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Free Barron's Booknotes-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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At Macbeth's castle, Lady Macbeth gets a letter from her husband telling her about the predictions. She dedicates herself to helping Macbeth become king. When she learns that Duncan will spend the night at their castle, she immediately decides to kill him.

Lady Macbeth tells us something vital about her husband-that, by nature, he is not ruthless. She says that even if he wants something so badly he feels like his life depends on it, he will not cheat to get it. She sees that as a flaw in his character!

Lady Macbeth does not have that problem. The woman's resolution is so intense it is frightening. Her speech in lines 39- 55 is worth looking at, because it expresses her determination with some of the most potent imagery to be found anywhere in Shakespeare's plays. She actually asks spirits to "unsex" her and "take [her] milk for gall." And look how she picks up the light- dark imagery: "Come, thick night, / And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell." If Macbeth took a giant step toward evil, his wife makes a gigantic leap!

Notice how when Macbeth comes in, Lady Macbeth takes charge and starts talking about the murder right away. She doesn't even have to ask if he's considered it; she knows he has. She does most of the talking, and several times she tells him to leave everything to her. Macbeth does not agree to killing Duncan, but he does not refuse, either.


Duncan, his sons Malcolm and Donalbain, and Banquo and some other thanes arrive at Macbeth's castle. They comment on what a pleasant place it is. Lady Macbeth welcomes them warmly.

Here is a scene in which nothing is what it seems. Macbeth's castle is really a place of evil and death. The gracious hostess who delivers such pretty speeches is actually just waiting for the chance to murder her guest of honor.


Shakespeare uses a technique in this scene called dramatic irony. We as readers know about the double meanings in the scene. Except for Lady Macbeth, the characters are not aware of them. The scene is more interesting for us, because we know more than the characters do. Depending upon the way the scene is played, the effect can be funny, scary, or both.


LINES 1-28

Macbeth starts this scene in a state of emotional turmoil. As Lady Macbeth predicted, he wants to be king but he's afraid to kill Duncan. Having a vivid imagination, he can picture all the consequences of the murder before he commits it.

Two things make Macbeth hesitate: the fact that the murder is morally wrong, and the fear that he'll be punished for his crime. It's hard to say which reason, if either, is stronger. Though Macbeth does not seem like a religious man, there is a lot of religious imagery in this speech, with references to "angels" and "deep damnation" (lines 19-20).

LINES 29-82

Macbeth tells his wife that he cannot go through with the murder. She works on him to change his mind.

Lady Macbeth's first ploy is to mock her husband. She implies that he is a coward and even questions his manhood. Using the fact that she is a woman, and his wife, she twists the idea of motherhood into a way to get at him further:

I have given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was sniffing in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. (Act I, Scene vii, lines 54-59)

It is hard to argue with that kind of resolution. Macbeth gives in a little. Instead of refusing again, he asks "If we should fail?" (line 59).

Sensing she is about to win, Lady Macbeth coolly recites the details of their plan; while Duncan's servants are in a drunken sleep, Macbeth can kill the king and blame the servants.

Macbeth himself is chilled by his wife's hard attitude toward the murder, but he's also convinced. The scene and the act end on a note of resolution. Macbeth will kill Duncan.

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