Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 – Summary & Analysis

Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 – Summary & Analysis

The play returns to Duncan’s palace, where Malcolm tells his father that Cawdor was executed after confessing to and repenting of his sins. As Duncan laments about how he placed ‘absolute trust’ in Cawdor Macbeth and Banquo then enter and are thanked by the king for their feats in the battlefield, to which they respond with a declaration of loyalty to the king. However when Duncan then reveals that he will name Malcolm as heir to the throne Macbeth secretly views Malcolm as an obstacle to his desire, despite displaying an appearance of happiness. Plans are made for a feast at Macbeth’s castle that night for the king and Macbeth goes ahead to inform his wife of this.

Analysis

The mention of the thane of Cawdor is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it raises questions over the suitability of Duncan’s rule; if he had been on the battlefield with the army this would surely have prevented the thane having the ability to act in such a traitorous manner. The link between the thane of Cawdor and the sudden appearance of Macbeth is designed to form a comparison of the two; Macbeth is taking over from Cawdor as the threat to the king. His actions here continue his role as tragic hero; initially he held a position of virtue but now, as a result of his tragic flaw (his ambition), he begins to lose his virtuous character as he plots against the king, seen as he deceptively declares his loyalty to the king while secretively viewing the king’s heir as an obstacle to his desire.

Points of note

In the space of four scenes we have seen how widely deception is accepted in the play. Firstly we have seen the Thane of Cawdor, who attempted to deceive Duncan, king of Scotland. Secondly Macbeth and Banquo, both of whom were praised for the brave and virtuous nature, speak of it. Now even the king of Scotland accepts that it is present in his kingdom, remarking of how he was deceived: ‘There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face./ He was a gentleman on whom I built/ An absolute trust’. Macbeth also forebodes his deception of Duncan, remarking ‘our duties/ Are to your throne and state, children and servants,/ which do but what they should by doing everything/ safe toward your love and honor’; he will soon do the complete opposite when he invites him to his castle.

The theme of corruption comes to light here as Duncan remarks to Macbeth that he has ‘begun to plant thee and will labor/ to make thee full of growing’, which alludes to the king’s control of all subjects in his kingdom. Macbeth’s killing of Duncan will corrupt the natural order of things, by severing himself from the very ‘root’ that feeds him. The idea of cutting yourself off from your source goes against the norm, and this is what will occur when Macbeth kills Duncan; the natural order will be upset and the world corrupted.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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