Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 Analysis

Categories: Macbeth

A desert place.

The setting of ‘Thunder and lightning’ depicts bad weather, which shows the eerie atmosphere and tense mood. The play opens on a note of noise and disorder, foreboding much evil to come. Witches, who seem to enjoy the chaotic weather, appear to hold alien values and preferences compared to normal men and women.

The mood is sinister, dangerous and ominous; the immediate appearance of the witches starting from the first scene is used to inform readers of the underlying note of darkness.

The witches speak in riddles, and seem to know Macbeth’s secret desires and are seen as mischievous, otherworldly and evil beings. By saying that the ‘battle’s lost and won’, many meanings emerge, such as the ‘battle’ refers to the fight with Cawdor and though Macbeth may have ‘won’ against him, he has ‘lost’ a battle to himself, by afterwards caving into the witches’ tempting words.

They seem to refer the dark ‘ere’, which means after, ‘the set of sun’.

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This hints of their evil natures that seem to relate to their preference of bad weather and dark skies. They decide on the ‘heath’ to meet Macbeth. The rhyming words lead us to think of the ‘heath’, which is a wild and barren place, in relation to Macbeth and his future.

This way, we are lead to think that Macbeth’s heart will too, become wild, dry and bare. This is the first meeting between Macbeth and the witches and we can see that they are keen to meet him.

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We can infer from this fact and what we have learnt about the witches’ that they plan to do him harm. The mention of familiars, ‘Graymalkin’, which is a grey cat and ‘Paddock’ , a toad, continues to inform us of the Witches’ supernatural status, as well as further deepening the theory of ‘evil witches’ as they have chosen to keep strange pets. Back in Shakespeare’s time, people believed that such familiars were actually spirits trapped in the bodies of animals, hence we see the witches as unnatural and demonic in nature.

The next riddle, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through fog and filthy air.’ Once again the seemingly illogical statement keeps the reader wondering. It could be saying that what appears to be good may not be so and that there is a thin line between good, ‘fair’, and evil, ‘foul’. It could also be warning readers of Macbeth and his deceptive personality, as well as not to take appearances and people’s personalities for granted as nothing is what it seems to be.

Hence, the recurrent theme throughout this scene is the perversion of moral values and the disruption of all thing good, as well as that nothing is to be trusted as appearances are a form of deception. The witches’ evil is also a dominant theme throughout the scene as their preferences and actions give readers an overwhelming sense of evil and discord. There is an impending sense of disaster from their riddles and the belief that the witches are the embodiments of evil forces and the whole scene prepares the audience for the tragedy to come, as well as giving us a small peak into the future of the play.


The classroom analysis (generalized)

(Previous analysis was June holiday homework)

Act1 Scene 2:

9 / 7 /11

A camp.

The scene starts with King Duncan himself asking an injured captain to report on the latest revolt. The scene serves a purpose of explaining the political situation in Scotland through the onlooker’s eyes. In other words, though the scene does not go directly into the battle zone itself, it still adequately informs the audience of what is going on both outside and inside of the battlefield. It also introduces some important characters, such as King Duncan, Ross, Angus and gives a few mentions of Macbeth and Banquo. Though not as dark and eerie as the previous scene, this scene uses battle scenes and the imagery of blood and gore to further establish a slightly dangerous, gruesome scene. An underlying note of darkness can also be felt throughout the scene, as the use of subtle hints about Macbeth’s future betrayal keep up a sense of foreboding.

The battle is described as ‘two spent swimmers, that do cling together; And choke their art’. This tells us that the battle is very closely fought. No side is given a clear advantage but both sides are determined to keep the other ‘down’ for their own side to survive. The traitor ‘Macdonwald’ is also introduced as the enemy that King Duncan’s men are fighting in this particular battle. ‘And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling, Show’d like a rebel’s whore’, tells us that he at one point had seemed to be winning the battle, considering that ‘fortune’ is on his side. ‘Fortune’ is personified as a prostitute in this scene, giving him favors and such. Shakespeare also refers to ‘fortune’ as a goddess with a distinctly fickle nature that deceives the rebel (Macdonwald) with her smile before abandoning him. Following this predicament, Macbeth displays great courage and determination as he fought valiantly, undaunted by ‘fortune’.

