William Shakespeare's Works/Tragedies/Macbeth

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Scene Summaries[edit | edit source]

Act One : Scene 1[edit | edit source]

In a short 16 lines, Shakespeare quickly and effectively sets the scene for this play. From the first the play is restless and unnatural.

The witches, emblems of darkness and deceit, are the only characters present. They discuss a battle which they know will be finished shortly, they also know they will meet Macbeth "upon the heath", i.e. they have insight into the future. Their unnatural powers are further underlined in the last line of the scene "Hover through the fog and filthy air"

The restlessness and unease of the play as a whole is evoked in the thunder and lightning and the mentions of "hurly burly" and "battle".

Act One: Scene 2[edit | edit source]

This scene opens with the King Duncan awaiting news of the battle we have just heard the witches discussing. A "bloody man" has just arrived to report. What is significant is that Duncan himself is not fighting the battle. This indicates that he is perhaps too old or too weak to fight himself.

Malcolm, Duncan's son, and next in line to the throne, comments that the bloody man has saved him from being captured - "fought gainst my captivity". This suggests that Malcolm is a poor fighter, not capable of looking after himself on the battlefield. The question of why this is, is left open, perhaps he is simply young and inexperienced.

Next the Seargeant answers Duncan's enquiries and describes the battle. "Macdonwald" is the internal rebel being fought, there is evidently unrest in the kingdom. "Macdonwald" is not a weak enemy he is strong and tough - "merciless Macdonwald--Worthy to be a rebel". Indeed it looked like Macdonwald would win the day until by dint of some very hard fighting by Macbeth, Duncan's side won. To further emphasize the problems troubling Duncan's kingdom Shakespeare introduces an external foe who landed just as Macdonwald had been beaten. Instead of being disheartened by this Duncan's two leading soldiers redoubled their efforts and beat the second enemy.

Next two noblemen Ross and Lennox arrive bringing further news of the battle. It turns out that the external enemy (Norway) was being assisted by another internal traitor - The Thane of Cawdor. However not only has Macbeth succeeded in defeating them, he has made them pay a large fine to Duncan.

Duncan is very grateful to Macbeth for his courage, valour and success. Macbeth (along with Banquo) has succeeded in saving Duncan's Kingdom for him, against stiff odds. In addition he has enriched Duncan with the fine. Duncan concludes by granting Macbeth the title of the traitor. Macbeth becomes The Thane of Cawdor

Most significant in this scene is the emphasis on Macbeth's loyalty. Traitors are portrayed as evil but powerful, and Macbeth's bravery and courage in facing them are emphasized. This emphasis becomes ironic later in the play when Macbeth becomes the rebel