Act 2, Scene 2: the murder of Duncan


Macbeth and his wife react differently to the murder

Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Macbeth presents the murder of King Duncan - the play’s key event that propels Macbeth on to greatness as well as doom. In this scene, the Macbeths meet inside their castle at night, immediately after Macbeth has stabbed the sleeping Duncan to death.

At this point, the spouses react very differently to having killed the King. Macbeth is horrified at what he has done. He seems lost in thought as he talks about hearing someone saying a prayer when he had just killed the King. Macbeth was unable to reply “amen”, as you should: “I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen’ / Stuck in my throat.” (2.2.42-43). His inability to obtain blessing refers to the sin of regicide, which he has just committed. The Elizabethans believed that a king was God’s representative on Earth, which meant that regicide would send you directly to Hell. 

Macbeth also thinks he heard a voice crying: “ ‘Sleep no more! / Macbeth does murder sleep’.” (2.2.46-47). This foreshadows the insomnia that will plague him after the murder.

Macbeth’s hands are stained with Duncan’s blood, and he thinks his bloody hands as yet another symbol of the sin that he can never wash off: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No.” (2.2.75-76). Macbeth believes that morally he will never recover from killing his king and relative.

Lady Macbeth has an entirely different reaction. Her part in the murder has b...

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