Because of his bravery and strong will, Macbeth is praised many times throughout the entire Act 1. The very first praise ‘brave Macbeth’, was given to him by the captain, because of his valiance and dauntlessness before Macdonwald. In this scene, Macbeth is constantly shown in a positive light. Multiple praises of him lead to the audience becoming in awe of him, as he appears very impressive. He is also praised as ‘Valor’s minion’. ‘Valor’ being considered as a goddess of valiance and bravery and Macbeth being thought of as a favorite of hers, hence leading to the conclusion that he is a valiant warrior. These praises help to raise suspense throughout the audience as the more in awe and impressed they become, the more they want to meet the glorious hero, Macbeth.

However, even though Macbeth is constantly praised throughout this scene, the overwhelming presence of gore and blood show some character flaws in him as well. Macbeth ‘carved out his passage’ throughout the battlefield and ‘unseam’d [Macdonwald] from the nave to the chaps, And fix’d his head upon our battlements’. ‘Carved out’ gives us the image of constant killings, till a passage is carved out through a wall of men. This savage, sickening imagery is made worse when the image of Macbeth ripping open the rebel from his chin to his navel and then hacking off his head. The gruesome, gory image is the work of Macbeth. Hence, because of his savage kills and brutality of the battles, we can infer that he also has a strong, ruthless and slightly cold-hearted side to him.

The blood and gore plays a large part in the play, as it is later on associated with Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan and his own eventual death. Here, Macbeth’s kills and the shedding of blood are glorified as it done in support of the King. The irony is that later on, Macbeth’s kills and the shedding of blood will be associated to the killing of the King and many other innocents. This scene is also ironical in the sense that Macbeth’s great achievement of killing the rebel will later be the very way he dies; his head will get chopped off.

Hints of the future turn of events continue to appear as the Captain reports of Norway’s immediate attack right after their apparent victory over Macdonwald, ‘whence the sun ‘gins his reflection; Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break, So from that spring whence comfort seem’d to come; Discomfort swells. Mark, king of Scotland, mark’ . The meaning of this warning is that just as good things happen, bad things occur. This statement, though said with no reference to Macbeth, is immediately linked to him.

This is due to Duncan’s praises of Macbeth just before the warning was said, ‘O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman’, hence it can be interpreted as a warning that while Macbeth seems to come across to the other characters as a savior and hero, he may actually end up as the source of all discord and enmity. This makes the audience think twice about Macbeth’s both future and current loyalty and starts off one of the major themes in the play: Appearance and illusions VS reality. What seems honest and beneficial may turn out to be the exact opposite. It also warns the audience of Macbeth’s future deceit and duplicity.

The battle scene thickens as the Norweyan troops take advantage of their moment of victory to begin a fresh assault on them. Macbeth and Banquo are further praised here for their fearlessness and energy faced with yet another foe. They were said to be as dismayed and afraid as ‘As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion’, in other words, not afraid at all. The use of nature imagery here are compare them to the eagle, king of the sky, and the lion, king of land, implying them to be very noble and prideful in their fight for their king. Later on, when Duncan is murdered, the natural order of things is disrupted and the animals behave strangely. This fact further emphasizes the wrongfulness of murdering a good and lawful King, hence further condemning Macbeth.

Ross later reports of betrayal of the Thane of Cawdor, and makes some comparisons with The King of Norway and Macbeth. ‘Confronted him with self-comparisons’, here implies that Macbeth and him were matched in strength and courage. However, as the King of Norway is considered to be treacherous and cunning, the words ‘self-comparisons’ further hint of Macbeth’s future treacherous personality. Ross also praises Macbeth, calling him ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’. Bellona is the roman goddess of war and by calling him her newly-wed husband; it implies that he too is a great warrior. His enjoyment of war and his enthusiasm and zeal over it also achieve the audience’s further questioning; in the case where Macbeth’s loyalty to Duncan is diminished, what will come of his enthusiasm for violence and love of war.

