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Plot in Macbeth

Plot Examples in Macbeth:

Act I - Scene II

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"Thane of Cawdor..."   (Act I - Scene II)

This is the other Scottish traitor who, along with Macdonwald, joined forces with the invading army of the Norwegian king. The Thane of Ross tells Duncan that the Thane of Cawdor betrayed them by giving important information about the Scottish armies to the Norwegian king.

"Began a fresh assault...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Despite Macbeth's victory against Macdonwald, the Sergeant tells Duncan that the Norwegian (Norweyan) lord renewed his attacks against the Scottish armies with more men and more weapons making defeat seem like a possibility.

"Speak, I charge you...."   (Act I - Scene III)

Macbeth is interested and perplexed with the information the witches have presented him with. He attempts to rationalize their information with what he knows: the Thane is Cawdor is loyal to the King, and there is no prospect for him to be King of Scotland. However, he doesn't yet know about the Thane of Cawdor and demands that the witches tell him how they know such things.

"That he seems rapt withal..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Banquo points out that Macbeth is enraptured by the words of the witches. They have greeted Macbeth with his current title, Thane of Glamis, and predicted his title of noble having, Thane of Cawdor, and even of royal hope, King of Scotland. Their predictions have a strong effect on Macbeth and how he reacts to soon learning that he has in fact become Thane of Cawdor.

"The earth hath bubbles as the water has, And these are of them. Whither are they vanish'd?..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Banquo has been trying to make sure the witches are a part of the natural world. When the witches vanish, they shatter Banquo's hopes of avoiding an encounter with the supernatural.

"The Prince of Cumberland..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

Duncan has named his son Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland. This makes Malcolm next in line to the throne after Duncan, which is important because in medieval Scotland, the firstborn son did not automatically become heir to the throne. Notice how Macbeth reacts to this news in an aside to himself momentarily.

"[Before Macbeth's castle Hautboys and torches.]..."   (Act I - Scene VI)

In this short exchange, Duncan and Banquo speak to one another while approaching Macbeth's castle. Since performances of the play may not have had props or painted backdrops to represent the outside of a castle, Shakespeare typically relied on dialogue to establish time and place. In this instance, the stage directions only call for hautboys (woodwinds) and torches to help give the illusion that the characters are advancing to the castle.

"If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well It were done quickly...."   (Act I - Scene VII)

Macbeth is saying two things. One is that he would like to get the murder over and done with because the ideas connected to it are driving him crazy. He also references the fact that he may never again have as good an opportunity to do it, since King Duncan is an overnight guest, and he is at Macbeth's mercy.

"Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Lady Macbeth will not strike upon the bell to signal that Macbeth's drink is ready. He just says this to deceive the Servant. Lady Macbeth will strike upon the bell to signal that Duncan's two grooms have been successfully drugged and now the coast is clear for her husband to go into Duncan's chamber and murder him.

"Their candles are all out..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Though the play would be peformed in daylight, Shakespeare endeavors to create the feeling that it is the dead of night. Banquo and Fleance have a lighted torch. Fleance mentions that the moon has gone down, and his father says that it goes down at midnight. Then Banquo observes that the inhabitants of heaven have put out all their candles (i.e. all the stars), which further contributes to the illusion of night and darkness. 

"Donalbain..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Duncan has two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain. This is the first mention of Donalbain in the story. If Macbeth were to ensure his claim to the throne, he would have needed to kill both of Duncan's sons as well.

"[The same.]..."   (Act II - Scene II)

As Macbeth leaves the courtyard to carry out the deed, Lady Macbeth enters it. Since there is no change of scene, her brief soliloquy is meant to pass the time until Macbeth returns from Duncan's chamber.

"I laid their daggers ready;..."   (Act II - Scene II)

This is probably intended to explain why Macbeth returns to his chamber with two daggers. His wife wanted both grooms' daggers to be used on Duncan so that there would be no chance of the murder being construed as only one man's guilt.

"the pauser reason...."   (Act II - Scene III)

In other words, the reason that tells us to wait for a moment and not act too hastily. Macbeth says his love for Duncan was so strong that he killed the grooms in a moment of passion. Consider how this explanation of why he killed the grooms compares to Macduff's nonviolent reaction to seeing Duncan's body.

"I'll devil-porter it no further...."   (Act II - Scene III)

Presumably, the Porter has made his way to the gate and decided to stop playing his game of imagining himself as a porter of the gate to hell.

