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Act One Notes, Pt. Two

Act One, Scene Four


  • Duncan opens the scene by asking if Cawdor has been executed yet, to which Malcolm replies that whilst they haven't yet returned, he has heard an account of his death: Differences between Cawdor's death and Macbeth's death may be an apt point for consideration - both are beheaded, both off-stage.

  • Repentence may also be a fruitful comparison between the two Thanes of Cawdor: Macbeth certainly seems to regret his actions to some extent, however never openly repents for what he has done. Realizes that he can't undo it and so follows through his actions to their ending.

  • 'Nothing in his life/ Became him like the leaving of it' - two interpretations: he deserved to die or he died with dignity. Macbeth, however, dies in a state of frenzy without any real dignity beyond the pity we feel for him. This is a line which exposes dramatic irony, and can be directly related to Macbeth's tragic ending.

  • 'Studied in death' - Cawdor threw away his life as though it were only rubbish and meant nothing. Malcolm says this, implying that this is very dignified. Macbeth comes to see life as simply an act, 'signifying nothing', and so Macbeth's ability to throw away his life is suicidal and ultimately pointless.

  • Duncan states 'There's no art/To find the mind's construction in the face' - pointing out two interpretations 1: there's nothing special in reading a man's thoughts 2: there's no way to read a man's mind simply by looking at his face, referring to how much he trusted Cawdor. Duncan was clearly wrong to trust Cawdor, and should learn from this - instead he turns to trust Macbeth.

  • Might make us feel sorry for Duncan, yet we may also think he lacks intelligence and is extremely naive. To some extent this might relate to Duncan being shown as a 'sacrificial lamb' figure - somebody who dies because of their innocence. Duncan now begins to tell Macbeth that he owes him more than he can give - Duncan will give his own life for Macbeth's 'reward'. Irony is strongly shown here.

  • Duncan informs the audience that Malcolm will be his heir, whilst Macbeth tells him that he will go and tell Lady Macbeth that the King is coming, also what the witches have told him.

  • As an aside to the audience, Macbeth states that Malcolm lies in the way of his becoming King and so he must overcome that - he is already thinking about his ambitions, and possibly even how to kill Malcolm.

  • 'Stars, hide your fires/ Let not light see my black and deep desires./ The eye wink at the hand.' Macbeth commands the stars to go out, so that people and the heavens can't see what he is going to do. To some extent we question whether Macbeth himself wants to see what he is going to do. Links to themes of Macbeth's willful ignorance about the future. He seems almost scared of what he wants to do.


Act One, Scene Five


  • This is the scene where Lady Macbeth reads the letter and begins to work out how to kill Duncan, as well as how to persuade Macbeth to do so.

  • 'Yet I do fear thy nature; It is too full o'th'milk human kindness' - Macbeth, she worries, is too soft to kill Duncan. Uses typical role of men and women, women are supposed to be full of kindness, while men are brave and ruthless. By doing so, she threatens Macbeth's masculinity. Defying gender stereotypes is seen throughout the play as a bad thing: witches, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth actively wants to be masculine. Yet this is refuted by Macduff at the play's end, who argues that being a 'man' must also involve feeling and showing emotions.  To some extent the play questions two competing ideas of masculinity.

  • 'Art not without ambition' - Macbeth is torn in two between desire for ambition and desire for good. Trajectory: stable -> torn between good and ambition -> complete breakdown.

  • 'Pour my spirits in thine ear' - on a surface level Lady Macbeth will use her words to persuade Macbeth. In Hamlet, poison is poured into the king's ear - Lady Macbeth's words are effectively compared to poison. Might also think of the language of possession, a 'spirit' also being a supernatural being which possesses and infects Macbeth's mind.

  • The audience gets the impression of Lady Macbeth is manipulative, cold and already convinced of what the witches say.

  • Lady Macbeth, learning that Duncan is coming, proclaims that he will die here 'Under my battlements' - 'battlements' shows this as a war castle, 'my' also shows that Lady Macbeth takes active possession of these defences, a very unfeminine thing. 'Raven' connotes death, and links in with ominous natural imagery throughout. Lady Macbeth actively wants to get rid of her femininity, but also of her 'nature', showing evil disrupts nature itself. She seems to want to be one of the witches - in some criticism Lady Macbeth is seen as a fourth witch. Like Macbeth, Lady Macbeth calls for something to blind everyone - including heaven and herself - to the action that she will perform. We can see that even though she wants these bad qualities, she is still afraid of these actions.

