Macbeth Commentary provides a comprehensive description
of every act with explanations and translations for
all important quotes.
Act I. Scene I. - A desert Heath.
Second Witch: "When the hurlyburly's done, / When the
battle's lost and won."
On a heath the Three Witches decide to meet again
after a battle being fought nearby. Thunder, storms
and the desolate heath, paint a gloomy picture, setting
the tone of this play and defining an imagery of nature
at war with itself, a recurring theme in this play...
The play begins upon a heath. Thunder and lighting
rake the air. Three Witches ask themselves when they
shall next meet, deciding that it will be "When the
hurlyburly's done, / When the battle's lost and won"
(Line 4). This will be later in the day at "the set
of sun" (Line 5) upon a heath again where they will
meet Macbeth. Together the Three Witches cry, "Fair
is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and
filthy air" (Line 11).
Act I. Scene II. - A Camp near Forres.
A bleeding Sergeant: "For brave Macbeth,-well he deserves
Macbeth is introduced to us as the brave man who
led King Duncan's forces to victory against the
traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald and The King
of Norway, in a battle that could have gone either way
were it not for Macbeth's leadership. We learn
that Macbeth killed Macdonwald himself in battle. King
Duncan, overjoyed, decides to make Macbeth his new Thane
of Cawdor. The previous Thane of Cawdor will be executed.
King Duncan, his sons Malcolm and Donalbain, and noblemen
Lennox enter, meeting with a bleeding Sergeant. He speaks
to the King of a battle between the King's forces and
those of the traitorous Macdonwald.
Victory was not assured, but then Macbeth entered the
fray, "For brave Macbeth,-well he deserves that name,-
/ Disdaining fortune [ignoring the dangers], with his
brandish'd steel [with his sword]
carv'd out his
passage [carved his way through the battle / entered
the fight]" (Lines 16-20).
Later we learn that Macbeth killed Macdonwald himself,
securing his head to the King's battlements: "he unseam'd
[cut him open] him from nave to the chaps, / And fix'd
his head upon our battlements" (Line 22).
The Norwegian Lord however began a fresh assault,
the bleeding Sergeant explains, but Macbeth and Banquo
met them: "they / Doubly redoubled strokes upon the
foe: [they redoubled their efforts against the enemy]"
The Sergeant finishes his report with praise: "They
[Macbeth and Banquo] smack of honour both" (Line 45).
Nobleman Ross enters, announcing to the King and company
that the King of Norway himself "With terrible numbers,
/ Assisted by that most disloyal traitor, / The Thane
of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict;" (the King of Norway
with huge numbers of men, helped by that traitorous
Thane of Cawdor started a terrible battle), (Lines 52-54).
Only when Macbeth, described as the bridegroom of
the goddess of war arrived, did the King's men emerge
triumphant with the Norwegians now pleading for peace:
"Till that Bellona's bridegroom, lapp'd in proof, /
Confronted him with self-comparisons," (Lines 55-56).
We learn of King Duncan's great pleasure. "Great happiness!"
(Line 59), King Duncan says on hearing that his forces
have defeated the King of Norway's and that the King
of Norway's dead are to buried but not before the payment
of ten thousand dollars for the King's general use or
rather as part of the terms of peace the defeated Norwegians
have made with King Duncan.
Duncan is no longer fooled by the Thane of Cawdor's
treachery and instructs Ross to "pronounce his present
death, / And with his former title greet Macbeth" (Line
King Duncan explains that "What he [the last Thane
of Cawdor's title] hath [has] lost noble Macbeth hath
won" (the title that the Thane of Cawdor has lost,
Macbeth has now won], (Lines 66-67).
The Thane of Cawdor will be executed and Macbeth will
now have the previous traitor's title.
Act I. Scene III. - A Heath.
Banquo: "What! can the devil speak true?"
The Three Witches' establish their malicious nature
before meeting Macbeth and Banquo. The Three Witches
tell Macbeth that he will be "Thane of Glamis!", "Thane
of Cawdor!" and "king hereafter", or become the King
of Scotland. Banquo learns that his descendants shall
Banquo is suspicious of the Three Witches, remembering
that they often trick men. Macbeth initially agrees
but when Ross and Angus tell him he has been made the
new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth in a very important aside
(soliloquy), remarks, "Glamis and Thane of Cawdor: /
The greatest is behind."
Macbeth now first questions Banquo on his feelings
about his descendants becoming kings and then starts
to think of killing King Duncan to make prophecy fact
but later hopes fate alone will spare him the need to
Again thunder foreshadows the Three Witches' appearance.
The First Witch asks of the second's activities. We
learn she has been busy "Killing swine" (Line 2). We
learn a sailor's wife had chestnuts, which she denied
the Second Witch.
Together they resolve to punish the women's husband.
"I'll drain him dry as hay: / Sleep shall neither night
nor day" the First Witch threatens (Line 18).
We hear drums. Macbeth arrives. He is with his friend
Banquo. Banquo is not sure the Three Witches are actually
women: "Upon her skinny lips: you should be women, /
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you
are so" (Line 45).