"[The same.]..."   (Act II - Scene III)

As Macbeth and his wife leave the courtyard, the scene doesn't change. The porter, slowly wakened by the knocking from his drunken sleep, makes his way to the door. His speech helps move the time along as Macbeth cleans his hands and tries to pretend that he was asleep while Duncan was murdered.

"Macduff..."   (Act II - Scene III)

The fact that Macduff had to sleep outside Macbeth's castle suggests that most of the soldiers must have been encamped outside as well. That would mean that Duncan had no armed men to protect him and that he had been at Macbeth's mercy throughout that fateful night. 

"naked frailties..."   (Act II - Scene III)

These words prove that most of the characters were dressed in their nightgowns with only Macduff and Lennox fully dressed. The other nobles have rushed to the courtyard at the sound of the alarm bell. Banquo tells them to dress properly and then attend to the matter at hand.

"Knocking within..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Although the stage directions do not say so, the knocking must be growing louder and more prolonged. We do not know who is knocking as yet, but the knocker must be growing more and more furious and insistent. Macbeth cannot continue to pretend to be asleep with all this racket. 

"Our knocking has awaked him..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Macbeth and his wife had planned to be pretending to be asleep when Duncan's body would be discovered in the morning. But Shakespeare wanted Macbeth to be present at that terrible scene. He also wanted Macduff to be the discoverer because he had to introduce him to the audience and had to show Macbeth and Macduff, protagonist and antagonist, together at least one time before their death duel in the last act. The prolonged knocking at the gate forces Macbeth to come down in his nightshirt to see why no one is responding. He arrives just as the Porter is opening the gate and explaining to Macduff that servants and guards were all dead drunk. Macbeth would probably be in his nightgown, both because he had little time to get dressed and also because he would at least try to give the impression that had been asleep in bed. Macduff naturally assumes his knocking has wakened Macbeth because it is three o'clock in the morning and Macbeth is wearing a nightgown. 

"PORTER..."   (Act II - Scene III)

In a scene of comic relief, the Porter hears knocking at the gate and imagines that he is the porter at the gates to Hell. Comic relief allows the release of emotional tensions due to serious or tragic elements in a drama. The Porter's drunken state and conversation about impotency add to the humorous nature of this scene. 

"destroy your sight..."   (Act II - Scene III)

Macduff is stating that the sight of Duncan's murdered body will force those who look upon it to wish they had not seen it. The sight of Duncan's body will hold the men fast (stuck) as if they were turned to stone (analogy to mythology and Medusa). 

"mine eternal jewel Given to the common enemy of man..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Recall how earlier in the play, before killing Duncan, Macbeth states that he knows he'll pay for the murder of Duncan with his own soul. Here, he acknowledges how his soul ("mine eternal jewel") has been given to the devil ("the common enemy of man") in order to fulfill his ambitions, and how he still intends to kill others who threaten him.

"Ride you this afternoon?..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Considering what happens later in this scene, this question is asked under false pretenses. Macbeth pretends to inquire as a friend, but his ulterior motive is to inform himself of Banquo's plan, so that he may know Banquo's whereabouts to set the ambush.

"BANQUO:..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Banquo earlier declared that he stood opposed to all signs of treason; however, in this short soliloquy, he appears to have a different attitude. Even though he suspects Macbeth of murdering Duncan, he makes no effort for vengeance. Instead, he contemplates the prophecy that his descendants shall be kings, hoping that this prophecy shall also come true. While he isn't trying to make this happen, he is serving Macbeth with the hope that his house will benefit.

"Let your remembrance apply to Banquo..."   (Act III - Scene II)

The reasons for why Macbeth tells his wife to heavily praise and favor Banquo are unclear. He has not told her about his plans to have Banquo murdered, so these words are possibly designed to deceive her. Another reason, although less likely, is that he knows there is a chance the plot would fail, and he wants her to act naturally.

"To the direction just...."   (Act III - Scene III)

The Second Murderer tells the First that he shouldn't be suspicious of the Third Murderer. He says that the newcomer has followed the same instructions the first two received from Macbeth about the time, place, and nature of the crime, exactly as they have—as shown by his choice of words, "to the direction just."

"Exeunt...."   (Act III - Scene III)

As short as it is, this scene is the climax, or turning-point, in the drama. Macbeth has been fortunate thus far with his plans, and by all appearances he has had a successful career without any setbacks. Fleance's escape is Macbeth's first sign of bad luck. Notice how after this moment, other events will contribute to Macbeth's downfall until the end.

