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ACT I SCENE IVForres. The palace.
Flourish. Enter DUNCAN, MALCOLM, DONALBAIN, LENNOX, and Attendants.
DUNCANIs execution done on Cawdor? Are not
Those in commission yet return’d?
MALCOLMMy liege,
They are not yet come back. But I have spoke
With one that saw him die: who did report
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
To throw away the dearest thing he owed, 10
As ’twere a careless trifle.
DUNCANThere’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.
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
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, 20
More is thy due than more than all can pay.
MACBETHThe service and the loyalty I owe,
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 honour.
DUNCANWelcome hither:
I have begun to plant thee, and will labour
To make thee full of growing. Noble Banquo,
That hast no less deserved, nor must be known 30
No less to have done so, let me enfold thee
And hold thee to my heart.
BANQUOThere if I grow,
The harvest is your own.
DUNCANMy plenteous joys,
Wanton in fulness, seek to hide themselves
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 honour must
Not unaccompanied invest him only, 40
But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
On all deservers. From hence to Inverness,
And bind us further to you.
MACBETHThe rest is labour, which is not used for you:
I’ll be myself the harbinger and make joyful
The hearing of my wife with your approach;
So humbly take my leave.
DUNCANMy worthy Cawdor!
The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; 50
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.
DUNCANTrue, 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.
Flourish. Exeunt.

Next: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 5

Explanatory notes below for Act 1, Scene 4
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)

This scene is supposed to be laid in the royal palace at Forres. The time is perhaps on the morning after the events recorded in the previous scenes. The chief purpose of the scene is to bring Macbeth and Duncan together and, by showing the touching gratitude of the old monarch toward his chief warrior, to give us a double sense of the wickedness of the crime which Macbeth is already meditating against his sovereign.

Two incidents in the scene contribute directly to the perpetration of this crime. The first of these is Duncan’s proclamation of his son, Malcolm, as heir to the throne. So long as no heir was named it was possible for Macbeth to wait patiently, hoping that at the king’s death, which could not be far distant, he might be chosen as his successor. But the nomination of Malcolm implied that all the nobles must take an oath to support his succession to his father’s throne; and thus Macbeth feels that it will no longer be possible to wait for chance to crown him. If he is to be king at all, he must make himself king. The second incident is Duncan’s sudden resolve to visit Macbeth’s castle. This step puts him into Macbeth’s hands and offers such an opportunity for the murder as may not occur again. Macbeth realizes this, and under pretense of hurrying home to make preparation for the king, departs to consult with his wife as to what should be done.

2. Those in commission, the committee of nobles entrusted with the execution of Cawdor. It was common in Shakespeare’s day to intrust the trial of important personages to a special commission.

6. set forth, declared.

9. studied. The phrase is, perhaps, taken from the technical language of the theatre. Cawdor played his part on the scaffold like an actor who has studied his part well; he had, so to speak, rehearsed his death.

10. owed, owned.

11. careless, worthless.

11-14. There’s … trust. Note the tragic irony of the situation. Duncan is lamenting that he had been so deceived in Cawdor. At this moment Macbeth enters, and Duncan turns to greet this far more dangerous enemy with a glad welcome.

14. A foot is wanting in this line. The lack is due to the pause on Macbeth’s entrance.

18-20. Would … mine! I wish that you had done less for me so that I might be able to thank and pay you proportionately.

22-27. The service, etc. We should not consider this speech of Macbeth as a pure piece of hypocrisy. He has, indeed, contemplated the possibility of murdering Duncan, but he has decided to wait and trust to chance. And now, at the affectionate welcome of the old king, his natural impulse of loyalty breaks out, and, for the time at least, he means what he says.

27. Safe toward, with a sure regard to.

34. Wanton in fulness, capricious because they are full.

35. drops of sorrow, tears. There is something very pathetic in the figure of the good old king weeping for very joy as he stands between the two warriors, one of whom is to murder him and the other to let the murder go unrevenged.

36. whose places are the nearest, who are next to the king in rank.

37. establish our estate, settle the succession to the throne.

39. Prince of Cumberland, Cumberland, a county in the northwest of England, was for a long time held by the Scotch under the suzerainty of England. The title. Prince of Cumberland, like that of Prince of Wales today, served to distinguish the heir to the throne.

39, 40. which … only. He, Malcolm, must not be the only man to be invested with a new title of honour.

42. Inverness, a town in Scotland, some twenty or twenty-five miles from Forres. Macbeth is supposed to have had a castle here, and as a mark of royal favour Duncan now proposes to visit him.

43. bind us further to you, lay us under still greater obligations to you, i.e. by acting as our host at Inverness.

44. the rest, etc. The leisure time which is not spent in your service is no leisure, but rather labour. It may be that this stilted compliment marks the agitation of Macbeth’s mind. We see a few lines below that he has resumed his plan of the murder.

45. harbinger, originally a messenger sent ahead to provide a lodging for a king on his travels.

47. My worthy Cawdor. Duncan bids farewell to Macbeth by his new title and then turns to Banquo. This gives Macbeth an opportunity before he leaves the stage for the ‘aside’ of lines 48-53. This ‘aside,’ it should be noted, represents the thoughts that are passing through Macbeth’s mind, rather than any words actually spoken.

48-53. The Prince … see, Macbeth realizes that the naming of Malcolm as heir-apparent leaves him no other choice than that between renouncing his ambition or taking violent action to realize it. He is by no means disposed to abandon his hopes of the crown, and instantly his heart is filled anew with “black and deep desires,” which he fears to expose to the light.

52. The eye wink at the hand, let the eye refuse to see what the hand is doing. It is as if Macbeth already saw himself stabbing the king, and wished to close his eyes to the sight.

54. he is full so valiant, he is quite as brave as you say. Banquo seems to have been telling Duncan of some brave deed of Macbeth.

57. Whose care. Macbeth’s carefulness for the king’s welfare is here personified by the kindly monarch, and thought of as a harbinger riding ahead to prepare a welcome for him.


How to cite the explanatory notes:Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904.