Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Macdonwald, a lord from the Western Isles of Ireland and the Outer Hebrides, has joined with the Norwegian king to start a rebellion against King Duncan in Scotland. The Captain—an unnamed wounded officer—reports to Duncan and Malcolm, the king's older son, about the state of the battle at the time he left it, saying that Macbeth fought his way through the melee until he could find Macdonwald and kill him. Duncan is pleased by this news, but the Captain also tells him that Norwegian reinforcements have arrived and that Macbeth and Banquo continue to fight. At this point, the Captain leaves to have his wounds attended to. The Scottish thanes Ross and Angus arrive to say that Norway attempted to take control of Fife, aided by the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth pressed on, won the battle, and captured the Thane of Cawdor. Duncan is pleased and plans to reward Macbeth by making him the new Thane of Cawdor. He tells Ross that the existing thane will be executed.

Analysis

The battle Macbeth fights here plays an important part in establishing his character before he meets with the witches and hears their prophecies. This isn't just any battle he's fighting—it's an attempt to overthrow the king. As a thane, Macbeth has pledged his loyalty to the king, and he goes above and beyond in battle to satisfy that oath and defend the crown. He isn't simply doing his part in the battle, either. He actively pursues and kills the lord who allied himself with Norway. Then, even after Norway has a toehold in Fife, Macbeth beats back those forces and pursues the other thane who betrayed their king. Macbeth is clearly driven by the glory of the battlefield and is a fierce fighter who doesn't shy away from violence, but in this scene, his ambition serves his fierce loyalty to his king. While this portrait of Macbeth provides sharp contrast to the scheming traitor who emerges after he meets the witches, it also provides continuity by depicting Macbeth as a relentless opponent. In the play's final scene, Macduff will pursue Macbeth through battle in the same way Macbeth pursued Macdonwald and the Thane of Cawdor, providing additional emphasis on how far Macbeth will fall.

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