Importance of Murder Scene in Macbeth
Act 2, Scene 2 is the murder scene in Macbeth. The scene is the crisis of the action and is presented with unsurpassed intensity. Boas comments:
“It is written with the pen of fire, and we see eye-witnesses of the deed of death though it is transacted off the stage.”
The murder is off-stage. Its effect upon the protagonists is the dominating impression. The stage is empty for a moment before Lady Macbeth enters ‘fired’ by her imaginative awareness of the murder. There is a shriek and she is still and recognizes the cry of an owl. She has taken wine to nerve herself and cannot enter Duncan’s chamber because Duncan in his sleep resembled her father. The hooting of the owl without and the cry of the crickets within suggest Nature’s consciousness of the moral anarchy in the world of man. Stopford Brooke says,
“I doubt if in all literature there is any silent and whispering fear to be compared with that which thrills the air in this scene when Macbeth descends with his bloody hands, and she welcomes him with question on question and wears away his misery with bold encouragement”.
Macbeth enters and Lady Macbeth greets him with two words only, “My husband“. Macbeth declares in a short stark sentence that he has “done the deed”. Macbeth asks if she has heard any noise. Lady Macbeth replies that she has heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Macbeth hears noise and words. These are not actual, but his inner voice that speaks out. Macbeth begins his ravings – he is indifferent to what Lady Macbeth says. He is self-absorbed. He hears one cried “God bless us”, and another “Amen” He could not say ‘Amen’, he hears the voice ‘sleep no more’ –‘Macbeth has murdered sleep’. He sees his hands and the blood plucks out his eyes from the sockets.
Lady Macbeth seems to be practical in contrast, yet she does not see the daggers her husband cries. When she sees them, she tells her husband to carry the daggers to ‘the place’. Macbeth is afraid to revisit the place. Lady Macbeth is not now afraid because the sleeping and the dead are but pictures.
“A little water clears us of this deed”.
Macbeth again sees his hand and cries that all the oceans will not wash his hands clean. There is knocking without. Macbeth hears the knocking within. When he knows that this is the actual knocking at the gate, he wishes Duncan to wake up with the sound of the knocking.
It has been aptly remarked that in this scene “we see the murder as it were mirrored in the souls of the two agents” (Grierson). The murder of Duncan is not shown on the stage. Shakespeare concentrates his interest more on the murderer than on the murder. If Macbeth had killed Duncan on the stage, the sight would have been horrible. Shakespeare shows other murders on stage, but Macbeth himself commits no murders. That would have alienated our sympathy from Macbeth.
- Significance of Porter Scene in Macbeth
- Imageries and Symbols in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
- Macbeth as a Morality Play
- Importance of Soliloquies in Macbeth
Duncan would have received our sympathy of the audience and not Macbeth. We are identified with Macbeth and see the murder with his eye. Shakespeare makes a hero out of a murderer by his subtle method of showing the murder through the recoilings, ravings and remorse of the murderer. Throughout the scene, he is conscious of the “deep damnation of his taking off”. Conscience gnaws into him and expresses itself through visions and voices. Macbeth broods deeply, his offence against God and man sticking in his mind, the blood confirming his permanent guilt.
The scene is full of dramatic irony, with Lady Macbeth referring to madness (constant brooding will make you mad) and to water cleansing the hands of blood. She is to become mad (V.i.) when the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten her little hand. Macbeth’s poetic invocation to sleep – representing a peace he will never know again, his hearing a voice (an aural equivalent to the vision of the dagger) his fearing the hand that will pluck out his eyes – all are conveyed with dramatic immediacy.
Grierson makes the appropriate remark:
“How to present murder in a drama was a problem that troubled the ancients. If done on the stage it is too horrible, if reported by a messenger, too frigid. In this supreme scene, Shakespeare has solved the problem. We see the murder as it were mirrored in the souls of the agents”.
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