by: William Shakespeare

Act 2, scenes 3–4

Although Macbeth seems to gain confidence as Act 2, scene 3, progresses, other characters subtly cast suspicion on him. When Malcolm asks about his father’s killer, Lennox replies, “Those of his chamber, as it seemed, had done’t” (2.3.98). Lennox’s insertion of “as it seemed” highlights the suspect nature of the crime scene’s appearance. Banquo, also, expresses his wariness of Macbeth’s argument that the chamberlains were the murderers. He says: “let us meet / And question this most bloody piece of work, / To know it further” (2.3.123–125). By far, though, the most distrusting character is Macduff, who, up until this point in the play, has been a fairly unobtrusive character. He asks Macbeth why he killed the chamberlains, and later expresses his suspicion to Ross and the old man. His decision to return home to Fife rather than travel to Scone to see Macbeth’s coronation is an open display of opposition. Thus, in a few swift strokes, the play establishes Macduff as Macbeth’s eventual nemesis. Malcolm, of course, is the rightful king, but he lacks Macduff’s initiative and sense of purpose, a fact illustrated by his willingness to flee rather than assert his royal rights. In order to regain the throne, he will need the aid of the more assertive Macduff—and it is Macduff, not Malcolm, who assumes the responsibility for Macbeth’s death.

The conversation between Ross and the old man at the beginning of Act 2, scene 4, tells the audience about a number of unnatural occurrences in the weather and the behavior of animals, which cast a menacing shadow over Macbeth’s ascension to the throne. In Shakespeare’s tragedies (Julius Caesar, King Lear, and Hamlet, in particular), terrible supernatural occurrences often betoken wicked behavior on the part of the characters and tragic consequences for the state. The storms that accompany the witches’ appearances and Duncan’s murder are more than mere atmospheric disturbances; they are symbols of the connection between moral, natural, and political developments in the universe of Shakespeare’s plays. By killing Duncan, Macbeth unleashes a kind of primal chaos upon the realm of Scotland, in which the old order of benevolent king and loyal subjects is replaced by a darker relationship between a tyrant and his victims.