Macbeth Act 2, Scene 1: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Emily Russell

Emily has taught writing and literature at the college level and is currently pursuing a PhD (ABD) in medieval and early modern literature.

This lesson will go summarize Act 2, scene 1 of 'Macbeth, including Macbeth's talk with Banquo, his vision of a dagger, and his final decision to murder Duncan.

Teaser

'Is this a dagger I see before me?' Macbeth utters this line in Act 2, Scene 1 of the play named after him. He says it as a bloody dagger appears before him in mid-air. Is he hallucinating? Does he feel guilty and imagines he sees something? Or is some supernatural power making an actual dagger appear before him?

Let's see what else happens in this scene in the play. But first, a recap.

What Just Happened?

A lot happens in Act 1 of Macbeth. We meet the main characters and also the three mysterious women, known as the Weird Sisters. The sisters, who are witches, tell Macbeth that he will receive two new titles: Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland. (Weird doesn't exactly mean strange or creepy. It's a reference to the witches' prophetic abilities.)

At the end of Act 1, the first of these predictions has come true. Macbeth gains confidence that he then will also become the king. Conveniently, Duncan, the current king, has stopped to spend the night at Macbeth's castle. Let the plotting begin!

Establishing Relationships

Scene 1 of Act 2 opens as Banquo, a high ranking Scottish noble, takes a late-night stroll with Fleance, his son. Banquo is on edge. He says: 'There's husbandry in heaven;/ Their candles are all out' It's a dark night with no stars. This creeps out Banquo, who often interprets natural occurrences as omens. Banquo hands his sword to his son, possibly worried that someone will sneak up on them.

Macbeth enters and a startled Banquo grabs his sword back from his son. When Banquo realizes that it is only Macbeth, he says, 'The King's abed./ He hath been in unusual pleasure, and/ Sent forth great largess to your offices./ This diamond he greets your wife withal . . .' Largess means generosity. These lines show that King Duncan is a good king, and generous to his subjects, offering a diamond to Macbeth's wife. It also lets the audience know what kind of relationship the Macbeths have with the king. They have no reason to be angry with him and to think that he is a bad ruler.

Furthermore, while the king is at their castle, there is a host-guest relationship between the king and the Macbeths. According to custom, this relationship should mean that the Macbeths will take very good care of Duncan. It makes their plotting to kill him seem even more cold-blooded!

After giving the diamond to Macbeth, Banquo mentions the Weird Sisters and Macbeth pretends that he hasn't given their predictions any thought, but mentions that he'd like to talk to Banquo about the encounter sometime soon anyway. They all say goodnight and Banquo and Fleance leave.

Macbeth with a bloody dagger
Macbeth with a bloody dagger

Macbeth Has a Vision

As soon as Macbeth is alone, things get really strange. He sees a dagger appear in front of him. It is hanging in mid-air! He delivers a soliloquy, which is a speech given when no one else is on stage. He says, 'Is this a dagger which I see before me,/ The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.' Macbeth isn't repulsed by the freaky floating weapon. Instead, he reaches for it!

Then he says, 'I have thee not, and yet I see thee still./ Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible/ To feeling as to sight?' He wonders how he can see the dagger without being able to touch it. When he calls it a 'fatal vision,' he means that it is both a vision provided by fate and a vision that will be fatal, or deadly, for Duncan.

He reaches for his own dagger, which he happens to have on him, and starts walking toward Duncan's bedroom. He continues to see the floating dagger and remarks that it is now covered in blood. He talks about witchcraft, unnatural things, and Hecate, who is the goddess of witches. This enforces the idea that, at least for Macbeth, this murder is something he is destined, maybe even compelled, to commit.

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