Macbeth asks them to speak if they can. The First Witch
addresses Macbeth as "Thane of Glamis!" (Line 48). The
Second Witch pronounces Macbeth as the "Thane of Cawdor!"
(Line 49) and the Third Witch as "king hereafter [ever
after] " (Line 50).
Banquo asks that his future be told. The Three Witches
cryptically comply: "Lesser than King Macbeth,
and greater" and "Not so happy, yet much happier" ending
with the line, "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be
none:" (Lines 65 -67).
Macbeth demands to know more...
He is already Thane (Lord) of Glamis. But how can he
be The Thane of Cawdor and later King when both titles
are already taken? The Three Witches vanish.
Macbeth realizes that Banquo's children will be kings,
and Banquo realizes that according to the Three Witches'
prophecy Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor.
Ross and Angus arrive, informing Macbeth that he is
indeed Thane of Cawdor. Banquo is amazed "What! can
the devil speak true?" (What! Can the devil be trusted
to tell the truth?), (Line 107).
Macbeth makes his first great soliloquy: "Glamis, and
Thane of Cawdor: / The greatest is behind" (Line 115).
Ross and Angus depart, leaving Macbeth and Banquo.
Macbeth darkly (and suspiciously) questions Banquo's
ambitions: "Do you hope your children shall be kings,
/ When those [the witches] that gave the Thane of Cawdor
to me / Promis'd no less to them?" (Lines 118-119).
Banquo like many of his time, fears the Three Witches:
"The instruments of darkness tell us truths, / Win us
with honest trifles [honest tidbits of information],
to betray's / In deepest consequence. Cousins, a word,
I pray you", (the instruments of darkness such as the
Three Witches often tell us meaningless truths in order
to later betray us most damagingly later), (Lines 124-127).
Macbeth is still confused by his good fortune: "This
supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill, cannot be good;
if ill, / Why hath [has] it given me earnest of success,
/ Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:" (this
advise from the Three Witches cannot be evil but it
cannot be good either. Why has it given me reason to
believe it by predicting my new title?), (Lines 130-133).
In an important turning point for Macbeth, he now starts
to have murderous thoughts:
If good, why do I yield [give in] to that
suggestion [idea of murdering King Duncan] / Whose horrid
image doth [does] unfix my hair [make me sick] / And
make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / Against the
use of nature? Present fears / Are less than horrible
imaginings; / My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
/ Shakes so my single state of man that function / Is
smother'd in surmise, and nothing is / But what is not
Macbeth hopes in an aside (private speech revealing
Macbeth's thoughts to the audience) that fate not murder,
may bring him his kingdom instead: "If chance will have
me king, why, chance may crown me, / Without my stir
[without me doing anything about it]" (Line 143). Macbeth
and Banquo resolve to see the King.
Act I. Scene IV. - Forres. A Room in the Palace.
Macbeth: "Stars, hid your fires! Let not light see
my black and deep desires...."
Macbeth meets King Duncan, thanking him for his
new title (The Thane of Cawdor). The also loyal Banquo
receives nothing. King Duncan remarks how he completely
trusted the previous Thane of Cawdor. King Duncan announces
that his son, Malcolm will be the new Prince of Cumberland.
Macbeth sees Malcolm as a threat to what he now takes
seriously as his destiny to become King of Scotland,
a major turning point in Macbeth's changing morality.
Macbeth makes this clear by famously asking in an aside
(private speech), for the stars to hide their fires
least they reveal his dark and deadly purpose or intent
to kill King Duncan.
King Duncan at his castle asks of the fate of the traitorous
Thane of Cawdor. Malcolm explains that the previous
Thane of Cawdor did confess his treason and that he
died "As one that had been studied in his death / To
throw away the dearest thing he ow'd, / As 'twere a
careless trifle [as if his life was unimportant]" (Line
Ominously and in view of Macbeth's future betrayal,
ironically, Duncan exclaims one can't tell a person's
character by their face adding that the previous Thane
of Cawdor was a gentleman upon which the King "built
/ An absolute trust" (a man King Duncan trusted completely),
Next Macbeth, Banquo, Ross and Angus enter. Macbeth
humbly explains in thanks that what he did for the King
is nothing more than that of a loyal subject: "The service
and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself" (Line
Banquo too is loyal but receives no title nor thanks.
King Duncan announces that his son Malcolm is to be
made the Prince of Cumberland.
In an aside (soliloquy), Macbeth ends the scene already
plotting his way to kingdom: "The Prince of Cumberland!
that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else
o'er-leap [leap over / remove], / For in my way it lies"
Macbeth already sees Duncan's son as an obstacle to
his destiny. Ominously, Macbeth adds "Stars, hid your
fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires;"
Duncan will soon arrive at Macbeth's castle.
Act I. Scene V. - Inverness. Macbeth's
Lady Macbeth: "Come, you spirits / That tend on
mortal thoughts! unsex me here, / And fill me from the
crown to the toe full / Of direst cruelty: make thick
my blood, / Stop up the access and passage to remorse...."