Later on Duncan awards Macbeth with the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’, unknowingly beginning to fulfill the prophecy which would lead him to his own demise. By condemning the current Thane of Cawdor, he blissfully is unaware of the fact that his presenting of the title to Macbeth will lead Macbeth to becoming a treacherous usurper.

Duncan final words that close the scene are an ominous echo of the witches’ riddles in the first scene ‘When the battle’s lost and won’. ‘What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won’, makes it such that by becoming thane of Cawdor, Macbeth has entered some sort of curse, as though he wins the characteristics of the previous thane as well as his title but he eventually loses his future and sanity in the process. This shows the clear link between the King’s current actions and the scheme of the witches, which further leads to the fulfillment of the prophecy of the witches, which fuels Macbeth’s savage ambitions. It also makes the audience wonder the outcome of the play, had the King not given him the title.

In summary, we can infer from act 1 scene 2 that Macbeth is brave, courageous, valiant, strong-willed, but at the same time hinted to be ruthless and slightly savage. Still, the audience will be mainly in awe of his loyalty and ability to overcome adversity in battle, as well as his apparent image as the embodiment of justice and valor.


The classroom analysis (generalized)

(Previous analysis was June holiday homework)

Act1 Scene 3:

9/ 7 /11

A heath.

This scene marks the beginning of evil in Macbeth. It depicts his inner thoughts and struggles to keep his ambitious desires for the crown at bay. It is thought to be the ‘temptation scenes’, where Macbeth’s longings are further aroused by the witches’ words, instigating him with the hope of becoming king of Scotland with their prophecy.

The 3 main purposes of this scene are

1. Characterization of the witches

2. Contrast in the difference between Macbeth and Banquo’s reactions to the witches’ prophecy.

3. Character of Macbeth is explored in greater detail.

(Imaginative nature and high-strung temperament makes him inclined to soliloquy – ‘aside’ thoughts of character onstage, only audience can hear it.)

With regards to the plot, the witches’ make the initial movement, through them Macbeth’s ambition crystallizes and his definite resolution to murder Duncan is established. However, bear in mind that Macbeth’s ambition was already present before the witches’ approached. Still, his meeting with them helped his vague aspiration take a definite shape.

First and foremost, the scene introduces the witches’ sadistic and cruel nature, showing that they are vindictive, spiteful creatures who want to wreck revenge on the sailor’s wife, by giving out punishment on her husband which is out of proportion to the nature of the offence. Their reason for casting a spell on the sailor and his ship, cursing them to prolonged periods of suffering was simply because his fat wife refused to share her chestnuts with the First Witch. Such extreme measures emphasize the witches’ malicious natures, immediately giving the audience a poor impression of the characters.

The animal imagery of a ‘rat’, tells us that they are sneaky, mischievous and harmful, biting a hole into the sailor’s ship. The way they chant ‘I’ll do, I’ll do and I’ll do’ appears to readers as eerie, almost definite manner of speaking. Their chants and ability to control winds further informs us that they are unnatural, almost magical beings.

However, the witches though having powers beyond the norm are not completely powerful and are limited in their ability. Though they certainly can control winds, water, chant and attempt to place misguided thoughts in the characters minds, they cannot kill anyone nor can they force someone to bend to their will (as seen from the way they only influence the already ambitious Macbeth and not the honest Banquo).

Furthermore, this indicates that Macbeth’s murder of Duncan and usurping was not because of the witches. He has evil thoughts already in himself, the witches only acted as guides, suggesting and tempting him with their words. The roles of the witches from the beginning were only insinuators, to provide suggestions and are not the direct cause for Macbeth’s actions. Hence, we can conclude that Macbeth is responsible for his own evil deeds and that the witches cannot be used to excuse Macbeth from his behavior.

