, Lucretia sent a message to her father and her husband, telling them everything, she killed herself
  • Sextus Tarquinius fled to Gabii, to seek to make himself king, but he was killed in revenge for his past actions.
act 2 scene 2
Act 2 Scene 2
  • Lady Macbeth does not directly refer to the murder she states that “He is about it” She presents herself as squeamish about the plot.
  • She’s just a woman after all
  • Murder –sons might have cried out in their sleep.
  • Unable to ask God for forgiveness – Stuck in my throat.
act 2 scene 21
Act 2 Scene 2
  • Macbeth: Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep.”
  • Only the Innocent can sleep.
  • Reference to the Witches casting the spell on the husband of the lady who wouldn’t share her chestnuts.
act 2 scene 22
Act 2 Scene 2
  • The murder is bloody and although we do not see it taking place there would be a cry heard from back stage or beneath the stage like a murderous scream.
act 2 scene 3
Act 2 Scene 3
  • The Porter Scene
    • Used for Comic Relief after the last scene.
    • Audience is probably a bit shaken and needs a good laugh
  • The porter imagines he is the porter at the door to hell.
  • Admitting a farmer who has committed suicide after a bad harvest, an equivocator who has committed a sin by swearing half truths and an English tailor who stole clothes to make himself look rich at a brothel.
  • Since it is too cold for hell he goes to open the door, and outside are MacDuff and Lennox who scold him for taking too long to respond to their knocking.
  • He then explains that he had too much to drink and delivers a short sermon about the ills of drinking.
act 2 scene 31
Act 2 Scene 3

Significance of Porter’s speech

  • Written in prose – tradition. Lower classes speak in common prose not iambic pentameter.
  • Beelzebub – popular book in Shakespeare’s day.
  • Farmer stored grain and hanged himself because he stored grain for the next year but the price went down so he lost money. Mirrors Macbeth because he expected a lot from something he did and won’t achieve it.
  • Equivocator –Roman Catholic priest Jesuit priests many were tortured and killed because they are bound to tell the truth but they chose to equivocate or remain silent on the assassination attempt of James I
  • Tailor – clothing image has stolen French designs clothing reference- borrowed clothes
  • Macduff finds the kings body. Describes it as Gorgon – Medusa turned to stone
  • Irony as it is too much for a woman to handle when lady Macbeth enters.
  • She makes an error here
    • “Woe, alas! What in our house?” [line 99]
  • This arouses the suspicion of Banquo again.
  • Banquo suspects Macbeth for 3 reasons now:
      • Macbeth was ‘creeping’ at night
      • He said “why don’t you stick with me?”
      • Lady Macbeth is concerned for herself NOT Duncan.
  • Lady Macbeth faints here for 2 possible reasons:
    • Macbeth killed two other people
    • To take the attention off Macbeth
act 2 scene 4
Act 2 Scene 4
  • Ross, Old man and Macduff
  • Scene is used to indicate time passing and pathetic fallacy
  • Mousing owl and fierce falcon Macbeth and Duncan respectfully
  • MacDuff – suspects Macbeth Who is already at his coronation.
  • Old robes sit easier than new. – clothing reference.
  • Reminder:
  • Definition: A pathetic fallacy is the attachment of human traits such as emotions, thoughts, sensations and feelings to inanimate objects or settings. It largely relates to the personification of objects. Examples are smiling/dancing flowers, angry/cruel winds, and brooding mountains.