Act I - Scene II

[A camp near Forres.]

Alarum within. Enter King [Duncan], Malcolm, Donalbain, Lennox, with Attendants, meeting a bleeding [Sergeant].

DUNCAN:
What bloody man is that? He can report,
As seemeth by his plight, of the revolt
The newest state.
MALCOLM:
This is the sergeant,
Who, like a good and hardy soldier fought(5)
’Gainst my captivity. Hail, brave friend!
Say to the King the knowledge of the broil
As thou didst leave it.
SERGEANT:
Doubtful it stood,
As two spent swimmers that do cling together(10)
And choke their art. The merciless Macdonwald—
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villainies of nature
Do swarm upon him—from the western isles
Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied;(15)
And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling,
Show'd like a rebel's whore, but all's too weak;
For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,(20)
Like valor's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave,
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.(25)
DUNCAN:
O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!
SERGEANT:
As whence the sun ’gins his reflection
Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break,
So from that spring whence comfort seem'd to come
Discomfort swells. Mark, King of Scotland, mark:(30)
No sooner justice had, with valor arm'd,
Compell'd these skipping kerns to trust their heels,
But the Norweyan lord, surveying vantage,
With furbish'd arms and new supplies of men,
Began a fresh assault.(35)
DUNCAN:
Dismay'd not this
Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?
SERGEANT:
Yes,
As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion.
If I say sooth, I must report they were(40)
As cannons overcharged with double cracks,
So they
Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.
Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds,
Or memorize another Golgotha,(45)
I cannot tell—
But I am faint; my gashes cry for help.
DUNCAN:
So well thy words become thee as thy wounds;
They smack of honor both. Go get him surgeons. [Exit attendant.]
Who comes here?(50)

Enter Ross and Angus.

MALCOLM:
The worthy Thane of Ross.
LENNOX:
What a haste looks through his eyes! So should he
look
That seems to speak things strange.
ROSS:
God save the King!(55)
DUNCAN:
Whence camest thou, worthy Thane?
ROSS:
From Fife, great King,
Where the Norweyan banners flout the sky
And fan our people cold.
Norway himself, with terrible numbers,(60)
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor
The Thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict,
Till that Bellona's bridegroom, lapp'd in proof,
Confronted him with self-comparisons,
Point against point rebellious, arm ’gainst arm,(65)
Curbing his lavish spirit; and, to conclude,
The victory fell on us.
DUNCAN:
Great happiness!
ROSS:
That now
Sweno, the Norways’ king, craves composition;(70)
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed, at Saint Colme's Inch,
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.
DUNCAN:
No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive
Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death,(75)
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
ROSS:
I'll see it done.
DUNCAN:
What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. What does "plight" mean? Paraphrase by inverting the word order.

    — Julie
  2. King Duncan is asking here is his generals, Macbeth and Banquo, were frightened by the new attack by the Norwegians. What is the sergeant's response? Use context clues to answer the question.

    — Ms. Coll
  3. The Thane of Ross tells Duncan that the Norwegian king has asked for a truce and an end to the fighting--most likely as a result of Macbeth's victory over Macdonwald and his devastating attack against the rest of the Norwegian king's forces.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The western isles refers to the Hebrides, which are off the western coast of Scotland. The sergeant states that Celtic soldiers joined Macdonwald's forces: Kerns were lightly armed soldiers from Ireland and Scotland who carried wooden shields and a sword of bow; the gallowglass were mercenaries and armored warriors known for their strength and size.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Golgotha is known as the place of the skull and is known as the site of Christ's death upon Mount Calvary in Matthew 27:33. The sergeant uses this allusion to illustrate how violent and remorseless Macbeth's army was, wondering if they were trying to make their bloody battlefield as infamous as Golgotha.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The sergeant tells Duncan that Macbeth and Banquo attacked with no fear as they redoubled their efforts against the enemy. His simile compares the ferocity of their attack to cannons that have been loaded with extra explosive charges, and he states that he is not sure what motivated them to fight so hard.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Duncan declares that the Thane of Cawdor must be executed for treason and that the title must be given to Macbeth as a reward for his valor, leadership, and loyalty. This promotion demonstrates how essential Macbeth was for the Scottish forces to achieve victory. Notice how Macbeth reacts to this news, as it will greatly influence his future actions and decisions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Bellona is the Roman goddess of war, making her bridegroom the god of war. The Thane of Ross uses this metaphor to praise Macbeth's unsurpassed skill on the battlefield as he confronted the Norwegian forces.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. In Scotland, thanes were feudal lords and nobleman who traditionally held lands and performed military service for the king. The title of thane is considered an honor because it symbolizes the closeness the bearer has with the king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Shakespeare uses a simile to explain the battle between the king's forces and the invading Norwegians and their Scottish-rebel allies. The image of two tired swimmers who hold on to each other to keep from drowning reveals how the soldiers of the two armies are exhausted and neither side seems capable of winning. The soldier wants King Duncan to know that victory looked uncertain until Macbeth exerted his leadership.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. Shakespeare portrays Macbeth in the early scenes of the play at the height of his power and glory. The honors and praise Macbeth receives might seem excessive at times, but Shakespeare uses them for a purpose. Notice how this portrayal of Macbeth shifts throughout the play in order to establish the overall tragedy of Macbeth and the story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Macdonwald is the leader of the rebel forces fighting against the King Duncan of Scotland and has joined forces with the Norwegians to try and defeat Duncan. He doesn't appear in the play, because the Sergeant shortly reveals how Macdonwald was defeated by Macbeth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. The word villainies refers to treacherous acts, and we can further understand this phrase as a growing force of evil. The Sergeant uses this term here to refer to Macdonwald and the Scottish traitors who have joined the Norwegian king's fight against King Duncan and Macbeth.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. An alarum is an alarm, or a call to battle, and within indicates that it is offstage. By stating that this is the situation, Shakespeare gives the impression is that a battle is occurring close by.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. This scene establishes that Macbeth was so essential to victory that he deserves promotion. Since Duncan is having the Thane of Cawdor executed for treason, it is natural for him to think of giving that title to Macbeth as a reward for valor, leadership, and loyalty. This promotion will come as a big surprise to Macbeth, especially because it had just been predicted by the Three Witches. It will whet his appetite for further advancement. If the witches can foretell the future, and if they were correct in prophesying that he would become Thane of Cawdor, then they may very well be correct in foretelling that he will become king.

    — William Delaney
  18. Shakespeare wanted to show Macbeth in the early scenes at the height of his glory in order to make the contrast with his depraved and despondent character at the end seem all the more glaringly precipitous. The honors and praise Macbeth receives at the beginning of the play might seem overdone if it were not understood that they were intended by Shakespeare as a prelude to his downfall. When something bad happens to a bad man, it is not tragic, but when something bad happens to a good and distinguished man, it is essential to tragedy.

    — William Delaney