Still, the witches’ unyielding, cruel nature is still undeniable as they cause horrors for the people they target. The sailors are subjected to 81 days of wasting away, living like cursed men. Though they cannot completely destroy the ship, they can still cause it to be tossed and churned wildly through the storm. Also, we can tell that their cruelty and vindictive nature is apparent as jubilant is evident in their voices at Macbeth’s approach. From what we have learnt of their natures, we may conclude that they are deigning to work harm on Macbeth.

Macbeth continues to link himself to the witches. His mention of ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’ reminds us of the ‘fair is foul’ comment that the witches used to close scene 1. It shows a clear connection between Macbeth and the witches’ evil. The ironic repetition is unconsciously echoed by Macbeth, indicating the changing direction of the battle or the weather, however it could also hint of Macbeth becoming further involved with the witches’ evil plot.

The witches are also described in detail by Banquo here, seen to be strange looking and ‘withered’ and ‘wild’ in their dressing and features. However, their strange looks help to promote themes like appearance VS reality, as the women though seemingly women, have beards like men. This emphasizes their unnaturalness and status as perversions of nature. Their prophecy is also reviewed in this scene. First, Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, which is more of a fact, seeing that Macbeth will inherit the title from his father.

Next, they claim he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King. The last two are great prophecies; however it is the prophecy of becoming King that provides Macbeth the greatest temptation. It spurs him on for the most of the play, killing in hope to gain and keep the elusive title. Also, the witches are noted to not indicate how to achieve this title, giving only predictions and no suggestions. This further increases Macbeth’s responsibility for the murder of so many innocents. He crafted his own path and used his own means to achieve the titles and hence the murders committed in the process are more of his choice than any witches’ suggestion.

Next, Macbeth is furthered introduced and the difference between Macbeth’s and Banquo’s reactions to the witches prophecies is explored.

Through Banquo, we can see Macbeth is deeply shocked by the witches’ prophecies. ‘Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear. Things that do sound so fair?’ This suggests that the witches’ revelation was of Macbeth’s innermost thoughts, his dark hidden desire to become King. However, unlike Macbeth, Banquo sees no reason to fear the witches, indicating a strong sense of integrity and justice in him. While Macbeth is ‘rapt’, thinking of the King’s position; Banquo challenges the Witches’; fearing not as he does not have any greedy ambitions and a clear conscience.

Hence, to summarize, Macbeth’s deep, dark innermost thoughts being revealed tell us of his ‘guilty’ status, who indeed, did have dark intentions towards King Duncan. Whereas, Banquo’s reactions are that of an honest man, skeptical and mistrustful of the witches as well as wary of his and Macbeth’s prophesized glory.

More riddles follow, as the number of paradoxical statements (statement in which it seems self-contradictory, absurd, but in reality it expresses a possible truth) grows.

First Witch

Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

Second Witch

Not so happy, yet much happier.

Third Witch

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:

So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!

The words could have many double meanings, for example ‘lesser’ and ‘not so happy’ could be referring to Banquo’s lack of titles and social status; whereas ‘greater’ and ‘much happier’ could refer to Banquo’s clearer conscience, honest character and upholding of morals. However, it is the last line of the riddle which though straightforward to a certain extent, tells us that Banquo will sire a long line of Kings. This is strange, as it makes the audience wonder how Macbeth will become King but have Banquo’s children gain the crown.

Macbeth’s power hungry nature is emphasized as the witches leave the scene. He desperately wants to know more. As the witches refuse to direct or properly guide him, Macbeth is eager to learn how to make this prophecy come true. His commanding nature and forceful demand does not affect the witches. Hence we can infer from this that the Witches are mischievous, mysterious beings that do not listen to normal men. However, their elusive nature helps to add to a sense of suspense building up amongst the audience as it increases their fear of the unknown. This scene, especially this part, emphasizes how the Witches bait and lure Macbeth into their plans.

The witches vanish suddenly, and are likened to ‘bubbles’ by Banquo, suggesting that just like bubbles the witches are insubstantial, as though they do not really exist and are unnatural occurrences. Furthermore, their disappearances fuel the uncontained hunger in Macbeth for the knowledge to become King. However, Banquo on the other hand is confused and bewildered by the Witches’ sudden appearance and disappearances. He wonders if they had eaten the ‘insane root’ and hence have gone mad.

