William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Act 3 Scene 2

This intimate scene shows the Macbeths’ private life, their thoughts and perceptions of current events. Although it pauses the play’s action, it retains a tense mood. As the assassins plot and advance toward their new victims, the Macbeths meet in secret. Lady Macbeth tries to soothe her husband’s anxiety over recent events. However, even she expresses limited confidence in their plot. King Duncan’s murder created problems that they had not anticipated and, naturally, committing another murder requires them to develop thick skin. They struggle to do so.


In Act I Scene V, the Macbeths plot King Duncan’s murder. In the present scene, they plan Banquo and his son’s murder. Lady Macbeth is initially unaware of the second murder plot, and she reacts with surprise when Macbeth reveals he has the guts to orchestrate it. Whereas Lady Macbeth manages King Duncan’s murder, Macbeth designs their current plot against Banquo and Fleance. Presumably Macbeth has learned a lesson or two regarding murder from his wife’s. Specifically, Macbeth has realized he harden his heart against feelings of guilt. “Make our faces vizards (visors) to our hearts,” he says. This statement reveals how Macbeth has transformed from an innocent soul who cannot fathom murder into a beastly creature capable of doing it in cold blood.

Macbeth speaks with a lot of confidence and bravado. However, internally, he is a man burning with doubt. Both Macbeth and his wife appear to be losing their nerve with regards to the second murder. Lady Macbeth says that she has “doubtful joy,” whereas Macbeth explains his “restless ecstasy.” These statements illustrate Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s lackluster enthusiasm for what they are about to do. Their contentment has been disrupted, their peace destroyed. Although they appear cool and confident in public, they suffer in silence, and this tension will soon expand as Lady Macbeth falls into mental illness.

Their second murder plot bears a striking contrast to the first. Whereas Lady Macbeth took command over King Duncan’s murder, she remains largely unaware of the plot against Banquo and Fleance. Through this change, Shakespeare depicts differing power dynamics within one couple. Moreover, this scene reaches its climax when Macbeth shows a desire to cut the bind that exists between him and the world. Macbeth desires to lose his humanity, just as Lady Macbeth wanted to lose her feminine virtues when she plotted King Duncan’s death. According to Macbeth, the natural conditions within which he was borne make him fearful. This scene demonstrates the fact that even people in high offices of authority have weaknesses. Lady Macbeth, a woman who was originally very calm in such situations, has become a shell of her former self. She becomes more frightened than her husband and together, their actions foreshadow their ultimate downfall.

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