Shakespeare describes the battle between the rebel Macdonwald and King Duncan's men using imagery of two drowning swimmers, clawing at each other as they struggle to stay alive, death equally likely for either. Note that when Macbeth arrives, the battle quickly turns in Duncan's favor, and Macbeth ultimately kills Macdonwald himself, ripping him "from the nave to th' chops." (1.2.23)
Doubtful it stood;
As two spent swimmers, that do cling together
And choke their art.
The outcome of the battle was doubtful;
Like two tired swimmers who grab each other
And, making each other useless, both die.
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Macbeth Glossary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/macbethglossary/macbeth1_1/macbethglos_chokeart.html >.
"The purpose of the scene is to tell us something about Macbeth, who has only been named in the preceding scene. We learn here that he is a Scottish nobleman, a near kinsman of the old king, and a valiant warrior. In a single day he has routed two hostile armies, one of the Scotch rebels under Macdonwald, whom he has slain with his own hand, the other that of the invading Norwegians under Sweno. He has been assisted by another nobleman, Banquo, but the main glory of the victory is ascribed to Macbeth." Thomas Marc Parrott. Read on...