The men try to reconfirm the witches’ prophesies by repeating them to each other. However there is a difference in the tone of which the words are said. Macbeth seems wary and resentful of the fact that Banquo children are supposedly going to gain kingship, rather than his own children. Whereas, Banquo’s mood is light and joking, as he still is disbelieving and doubtful of the witches.

The arrival of Ross and Angus interrupts the exchange between the two men. In summary, they inform Macbeth that Duncan is caught between praising Macbeth or expressing his amazement at Macbeth’s courage and skill. He also comments on Macbeth’s lack of fear of the distorted faces of the people he has killed, ‘strange images of death’, and this later becomes an irony as Macbeth will later make even stronger images of death later on, one of which being Duncan. Next, they deliver the message that the King has awarded Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor. This decision is Duncan’s undoing, as it was the gaining of this title that persuaded Macbeth to act on the prophecy and kill Duncan.

Banquo is shocked by this revelation as he is still full of doubt and mistrust for the witches. On the other hand, Macbeth questions Ross and Angus, unaware of the Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal. The phrase, ‘dress me in borrowed robes’, is used to denote the new status or rank Macbeth has been give. It gives the image of unfitting clothes that do not rightfully belong to him, hence the term ‘borrowed’. This implies that the title is unsuitable for Macbeth and like ‘borrowed robes’ do not befit him. It is then revealed of the previous thane’s betrayal and efforts to destroy the country. The link between the new thane of Cawdor and the previous thane of Cawdor is the knowledge that they both betray the King’s trust, as Macbeth seems to be already in anticipation of his Kingship, ‘the greatest is behind’.

Banquo then shares his opinion on the witches and the turn of events to Macbeth. His own thoughts are addressed to both himself and Macbeth, acting as a warning to Macbeth as he senses his excitement.

That trusted home

Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,

Besides the thane of Cawdor. But ’tis strange:

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s

In deepest consequence.

Cousins, a word, I pray you.

His words convey the message that the witches are not to be trusted and that if he believes in their words completely, he might burn with an unholy desire for the crown. He expresses his belief that the witches are agents of evil who tell them but simple truths to betray them in far important matters and are simply baiting them to their demise. Banquo’s remark is penetrating, having described the true nature of the witches in detail. He appears to us as a wary but honest man who holds a great deal of moral wisdom.

However, with the use of soliloquy (as previously mentioned, it is when one shares his inner thoughts on stage with the audience but away from other characters), Macbeth expresses his confused and undecided feelings and is debating internally with himself. He is undecided if the prophecy is good or bad, ‘cannot be ill, cannot be good’. This paradoxical statement shows the sheer depth of the confusion in Macbeth as the statements directly contradict one another. This use of antithesis (the direct opposite: or in this case a balanced contrast of ideas), is used to show the conflicting emotions raging in Macbeth and uncertainty on whether he should trust the witches. However it also shows the inclination in Macbeth to evil as though deep down, he knows the implications of the prophecy are sinful actions, he still tries to justify the witches.

Macbeth understands that if the prophecy is fulfilled, then one way or another Duncan must die. However, the repulsive thought of murder makes Macbeth’s hair stand on end and the mere thought of cold blooded murder make his heart, usually fixed within his chest, pound so hard it is as if it were pounding against his ribcage (exaggeration). He realizes that if this prophecy is good, he should not yield to the thought of murder, and the fact that it does, unnerves him.

His every action is smothered in imagination of the King’s murder and he is so upset by the thought of murder that he quivers with fright. His mind is overwhelmed with such a thought that he is unable to think about anything else. Due to his cruel wishes, his inner stability is threatened and his inner peace lost. The next statement is also seemingly contradictory and paradoxical, ‘nothing is what it is not’, and yet it still tells us that the only thing real to him is what has not happened yet, the murder of Duncan, and the present is blotted out completely. Macbeth demonstrates a vivid but futile imagination and immediate fears do not worry him so much as his worries about the future.

