Study Guide

Macbeth Act 2, Scene 3

By William Shakespeare

Act 2, Scene 3

  • Now that Shakespeare's given us a murder and a lot of spooky crazy talk from Macbeth, we're obviously ready for a brief, comedic interlude.
  • There's a ton of knocking and the Porter (the guy who's supposed to answer the door) does a lot of joking around about what it would be like to be a porter of "hellgate."
  • Apparently, a porter in hell would be a busy guy since there are so many evil and corrupt people in the world.The Porter runs through a bunch of scenarios for who could be at the door (a farmer, a con-man, a tailor) and he has witty remarks for all of them. Things like: "I hope you brought a handkerchief—you're going to get sweaty!" and "You can heat up your iron in here!" (Ba-DUM-bum.)
  • It's Macduff and Lennox, who have come to fetch the king.
  • The laugh-a-minute Porter makes a bunch of jokes about how drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, like he's been doing, makes a man frisky —but it also detracts from his "performance" in the sack, not to mention turning his nose red and making him have to pee.
  • Enter Macbeth, the picture of sleepy innocence while he makes small talk with Lennox and sends Macduff to wake Duncan.
  • Lennox notes that some spooky things have been happening all night —he heard a bunch of screams, there was a little earthquake, and the fire in his chimney blew out.
  • Yep, says Macbeth, it was a pretty rough night. But not as rough as it was for Duncan, who Macduff has just found murdered.
  • Macduff tells Macbeth and Lennox to go see Duncan's body for themselves. It's too gruesome for him to describe, except to say that viewing the scene is like looking at a Gorgon. (Medusa was a Gorgon, and when men looked at her they turned to stone, Chamber of Secrets style.) Macduff sounds the alarm to wake the whole castle, both by yelling his head off and calling for a bell to be rung.
  • Everyone starts running around, Lady Macbeth and Banquo show up, and then Macbeth starts a way-too-eager eulogy about the King's great virtues.
  • So, who murdered the king? Lennox thinks that the drunken guards covered in the King's blood and holding their daggers are a good bet.
  • Macbeth casually announces that he killed both of the guards in a fit of pious rage, out of his love for the King.
  • Apparently, no one thinks it's weird that the guards went to sleep with the bloody daggers in hand.
  • Lady Macbeth, upon hearing that Macbeth has done this, wisely stages a diversion—or maybe she really does nearly faint in response to her husband's stupidity. In either case, she needs to be escorted out. (Taking credit for the killing of the guards was not part of her plan).
  • Donalbain and Malcolm privately decide that they probably shouldn't stay in the house where their dad was killed. Good thinking. A+ for self-preservation. The rest of the men say they suspect treason and agree to meet in the hall to discuss the situation, pronto.
  • Malcolm will go to England and Donalbain to Ireland, making it more difficult to murder them both.
  • The dead king's sons slip out, unnoticed, while everyone else gets dressed and prepares to talk this thing through.