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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT II, SCENE I
In the first scene of Act II, Shakespeare builds up suspense before the murder.
Banquo and his son Fleance talk casually about the night. In their short exchange, we learn three things: 1. that it is late and Banquo is sleepy (and we know what will happen once everybody goes to sleep);
2. that Banquo has some strange uneasiness which makes him unwilling to go to sleep; and
3. that Banquo has a son (that fact will become important later).
Macbeth comes in and talks with Banquo. Notice how nervous Banquo is. When he hears somebody coming he calls for his sword, even though he should feel safe in his friend's castle.
Shakespeare again uses the technique of dramatic irony. Banquo gives Macbeth a ring that is a present from Duncan for Lady Macbeth. We know, as Banquo does not, that the king is giving a gift to his murderer. We can imagine how Macbeth feels when Banquo says he dreamed of witches, and we know Macbeth is lying when he claims, "I think not of them" (line 21).
The two friends move further apart in this scene. When Banquo mentions the three witches, he is confiding his private thoughts to his friend. Macbeth dodges Banquo's honest comments, and begins hinting around by talking with Banquo about some business that will "make honor" for Banquo (line 26). Banquo responds politely but cautiously, saying that whatever he can do for Macbeth with a clear conscience he will do.
After Banquo and Fleance leave, Macbeth sends his servant off to Lady Macbeth with a message about his nightcap drink. That is probably a secret signal that everybody has gone to bed.
Macbeth prepares to commit the murder. His speech here is called a soliloquy because he is alone on stage. When you read or hear a soliloquy, you can assume that the character is speaking his true thoughts. Since he is talking to himself, why should he lie?
As soon as Macbeth is alone he has a vision. He sees a dagger floating in the air in front of him. It melts through his fingers when he tries to grab it but it will not go away. Then suddenly, the dagger appears to be covered with blood. Has Macbeth lost his mind? Or could the dagger be as real as the witches? Is he hallucinating or has some devil sent it as a sign? You cannot tell; and neither can Macbeth. He does not know whether to trust his eyes or his reason: "Mine eyes are made the fools o' the' other senses, / Or else worth all the rest" (lines 44-45).
At line 47, Macbeth's rational will takes over. "There's no such thing," he says about the dagger, and he never mentions it again. The imagery in the rest of this soliloquy shows that Macbeth knows exactly what he is doing. He says that "nature seems dead" (line 50). He mentions witchcraft and ghosts.
Unnatural means "perverted," and in Macbeth the word works in many ways. In Shakespeare's time, people thought in terms of God's plan for mankind. This grand design was the "natural" order of the world. The devil was always trying to mess it up by tempting people to sin. So evil was "unnatural"; it corrupted the people God wanted to be good.
You will see the image of "unnaturalness" multiply around Macbeth as he mutilates his soul-or you might say his human nature, And since he's the king, the country reflects his spiritual sickness. It, too, becomes mutilated. Also notice as you read how the unnatural acts are reflected in nature-in animals and weather, for instance.