While he is lost in thought, Banquo comments on his ‘rapt’ state. Finally, Macbeth decides to wait for the opportunity to come, having decided that though seemingly ‘good’ as the prophecy has led him to the title of thane of Cawdor, the witches tempting of him to commit regicide (murder of monarchy) through dangling the prospect of becoming King before him may also be a ‘ill’ thing. He wishes for matters to be taken out of his hands so that he can become King without having to delve into foul means.

Another imagery of clothing is also explored as Banquo comments that on Macbeth’s new titles.

New honors come upon him,

Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould

But with the aid of use.

This also provides the image of an unfitting set of clothes, referring to Macbeth’s new titles and honors. The metaphor takes on a role in which Macbeth is not suited or entitled to. Furthermore, Banquo says that the clothes need to be accustomed to, and that it is Macbeth’s thoughts and actions will fit the clothes to him and nothing else. This further emphasizes that what becomes of Macbeth is due to his own thoughts and choices.

The scene ends with Macbeth claiming that the other men’s efforts are recognized before making their way towards the king.


The classroom analysis (generalized)

(Previous analysis was June holiday homework)

Act1 Scene 4:

24 / 7 /11

Forres. A room in the palace.

This scene talks about the execution of the thane of Cawdor, praising of Macbeth and giving of title of crown prince to Malcolm. Imagery in this scene supports the sense of natural order in Duncan’s reign and the imagery of plants is used to describe Duncan’s nurturing of Macbeth and Banquo.

In this scene, two things help mark a turning point in this play.

1. Duncan’s proclamation of his son as crown prince

This clinches Macbeth’s decision to murder Duncan, as it confirms that Macbeth will never be king through natural causes. Unless Macbeth takes initiative to do something, the Kingship will slip out of his hands forever; hence he decides to murder the king.

1. Duncan’s decision to stay at Inverness

Macbeth’s ‘chance’ to murder Duncan was produced due to Duncan’s foolish and fatal decision.

The scene begins with the current situation of the previous thane of Cawdor. Cawdor, who had been executed, was reported as showing a ‘deep repentance’ before death. They even go so far to say that his death ‘became him’ and he was at his best right before dying. Duncan then comments that ‘There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’, referring to Cawdor’s betrayal of Duncan’s complete trust in him. The irony of this situation is that Duncan still does not learn his lesson after this, and still continues to trust those around him, eventually being betrayed by the current Thane of Cawdor (Macbeth) in an almost similar fashion.

Macbeth is someone who Duncan will put ‘absolute’ trust in, like the previous thane. However, Duncan appears to be a poor judge of character as he is soon tricked by the thane of Cawdor again. His comment ‘There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’, basically means there is no technique or skill to see a person’s heart gives the scene a sense of foreboding and prophesy. It helps give rise to the theme of APPEARANCE AND REALITY, as well as injects a sense of dramatic irony as the audience knows he is about to make the same mistake again. As we can see, this line incorporates much dramatic significance, also because after this line is spoken, Macbeth enters. This link can only be seen by the audience and not Duncan; a subtle hint about the future. In this scene, we are able to characterize Duncan.

He is a generous, appreciative, noble, naïve, trusting, gullible, gentle, dignified and benevolent king. He is associated with the natural order of things and even Macbeth recognizes me as a good king whom the subjects love. However he is also a poor judge of character as well as a tactless/thoughtless man. He gives Malcolm the crown before Macbeth, a tactical error which costs him his life. Macbeth would have be likely to feel jealous of Malcolm, not to mention having done so much in the war, he would feel as if his reward of the title ‘thane of Cawdor’ is small and insignificant compared to the crowning of the prince.

However we cannot completely blame and ridicule Duncan for trusting Macbeth. Macbeth having had lain down his life for him, has earned Duncan’s trust. However we can still feel the irony as Duncan praises the treacherous Macbeth with words like ‘O worthiest cousin!’ etc. Duncan even says that Macbeth has done so many brave deeds that he has already been put in front of all of them, as if having been ‘elevated high above them all’. He expresses his internal gratitude, claiming that whatever reward is give to him is still not enough to fill the debt he owes to Macbeth.

