Duncan is Dead

Act 2 Scene 2 – Key Scene

In this scene, Macbeth returns from murdering Duncan, alarmed that he heard a noise. Lady Macbeth dismisses his fears and sees that he has brought the guards' daggers with him, rather than planting them at the scene of the crime. She tells him to return the daggers but he refuses and Lady Macbeth goes instead. While she is gone, someone begins to knock on the door of the castle. Lady Macbeth returns with bloody hands and reassures Macbeth that they just need to wash and get into bed so that they do not get caught.

You can take a look at the scene here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look

    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? How are the shared lines used? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.

    Enter MACBETH.
    I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?
    Lady Macbeth
    I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
    Did not you speak?

    Owls are nocturnal and traditionally seen as birds of darkness.


    These lines are all shared lines, in which Lady Macbeth and Macbeth share lines of iambic pentameter and ask each other questions. What does this tell you about them, how they feel and what might be happening around them? What do their short replies show you?

    Lady Macbeth
    As I descended?
    Lady Macbeth
    Hark – Who lies i’th’ second chamber?
    Lady Macbeth
    This is a sorry sight.
    Lady Macbeth
    A foolish thought,
    To say a sorry sight.

    It is silly to think about regret. This is a positive act for us.

    There’s one did laugh in’s sleep,
    And one cried ‘Murder’, that they did wake each other.
    I stood and heard them.
    But they did say their prayers,
    And addressed them again to sleep.

    Who is Macbeth scared of here and why? What might make him afraid?

    Lady Macbeth
    There are two lodged together.
    One cried ‘God bless us’, and ‘Amen’ the other,
    As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands;
    List’ning their fear, I could not say ‘Amen’,
    When they did say 'God bless us’.

    When they saw me with the blood on my hands like an executioner, the men were scared and cried out to God, but I could not say the last word of the prayer in response.

    Lady Macbeth
    Consider it not so deeply.
    But wherefore could not I pronounce ‘Amen‘?
    I had most need of blessing, and ‘Amen‘
    Stuck in my throat.
    Lady Macbeth
    These deeds must not be thought
    After these ways: so, it will make us mad.
    Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more;
    Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep,
    Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,
    The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,

    Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
    Chief nourisher in life’s feast’.

    What do you think causes Macbeth to hear the voice?

    Sleep repairs the damage of the day, in the same way you might sew back the edge of sleeve that has frayed. It is like a relaxing bath at the end of a tiring work day.

    Lady Macbeth
    What do you mean?
    Still it cried ‘Sleep no more’ to all the house:
    ‘Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
    Shall sleep no more – Macbeth shall sleep no more’.
    Lady Macbeth
    Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
    You do unbend your noble strength to think
    So brain-sickly of things
    – Go get some water,
    And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
    Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
    They must lie there – go carry them, and smear
    The sleepy grooms with blood.

    You are weakening yourself by thinking in such an anxious way.

    I’ll go no more:
    I am afraid to think what I have done;
    Look on’t again, I dare not.
    Lady Macbeth
    Infirm of purpose;
    Give me the daggers; the sleeping, and the dead,
    Are but as pictures, ’tis the eye of childhood
    That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
    I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
    For it must seem their guilt.
    (Text edited for rehearsals by Polly Findlay and Zoe Svendsen)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out? Who seems more in control during the scene?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from this scene in past versions of Macbeth at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices feel right to you?