Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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5-6 ‘Thou seest the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,/ Threatens his bloody stage’ – This is the second time that Shakespeare has used the idea of a theatrical performance in the text. The first reference came with Macbeth’s ‘happy prologues to the swelling act/ Of the imperial theme’ (I.iii.128-9) and in his final soliloquy he will refer to the ‘poor player,/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage’ (V.v.24-7); in the first quotation, Macbeth sees himself as the conquering hero of the stage and, in the latter, life has become a meaningless ‘show’ divorced from reality. Rosse’s words, by contrast, emphasise that ‘the heavens’ are the constant spectators of men’s actions, and imply that Macbeth can expect to be punished severely for what he has done.

8 ‘or the day’s shame’ – The light retires from the earth, ashamed to look upon the dreadful deed of Duncan’s murder.

12 ‘a falcon, towering in her pride of place’ – The falcon represents Duncan, high above all others in his kingship. The word ‘towering’ is a term from falconry meaning to circle upward.

13 ‘was by a mousing owl hawk’d at, and kill’d’ – The owl, as well as being a bird of the night, hunts upon the ground (hence ‘mousing’). The falcon, by contrast, ‘hawks’ or kills in the air. The ‘evil’ owl, which should feed by swooping down on its prey below has flown high up to kill the mighty falcon.

15 ‘minions’ – ‘darlings, favourites’.

18 ‘’Tis said, they eat each other.’ – an image so unnatural it implies, perhaps, demonic possession.

24 ‘pretend’ – ‘pretend to, hope for’.

24 ‘suborn’d’ – induced to commit a crime, usually by bribery.

28-9 ‘Thriftless Ambition, that will ravin up/ Thine own life’s means!’ – To be ‘Thriftless’ implies the foolishness of one who decides to swallow up (‘ravin up’) all his means out of ambition. Malcolm and Donalbain have, supposedly, swallowed up their ‘own life’s means’, too, in the sense that their father was the means by which they came to live. They have lost all through their supposed ‘crime’.

31 ‘Scone’ – Ancient capital of Scotland, a few miles north of Perth.

33 ‘Colme-kill’ – Iona.

36-7 ‘Well…well…well’ – ironic repetition.

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William Shakespeare
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