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Please see the bottom of the page and the highlighted text for full explanatory notes and paraphrases.

ACT I SCENE II A camp near Forres. 
[ Alarum within. Enter DUNCAN, MALCOLM, DONALBAIN, LENNOX, with Attendants, meeting a bleeding Sergeant ]
DUNCANWhat bloody man is that? He can report,
As seemeth by his plight, of the revolt
The newest state.
MALCOLMThis is the sergeant
Who like a good and hardy soldier fought5
'Gainst my captivity. Hail, brave friend!
Say to the king the knowledge of the broil
As thou didst leave it.
SergeantDoubtful it stood;
As two spent swimmers, that do cling together10
And choke their art. The merciless Macdonwald--
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villanies 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 valour'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
DUNCANO valiant cousin! worthy gentleman!
SergeantAs 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 valour 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
DUNCANDismay'd not this
Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?
As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion.

If I say sooth, I must report they were40
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,
I cannot tell.45
But I am faint, my gashes cry for help.
DUNCANSo well thy words become thee as thy wounds;
They smack of honour both. Go get him surgeons.
[Exit Sergeant, attended]
Who comes here?
[Enter ROSS]
MALCOLMThe worthy thane of Ross.50
LENNOXWhat a haste looks through his eyes! So should he look
That seems to speak things strange.
ROSSGod save the king!
DUNCANWhence camest thou, worthy thane?
ROSSFrom Fife, great king;55
Where the Norweyan banners flout the sky
And fan our people cold. Norway himself,
With terrible numbers,
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor
The thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict;60
Till that Bellona's bridegroom, lapp'd in proof,
Confronted him with self-comparisons,
Point against point rebellious, arm 'gainst arm.
Curbing his lavish spirit: and, to conclude,
The victory fell on us.65
DUNCANGreat happiness!
ROSSThat now
Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition:
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's inch70
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.
DUNCANNo more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive
our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death,
And with his former title greet Macbeth.
ROSSI'll see it done.75
DUNCANWhat he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.

Next: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3

Explanatory notes below for Act 1, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)


This scene is one of the most difficult of the play. Indeed, the extraordinary character of its diction and the irregularity of its metre have induced some critics to condemn it as un-Shakespearean and to assign it to Thomas Middleton. But there seems to be no good ground for this. The scene has very probably been 'cut' for purposes of representation, and the high-flown language of the principal speakers is due in part at least to their excitement of mind. Each of them has come hot-foot from a field of battle where he has seen a glorious victory over the enemies of his country; and at such a time men do not talk plain prose.

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.

The scene is laid in the king's camp near Forres, a little town in the north of Scotland. Forres is really some ninety miles north of the county of Fife, in which Macbeth is supposed to be fighting, but Shakespeare, who knew little, and cared less, about Scotch geography, makes it within earshot of the battle. The phrase "alarum within," in the stage directions, indicates the noise of the battle; and as the king and his lords enter, they meet a wounded soldier who has just come from the front.

22. the slave, Macdonwald. The word, of course, is not used literally, but only as a term of reproach.

23. Which, Possibly something has been omitted after the word "slave," for the text as it stands is somewhat obscure. "Which" is equivalent to our modern "who," and would naturally refer to "the slave," i.e. Macdonwald. But the sense seems to require that it refer to Macbeth. Compare i. 5. 36-37 for a somewhat similar construction. The phrases "shook hands" and "bade farewell" have about the same meaning, equivalent to "left." The sense of the whole passage, then, is that Macbeth cut his way through the battle to Macdonwald and never left him until he had killed him.

26. cousin. According to Holinshed Macbeth was Duncan's first cousin.

29, 30. So...swells. Just as storms come from the east, where the sun rises, so trouble, i.e. a fresh battle, arises from the victory of Macbeth which seemed a source of comfort to his nation.

31. justice ... with valour arm'd. The reference, of course, is to Macbeth.

34. furbish'd arms, the reference is to the bright arms of the fresh Norwegians as contrasted with the battered and blood-stained weapons of Macbeth and his men.

37. captains, probably pronounced as a word of three syllables. An old form of spelling, "capitain," shows this pronunciation.

38. Yes, spoken in irony.

63. rebellious. It is not exactly accurate to speak of Sweno's sword as "rebellious." He was an invader, not a rebel; but he was assisted by the rebel Cawdor, and so the adjective is not altogether inappropriate.

70. Saint Colme's inch, the "inch," or island, of St. Colme, or Columba, a little island in the Firth of Forth. We may imagine that the Norwegian ships were lying in the Firth, and that after Sweno's defeat he fled to them. Then, in order to secure the bodies of his dead warriors, he paid down ten thousand dollars at the abbey on the island.

How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < >.

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