"Our duties and the pledge...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

This statement represents a type of formulaic response to the king's toast, in which the Lords acknowledge their host and king and drink to the toast he has proposed.

"And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Notice here how, in an effort to be the gracious host, Macbeth goes too far and toasts to the health of Banquo, wishing that he were present. Macbeth is promptly punished for this brash action by the return of the ghost.

"twenty mortal murders on their crowns..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

The ghost has momentarily left the room, but Macbeth continues his rant. In this line, he recalls the information the First Murderer told him about the "twenty trenched gashes" on Banquo's head as he goes on about blood, death, and the rising of the dead. Readers should remember that the assembled Lords would be watching and listening to most of what Macbeth and his wife are saying and doing.

"Are you a man?..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

On the stage, before saying this line Lady Macbeth would have moved across the room to her husband and drawn him aside. This question is an attempt to shame him back into the proper frame of mind by accusing him of cowardice.

" The table's full..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Macbeth has now turned his attention back to the table and hasn't quite realized what he's seeing. At first glance, he simply sees that all the seats are full; only when Lennox points out the seat reserved for him does Macbeth recognize the Ghost of Banquo.

" Thanks for that..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

At the very least, Macbeth is relieved of his present fears regarding Banquo. He acknowledges that Fleance is but a boy and will take time to grow and gather forces before ever attempting to take action against Macbeth.

"Loves for his own ends, not for you...."   (Act III - Scene V)

Hecate chastises the other witches for their attention to Macbeth. She states here that he "loves for his own ends," which means that Macbeth only listens to the witches for his own purposes and not for any kind of loyalty or love. This concept is another example of how dissimilar this scene is with the other scene with the witches, because Hecate is referring to attitudes and feelings that Shakespeare did not discuss nor mention early in the play.

"To kill their gracious father?..."   (Act III - Scene VI)

Notice how in this speech Lennox asks several questions about the main events in the play. These are means to be rhetorical and ironic, as having witnessed Macbeth's strange behavior earlier and the poor condition the country is in, Lennox now believes Macbeth is guilty of murder and that he needs to be overthrown.

"To hear the men deny't...."   (Act III - Scene VI)

Lennox was there the night Macbeth killed the two grooms, and now he reveals what he believes is the real reason why Macbeth did that: It was not done out of passion for Duncan, rather Macbeth did not want to give the grooms the opportunity to say that they were innocent.

"he was dead...."   (Act III - Scene VI)

Lennox states that because Duncan had been killed, Macbeth's pity was not able to help Duncan. However, what Lennox is implying is that Macbeth did not feel sad or have sympathy for the king until after he had killed him.

"Exeunt...."   (Act III - Scene VI)

This scene serves as a counterpart to act II, scene IV by having relatively minor characters converse about the current state of affairs in Scotland and public attitude towards Macbeth. Whereas in the earlier scene, public opinion mourned the loss of Duncan and did not suspect Macbeth, here we see how the nobility has recognized Macbeth as a tyrant and efforts are being made to raise an army to overthrow him.

"woman born..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

For reasons that are significant later on, it is important to note that by "woman born" the Second Apparition means someone born naturally. Macbeth understands this apparition's prophesy to mean that no naturally born man has the power to harm him.

"Menteith, Caithness, Angus,..."   (Act V - Scene II)

While we haven't met these characters yet, their presence with Lennox and the discussion they have reveal them to be Scottish nobles joining the revolt against Macbeth's rule.

"SEYTON:..."   (Act V - Scene III)

The character of Seyton exists primarily to convey information to Macbeth (and to the audience). Seyton seems like a cool customer who is unflappable in his dealings with Macbeth—who is acting more and more like a homicidal lunatic. Seyton seems loyal but not sympathetic and his impeccable coolness serves as a contrast to the frantic behavior and wild utterances of his royal master.

"Let every soldier hew him down a bough..."   (Act V - Scene IV)

To hew means to cut something (typically wood or a tree) with an axe. With these orders to create bows to conceal the numbers of the army, Malcolm is actually fulfilling part of the witches' prophesy: That the Wood of Birnam would move against Macbeth.

"Our castle's strength Will laugh a siege to scorn..."   (Act V - Scene V)

Macbeth is planning to remain inside his castle and withstand a siege. This is probably a good idea, under the circumstances, because he is continually losing men by desertion. He would lose more men if he ventured outside his castle with his remaining forces, because they would be free to go over to the enemy.

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