Macbeth replies Duncan claiming that there is no need to thank him as his service and loyalty to Duncan rewards him, and that he is full of love, duty and loyalty towards Duncan the country, him and his children. This provides a sharp contrast to the later soliloquy of scene 4, where Macbeth calls on the powers of darkness to kill the man he has just declared complete allegiance to. The contrast emphasizes Macbeth’s duplicity and double dealing nature.

Duncan, as an appreciative and generous King, also does not forget to thank Banquo. The seed and plant imagery, otherwise known as a horticultural image, is used in Duncan’s speech to Banquo, to indicate a natural growth of appreciation for him, which is no less than the appreciation of Macbeth. Banquo’s reply is also less flowery and elaborate compared to Macbeth’s, making a clever conceit (does not mean arrogant, means something like ‘thought’) on Duncan’s embrace, and his desire to hold Duncan to his heart, hence showcasing his loyalty. Banquo continues the natural image of sowing and cultivating crops, then reaping them when ripe. Duncan is portrayed to be the rich soil in which Banquo has been planted and will thrive in. Banquo informs the King in a simple, straightforward manner that if he ‘thrives’ the King will naturally reap benefit from him, as well as that all his power, possessions and status belong to the King.

We must take note of the differences between Macbeth’s and Banquo’s replies.



Flowery stilted

Elaborate insincere

doesn’t seem to come from the heart

Straight forward sincere

full of humility humble


Duncan, in his joy, thoughtlessly names his son as the successor but still claims that his son is not the only one to receive such honors as he still loves everyone equally. Macbeth however, is disappointed, troubled and is even a bit angry. He sees Malcolm as an obstacle and is now seriously thinking of treachery.

Duncan does not recognize his displeasure. He decides to proceed to Inverness, Macbeth’s home, and the words ‘bind us further to you’, invoke a sense of irony in us. We can see that Duncan will be bound to Macbeth in a way that he has never dreamt of. He has no idea of what Macbeth is going to do to him in his stay in his castle. This will go on, unknown to Duncan but known to the audience, as they know of Macbeth’s evil plans.

Macbeth lies to the King, pretending that he is rushing back to deliver the message of Duncan’s soon arrival to his wife, when the truth is he wants to hurry back to plan the murder of Duncan with his wife. He even says that “rest is labor, if not used for you’. In other words, resting feels more like labor if not done to help his King in any way. Duncan, naïve and trusting, calls him ‘worthy Cawdor’, not suspecting a thing.

With the King’s decisions in mind (crowning of Malcolm and the decision to stay at his castle), Macbeth is now more determined than ever in his evil purpose.

The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,

For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be,

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see

He calls on the stars to block out their own light as what he is about to do is bad, terrible, treacherous and evil that he does not want anyone, even himself, to see it being done. He does not want to relive the full horror of his deeds and hence rather not let his eyes see his hands at work. This also tells us that Macbeth recognizes the evil and wrong in his actions and yet he still proceeds to carry out the evil deeds. He coveys this to the audience with the use of soliloquy and hence we understand that Macbeth’s invocation (to call on) to the stars to dim their lights are thoughts which are kept to himself and are only known to him and the audience, emphasizing the fact that these are thoughts running through Macbeth’s mind, unbeknownst to the rest.

His words are like an inversion of nature; as if he were to ‘obliterate’ the light from heaven just to fulfill his dark purposes (MURDER DUNCANï).

Dramatic irony is continued as Duncan and Banquo proceed to discuss Macbeth’s nobility and courage after he leaves to discuss Duncan’s murder with his wife. They call him ‘a peerless kinsman’, in other words saying that no one is as good as him in terms of goodness and courage.

This further emphasizes Duncan’s gullible, trusting and naïve nature, not suspecting Macbeth’s motives in the slightest.


In drama, it is more accurate to study the main character in relation to the roles that he/she/it plays and his/hers/its relationship to other characters.

