Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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Act One: Scene Two

Shakespeare frequently follows an introductory scene or passage with a regal entrance (cf. Hamlet , King Lear etc.).

1 ‘What bloody man is that?’ – Apparently, blood is mentioned over one hundred times in the play. Interestingly, Shakespeare distances Duncan and the royal family from the actual fighting (though Malcolm has clearly seen some action in these wars), giving the strong impression to the audience that he owes his throne to Macbeth (and, to a lesser extent, Banquo). Duncan leaves his generals to fight for him.

8 ‘As two spent swimmers’ – The swimmers are imagined drawing closer together in their exhaustion and impeding each other’s strokes. It is an odd image to apply to a battle, perhaps, but the general sense that both sides are using up their final reserves of strength is clear enough. The Sergeant’s long speech (which shows clear signs of having been cut) provides another incidental parallel with classical drama, which often provides back-story through long speeches by messengers.

9 ‘merciless Macdonwald’ – The idea of rebellion and usurpation is introduced early into the play. Shakespeare creates a sense of constant turmoil in the affairs of Scotland.

13 ‘Kernes’ – lightly armed Irish footsoldiers.

13 ‘Gallowglasses’ – axe-wielding cavalry: ‘one of a particular class of soldiers or retainers formerly retained by Irish chiefs’ ( OED ).

14 ‘Fortune’ – In a play where the Fates themselves are active characters, references to Fortune need to be carefully considered. Three or four different concepts regarding future events were current in Shakespeare’s time and all are recorded in the play. Macbeth himself refers to ‘Chance’ (I.iii.144) which, could conceivably refer to the idea of future events being purely random (though, obviously, contingent on the past and human actions). However, he personifies the term, making it much closer to the concept of ‘Fortune’ – usually imagined in this period as the blind goddess Fortuna, a whore balanced upon a barrel, turning her great wheel. In this line, therefore, ‘Fortune’ is described as being a ‘whore’ to Macdonwald, but Macbeth, by contrast, is the darling (‘minion’) of ‘Valour’ (line 19), and, as such, is able to overturn ‘Fortune’. Such a soldier’s creed – that valour can make its own fortune – is, no doubt, very much part of Macbeth’s mindset. The concept of Fortune then does not imply a strong deterministic principle, whereas the related ideas of Fate and Providence do. The former is essentially pagan and includes the idea that a man can be predestined towards evil and destruction, whereas Providence always brings about the greater good – hard as Its judgements may be, at times, to fathom.

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William Shakespeare