  • When Lady Macbeth greets Macbeth, she greets him with a paraphrase of the witches. This shows she believes in them, maybe her persuading Macbeth further links her to the witches. She then says thoughts of the future have transported her beyond the present - this shows the supernatural influence on time as time ceases to follow a natural order.  We might compare this with the ominous night that spread over everything later in the play.  That much of the play is set in darkness also suggests blind ambition which doesn't see what is actually there, only seeing what it wants. An irony of the play is that these characters only want the future, but forget to look for the consequences of their actions.

  • Metaphors in Lady Macbeth's monologue are important: look like a flower but be theserpent beneath relates to religious imagery (devil is serpent in garden of Eden) - is Lady Macbeth tempting Macbeth to his doom? 'Sun' suggests that the entire landscape will be affected by Duncan's death. Eternal night follows Duncan's death, and the world will be out of time.


Scene Six

  • Duncan arrives at Dunsinane, again saying lines of intense dramatic irony about how 'sweet' and lovely the castle is. Banquo doesn't directly corroborate what Duncan's saying, instead simply talking about birds.

  • Consider two-facedness in 'done double', on a surface level Lady M says that the trouble is nothing, not giving away her real intentions.

Scene Seven


  • Macbeth enters discussing the pros and cons of murdering Duncan.

  • Language of 'doing' is significant here, Macbeth speaks of 'doing' things without saying what they are, using euphemistic language to conceal his intentions.

  • Macbeth suggests that if the murder were to be done, it should be done quickly - as soon as possible. If this one action were all that were needed for success, Macbeth would 'jump the life to come' - he would give up heaven. It is ironic that he repeats only having to do one thing, as his actions to try and sustain his Kingship will find no rest. Language of the sea is also notable in this soliloquy, here being referred to as time. 'Bank and shoal of time.'  During the course of the play we see images of Macbeth on the seashore, then seeing a red sea, and finally being too far out in that sea to come back, metaphorically drowning in the blood he has spilt.

  • He then worries the judgement of others, 'But we but teach/Bloody instructions' - he teaches other people how to murder by murdering himself, and this will come back to haunt him. Macbeth points out that Duncan is here 'in double trust', meaning that Duncan should doubly trust him. Contextually, the idea of betraying the role of host is seen throughout tragedies as the ultimate betrayal.

  • The extended sentence signalling all of Duncan's virtues reveals Macbeth's anxiety as to why he shouldn't kill Duncan, showing his conflict. 'faculties so meek', (relates to Dunca's nature as a Christian King), 'his virtues/ Will plead like angels' (personification), 'pity, like a naked new-born babe [...] Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye'. Children in the play connote longevity and innocence - it is therefore unsurprising that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have none.  Macbeth recognises at the end of this soliloquy that he has no impetus to make him actually do this, but only ambition which jumps over its own realism, falling down in the process. By the end of the soliloquy, Macbeth seems to have almost convinced himself out of murdering Duncan.

  • The scene uses the language of costuming repeatedly 'Golden opinions [.,..] which would be worn now', 'Was the hope drunk/Wherein you dress'd yourself.' The iea of wearing a costume suggests disguise, this disguise is not only for other people but also for yourself in the play. Macbeth is repeatedly having dressed himself in borrowed robes which don't fit him well, expressing the fact that he shouldn't really be King, he has simply stolen the crown.

  • Lady Macbeth uses mockery to try and spur Macbeth on, 'Art thou afeard/ To be the same in thine own act and valour/ As thou art in desire?' She stresses the difference between wanting something and doing it, whereas Macbeth had examined the difference between an action and its consequences.

  • Macbeth recognizes very briefly that by killing Duncan he will make himself less than a man - it may be considered ironic that he's afraid of emasculation, when he thinks of himself as a shadow rather than a person towards the end of the play.

  • Lady Macbeth shows how she is more of a man than he is: sets up conflict between definitions of masculinity: one the one hand ruthless strength and ambition, on the other good moral character.

  • She then tells Macbeth of her intentions to make his guards drunk so she can pin the murder on them - they won't be able to remember what happened. Macbeth is delighted by this, mirroring the idea that 'undaunted mettle' should be a masculine trait. He ends the scene with several important statements - 'I am settled' (ironic because Macbeth is never settled after the act), 'mock the time' (interesting because time after Duncan's death becomes unstable), 'False face must hide what the false heart doth know' (expresses again the theme of appearances vs reality).

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