Macbeth VS Banquo

1. PARALLEL characters

Characters which are very similar to one another


1. both help kings fight the rebels

2. Both are captains

3. Both receive prophecies from the Witches

4. Both commended by the King

However, that is where the similarities END.

1. Banquo is used to show CONTRAST with Macbeth


Stark contrast between Macbeth and Banquo’s

1. Reactions to the witches’ prophecies

Macbeth – fearful, awed, eager to know more

Banquo – wary, defiant, confused

1. Reactions to Duncan’s commendations

Macbeth – flowery reply, full of insincere sounding praises

Banquo – brief, humbling, sincere and self-evasing reply

1. Personality and character

Macbeth – ambitious, deceptive, cunning, cruel and ruthless

Banquo – full of integrity, honest, valiant, brave, loyal, and cautious

1. Royal line

Macbeth promised to be king

Banquo promised to be the father of many kings

Banquo promised to be greater and happier than Macbeth

1. Attitude towards each other, before and later

At first open with each other; later they will be wary and cautious with each other and unwilling to share their thoughts, hiding their intentions from each other.

Macbeth VS Witches

1. Witches are supernatural beings with supernatural knowledge

Offers go beyond that of ordinary human limits

1. Macbeth is embodiment of ‘man’;

Full of apparent ‘valiance’ but actually easily mislead

1. We are rather unclear to witches’ intentions towards Macbeth in ACT 1

Later, Hecate scene indicates that they are supernatural agents of evil and destruction, holding power through surprise magical intentions

Appearance VS Reality (theme)

1. Theme of FALSE appearance can thus be understood firstly in terms of conscious deception and hypocrisy

2. DECEPTION can thus be understood, secondly as part of the broader theme of concealment. From the beginning, Macbeth conceals his feelings about becoming King by speaking in ‘aside’ or soliloquy.

3. HYPOCRISY can be seen from Macbeth hypocrite actions, as he claims to be loyal and honorable but in truth; plots to kill his King (commit REGICIDE)

Evil VS Fear

1. GOOD and EVIL are moral absolutes:

The ethical view that certain actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of other contexts such as their consequences or the intentions behind them

1. Macbeth’s murder of Duncan is treated as a crime of the most terrible kind, of which he is deeply fearful from the moment he entertains the thought of it, which has far-reaching consequences.

2. 3. Recurrent images of darkness and night, illness and blood are all used figuratively to suggest moral significance, and to give a CONCRETE image of evil.

Explain: REGICIDE, when it is performed of a good, lawful King, is considered EVIL. There is no moral objectivism, especially when the murder carries it out for his/her own benefit. This is emphasized by the many symbols used.

1. However, good and evil is also presented in a paradoxical way…

Macbeth expresses the most sensitive moral awareness: he accuses himself of the evil of his murder in the most eloquent terms; and experiences great horror and terror both before and after the deed. This contradicts the idea of good and evil as though Macbeth ‘knows the evil’, he still carries on to perform the ‘evil’, as if it were ‘good’ The choosing of wrong though aware of the right, causes good and evil to seem also like paradoxical ideas.


Macbeth’s soliloquy:

1. Macbeth speaks the greatest proportion of his lines alone; in a soliloquy or an ‘aside’

1. Lack of interaction with other characters is very SIGNIFICANT in this kind of drama which usually relies upon dialogue to move the action forward.

2. This solitary speech produces a strong sense of Macbeth’s isolation especially later in the action, where he is virtually speaking alone even though there are many silent servants on stage.

3. This makes Macbeth a very internal character, whose inner life creates a kind of action in mind. His private speeches use vivid and moving images and develop powerful inner experiences at different points in the play.

Scottish court:

1. Duncan, Malcolm and Macduff have distinct roles to play

2. However, thanes are apparently generalized in speech and decisions at the start of the play

3. Duncan’s role is that of a gracious but overly trusting and wrongfully murdered King. He relates to his scout with elaborate and formal courteousness

4. After Duncan is murdered, thanes become wary of each other and their surroundings

Cite this page

Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 Analysis. (2017, Oct 15). Retrieved from

Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 Analysis

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