Macbeth Act 2, Scene 3: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Act II, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's tragedy, ''Macbeth'' opens on a comic note but quickly moves toward the mayhem and madness that dominate the play. This lesson summarizes the scene and discusses some important quotations from it.

Summary of Previous Scenes

Macbeth has chosen to believe the witches' prophecy that he would become king and has assisted fate by killing Duncan, King of Scotland, while he he slept. He tells Lady Macbeth he is horrified by what he has done, but she mocks him for his weakness. Act II, scene 2 closes with the sound of knocking at Macbeth's castle, where the murder has occurred.

Remember the Porter

Scene 3 opens with the well-known porter scene, providing welcome comic relief to the audience who has just heard Macbeth describe the murder of the king in the prior scene. The porter has been slow to answer the knocking at the gate because he has been drinking all night. In his addled state, he imagines he is guarding the gates of hell. Given the murder that has just occurred inside the castle, the porter playing hell's gatekeeper is ironic.

The drowsy porter imagines himself greeting three people at the gate. First, a farmer arrives. This man has speculated on commodities, hoarding his crops in hopes of selling them for a higher price later. The law of supply and demand thwarts the farmer's dream of wealth; there is a plentiful harvest, so the farmer's crop has become worthless while he waited for prices to rise.

Next, the porter welcomes an equivocator, who tricks and deceives everyone except God, to his rightful place in hell. The last person he imagines knocking at the gate is a tailor who has stolen cloth from his client. The porter ends the sequence saying, ''I pray you remember the porter'' (line 21). The familiar line may be an admonition to the audience to remember the types of sin that will send one's soul to hell.

Discovering the Murder

Once the porter opens the gate, Macduff and Lennox, two noblemen, enter. The porter admits to Macduff that he was carousing with friends the night before. He explains that alcohol is deceptive because it makes a person lustful, yet unable to perform sexually.

Macbeth enters the scene and tells the two visitors that the king is still asleep. While Macduff goes to wake Duncan, Macbeth and Lennox discuss the disturbance that occurred the night before. Lennox describes strange screams of death and terrible voices predicting catastrophes that were heard during the night. He says there was an earthquake and the chimney was knocked down. The reference to chimneys is an anachronism, or a thing out of time or place, because chimneys did not exist in Macbeth's time.

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