Act II – Scene.iii
This starts with the continuing knocking at the door and the porter takes
his time in responding, and there is an amusing dialogue where he jokes about being the doorman at the gates of hell, wondering what kind of sinners are wanting entrance.
When he opens the door, he finds Lennox and Macduff who have arrived to call
upon the King and arrange his departure.
The castle is asleep apart from Macbeth, who directs them to the King’s
The news breaks that King Duncan has been murdered.
The Macbeth’s act in such a way that they are beyond suspicion. They
feign grief and Macbeth says he wishes he had died in Duncan’s stead. Macbeth kills the guards, which was not part of the original plan, and so that Macduff does not question Macbeth further on the matter,
Lady Macbeth faints.
Those in the castle vow to avenge this act of treason.
Duncan’s sons, fearing for their own safety, flee, one to England and the
other to Ireland.
The scene opens with a comical episode involving the
porter of Macbeth’s castle who is still drunk from the previous night’s festivities.
He moans about his job being worse than the porter of the gates of hell and he indulges in a private game with the audience. He can be described as a stand-up comic of the day, and he tries to imagine whom it could be, knocking at the gate.
There is some flexibility here regarding whom the porter can imagine at the
gates of hell.
For example when the play was performed in front of King James I, reference was made to conspirators involved in the gunpowder plot. Another example can be that of an equivocator, one who lies in court about his religion.
When Macduff and Lennox eventually enter the castle, the audience is aware
that Macbeth must be cleaning himself of the blood he acquired in the previous scene.
When he enters, he conducts Macduff to the King’s bedchamber and Lennox
remains and talks about the extraordinary weather, which has been coupled with unnatural events.
Shakespeare is keen to create a foreboding atmosphere using all the special
effects that are available – screaming, wailing voices, birdcalls and thunderclaps.
Macduff announces, “Our royal master’s murdered”.
Later on, Macbeth explains with an outburst of passion that he killed the
guards in the King’s chamber. It was a natural reaction when he saw the dead King.
He goes on to wax lyrical over the King’s death, and Lady Macbeth fearing that their guilt will be discovered, pretends to faint.
The dignitaries in the castle gather together, and quickly agree to avenge
this act of treason.