Lady Macbeth learns by letter from Macbeth of the
Three Witches' prophecies for her husband and eagerly
embraces them as fact. Fearing Macbeth is too compassionate
and weak-willed to do what needs to be done (killing
King Duncan), she famously asks the gods to remove from
her all signs of compassion and femininity, replacing
them with cold remorseless ruthlessness.
Learning from a messenger that King Duncan will
stay at their castle, she enthusiastically greets this
news, suggesting that she already has plans to kill
King Duncan. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to speak
again on the issue of the prophecies, Macbeth still
uncertain of the need to kill King Duncan.
At Macbeth's castle we meet Lady Macbeth who is reading
a letter. We learn that she knows of Macbeth's meeting
with the Three Witches. Immediately, Lady Macbeth accepts
the prophecy as fact.
No doubts like Banquo, Lady Macbeth enthusiatically
says: "Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be / What
thou [you] art [were] promis'd" (Line 16).
She fears Macbeth is too good to seek what he is his
by destiny: "Yet do I fear thy [Macbeth's] nature; /
It is too full o' [of] the milk of human kindness /
To catch the nearest way [to do what needs to be done];"
Lady Macbeth wishes to use her powers of persuasion
to prevent Macbeth denying them his destiny: "And chastise
with the valour of my tongue / All that impedes thee
from the golden round," (Line 28).
She learns from a messenger that King Duncan will soon
arrive. Pleased, she immediately makes plans saying
the messenger has announced or "croaks [announces] the
fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements into
my castle]" (Line 40).
She famously calls upon the spirits to rid her of all
her good: "Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal
thoughts! unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown
to the toe [head to toe]top full / Of direst cruelty:
make thick my blood, / Stop up the access and passage
to remorse," (Lines 41-45).
Macbeth arrives and Lady Macbeth already tells Macbeth
to appear innocent like a flower but to be "the serpent
under't" (Line 66). She advises him to entrust the evening
to her care and exclaims that King Duncan will not see
tomorrow. Macbeth says they will speak further on the
Act I. Scene VI. - The Same. Before the Castle.
At Macbeth's castle King Duncan arrives whilst Lady
Macbeth plays the most perfect of hostesses. Macbeth's
castle seems to be a haven of snactuary, so much so
that Banquo describes it as being almost heaven like
in its peacefulness. King Duncan asks "Where's
the Thane of Cawdor?" who is not yet present (Line 20).
Act I. Scene VII. - The Same. A Room in the
Macbeth: "False face must hide what false heart doth
A guilt-ridden Macbeth wrestles with his conscience,
certain that he should not kill King Duncan yet guiltily
having to remind himself of all the reasons why it would
be wrong. Macbeth decides against murdering his King
but Lady Macbeth belittles him for not being able to
murder, threatening to take away her love for him if
he does not. This threat wins Macbeth over and Lady
Macbeth outlines her plan to kill King Duncan in his
sleep while he is a guest at their castle.
The scene begins with Macbeth in his castle. Macbeth
is wrestling with his conscience. Can he kill a King
who is in his trust as a guest in his home?
He's here in double trust: / First, as I am his kinsman
and his subject, / Strong [strong reasons] both against
the deed [killing King Duncan]; then, as his host,
/ Who should against his murderer shut the door, /
Not bear the knife myself.
(King Duncan is here in double trust. First because
I am his kinsman and a subject of his, I have two
very good reasons not to murder my King. Then as his
host I should be shutting the door on King Duncan's
murderers not holding the knife against him myself),
Additionally King Duncan has been so good a King that
"his virtues / Will plead like angels trumpet-tongu'd
against / The deep damnation of his taking-off [dying];"
(Line 18-20). Furthermore, Macbeth argues that he has
no reason to kill his king but to satisfy "Vaulting
ambition, which o'er-leaps [overleaps] itself / And
falls on the other.-"
Macbeth will not kill his King... Lady Macbeth enters
and upon learning this, scolds him as being less than
a man. Additionally Lady Macbeth makes an ultimatum:
"From this time / Such I account thy love" (from now
on or what you now do will I measure your love for me),
She argues that Macbeth was a man when he discussed
this "enterprise" with her (Line 48). Finally she informs
him that she would have "dash'd the brains out," (Line
57) of her own children had she "so sworn as you [Macbeth]"
to the act of murdering King Duncan (Line 57).
Macbeth is worried of the consequences should they
fail. Lady Macbeth outlines the plan to kill King Duncan
in his sleep reassuring him that this will be easy.
Macbeth and wife will approach the sleeping King and
perform their deed.
Afterwards, Lady Macbeth explains, the King's two guards
will be smeared with blood implicating them: "Will it
not be receiv'd, / When we have mark'd with blood those
sleepy two / Of his own chamber and us'd their very
daggers, / That they have done't?" (will it not
be believed that these two men who sleep with the King
and will have been smeared with blood will be accused
of murdering the King with their own daggers?), (Line
Macbeth ends this scene, decided on the murderous task
ahead of him: "False face must hide what false heart
doth [does] know" (Line 82).