Act I - Scene IV

[Forres. The palace.]

Flourish. Enter King [Duncan], Lennox, Malcolm, Donalbain, and Attendants.

Is execution done on Cawdor? Are not
Those in commission yet return'd?
My liege,
They are not yet come back. But I have spoke
With one that saw him die, who did report(5)
That very frankly he confess'd his treasons,
Implored your highness’ pardon, and set forth
A deep repentance. Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it; he died
As one that had been studied in his death,(10)
To throw away the dearest thing he owed
As ’twere a careless trifle.
There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built(15)
An absolute trust.

Enter Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus.

O worthiest cousin!
The sin of my ingratitude even now
Was heavy on me. Thou art so far before,
That swiftest wing of recompense is slow(20)
To overtake thee. Would thou hadst less deserved,
That the proportion both of thanks and payment
Might have been mine! Only I have left to say,
More is thy due than more than all can pay.
The service and the loyalty I owe,(25)
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness’ part
Is to receive our duties, and our duties
Are to your throne and state, children and servants,
Which do but what they should, by doing every thing
Safe toward your love and honor.(30)
Welcome hither.
I have begun to plant thee, and will labor
To make thee full of growing. Noble Banquo,
That hast no less deserved, nor must be known
No less to have done so; let me enfold thee(35)
And hold thee to my heart.
There if I grow,
The harvest is your own.
My plenteous joys,
Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves(40)
In drops of sorrow. Sons, kinsmen, thanes,
And you whose places are the nearest, know
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland; which honor must(45)
Not unaccompanied invest him only,
But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
On all deservers. From hence to Inverness,
And bind us further to you.
The rest is labor which is not used for you:(50)
I'll be myself the harbinger, and make joyful
The hearing of my wife with your approach;
So humbly take my leave.
My worthy Cawdor!
[Aside.] The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step(55)
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires:
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.(60)


True, worthy Banquo! He is full so valiant,
And in his commendations I am fed;
It is a banquet to me. Let's after him,
Whose care is gone before to bid us welcome:
It is a peerless kinsman.(65)

Flourish. Exeunt.


  1. Which of the following BEST describes Duncan's attitude toward Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 4?

    — Alexa Baird
  2. Macbeth asks the stars to not shine light on his black (evil) desires, because he does not want the world to know of the terrible things that he is planning. Notice how the witches' prophesy has affected events: Duncan confirms Macbeth's new title, but Macbeth is denied the throne despite Duncan saying how he can never repay Macbeth for his service. Macbeth is now considering the crime he would have to commit to realize his ambition to become king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Macbeth has realized that with Malcolm next in line to the throne, he can either "fall down" by doing nothing and let Malcolm become king, or he can "o'erleap" and take matters into his own hands to become king himself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. In other words, Duncan is saying that he wishes Macbeth had done something less heroic and deserving. This is not meant as an insult; rather, Duncan wishes that had this happened, his inadequate payment would have been better matched to Macbeth's deeds. Duncan feels as if he can't ever repay Macbeth for what he's done.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Duncan is saying that one cannot tell someone's true nature by examining their face. This is an example of dramatic irony because he is talking about the traitorous Thane of Cawdor just as Macbeth, the new Thane of Cawdor, comes into the room to greet him. This is ironic because Macbeth ultimately betrays Duncan.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Malcolm, Duncan's son, reports on the execution. At the time Macbeth was written, prisoners who confessed to their crimes and pledged loyalty to the king at the last minute were sometimes rewarded with pardon. The Thane of Cawdor, however, does not survive, in spite of confessing his treasons, imploring the King's pardon, and showing a deep repentance. This demonstrates the seriousness of the crime of treason against the King in the story.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Here, this word means a fanfare, or a short piece of music played loudly by trumpets to announce that someone is arriving. In this case, the flourish is reserved for the entrance of the king.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Duncan is in effect saying that he owes more to Macbeth than he could repay even if he gave him his crown and his entire kingdom. It also might be interpreted as an acknowledgement that Macbeth deserves to be king because of his achievements. Such praise potentially plants a suggestion in Macbeth's mind that reinforces his own feeling that he ought to be king.

    — William Delaney
  10. Duncan uses the language of farming—"plant," "labor," "growing"—to metaphorically describe his "harvest" of loyal subjects, a result of his attentive actions.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  11. In *Lectures on Shakespeare, *W.H. Auden argues that "In *Macbeth, *the parallel to murder is treachery. The Thane of Cawdor is treacherous, admits his guilt, and willingly pays his debt" (209). 

    Auden, W.H.  *Lectures on Shakespeare.  *Ed. Arthur Krisch.  Princeton: Princeton, U.P., 2000. Print. 

    — Jamie Wheeler