Summary and Detailed Notes for Act I of Macbeth
Brief Summary of Act I
Prophecy of Macbeth’s Kingship and Banquo’s Descendants’ Reign
Three witches prophesy Macbeth’s kingship and Banquo’s descendants’ reign.
Macbeth Kills Duncan and Banquo; Lady Macbeth Goes Mad
Macbeth kills Duncan and Banquo, Lady Macbeth goes mad.
Brave Macbeth Defeats Macdonwald
Brave Macbeth defeats Macdonwald, who is supplied by forces from the Western Isles. Ross arrives from Fife to report the Norweyan banners flying in the sky.
Macbeth Wins Battle Against Norway
Macbeth wins battle against Norway, Norway’s king seeks peace, Thane of Cawdor is traitor, Macbeth rewarded with title.
Encounter With Witches
Witches enter, chant and dance. Macbeth and Banquo encounter witches who hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis and Cawdor, and prophesy he will be king. Macbeth is promised to be Thane of Cawdor and his children will be kings. Banquo is surprised and wonders if the promise of kingship will lead Macbeth to harm.
Duncan Rewards Macbeth and Banquo with Honors and Titles
Macbeth contemplates the consequences of becoming king and Banquo encourages him to accept it. Duncan hears of Cawdor’s execution and his repentance. Macbeth and Banquo are praised by Duncan, who rewards them with honors and titles; Macbeth is made the Prince of Cumberland.
Lady Macbeth Fears Ambition Will Lead to Strife
Macbeth is promised greatness, but his wife fears his ambition and kindness will lead him astray.
Macbeth and Lady MacBeth Plan to Murder Duncan
King Duncan is coming tonight. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan to murder Duncan; Macbeth is determined not to feel remorse; night is summoned to conceal the deed. Duncan and Lady Macbeth thank each other for their service and hospitality, Duncan inquires about the Thane of Cawdor.
Ambition and Courage
Macbeth: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.”
Lady Macbeth: “Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.”
Murder of Duncan
Macbeth: “We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honored me of late, and I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people, which would be worn now in their newest gloss, not cast aside so soon.”
Lady Macbeth: “Was the hope drunk wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale at what it did so freely?”
Macbeth: “I have thought o’er it. But, let us put on manly readiness and bear the hilts of our swords.”
Detailed Notes on Act 1
Macbeth: Plot and Character Overview
•The play follows Macbeth and his comrade Banquo as they encounter the three “Weïrd Sisters”, who prophecy that Macbeth will be king and that the descendants of Banquo will also reign.
•After Macbeth is crowned, he and Lady Macbeth plot to assassinate King Duncan.
•Banquo is killed and Macduff rides to England to join Duncan’s older son, Malcolm.
•Macbeth has Macduff’s wife and children murdered.
•Malcolm and Macduff lead an army against Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth goes mad and commits suicide.
•Macbeth confronts Malcolm’s army, and Macduff kills Macbeth and Malcolm becomes Scotland’s king.
•Characters in the play include the Three Witches, King Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Lady Macbeth, Seyton, Macduff, Lennox, Ross, Angus, Menteith, Caithness, Siward, and Young Siward.
King Duncan Meets a Bleeding Captain
•King Duncan and his attendants encounter a bleeding captain who reports on the latest state of revolt.
•Malcolm recognizes the captain as a brave soldier who had fought against his captivity.
•The captain reveals that the rebel forces are supplied by kerns and gallowglasses and are led by the merciless Macdonwald.
•Macbeth, disregarding Fortune, fought his way through the battlefield until he faced the slave and killed him.
•King Duncan and the others are impressed by the captain’s words and send him off with attendants to get medical help.
•Ross and Angus enter from Fife and report that the Norweyan banners were seen flying in the sky.
Macbeth and the Three Witches
•The Thane of Cawdor is revealed to be a traitor and is defeated in a conflict with Macbeth.
•Norway’s King, Sweno, requests an agreement, and is refused a burial of his men until he pays 10,000 dollars to the general.
•The three Witches enter, talking of killing swine and munching chestnuts.
•The Witches offer Macbeth a wind, a pilot’s thumb, and a drum.
•The Witches move in a circle, chanting and dancing, ending with a drum beating.
Macbeth and the Three Witches
•Macbeth and Banquo enter and Macbeth remarks on the strange day.
•The Three Witches appear and proclaim Macbeth Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor, and that he will become king.
•Banquo is suspicious and questions the Witches, but Macbeth believes their predictions.
•The Witches vanish and Macbeth questions them about the Thane of Cawdor.
•Banquo remarks on the strange happenings and wonders if the Witches were real.
Macbeth’s Rise to Power
•Macbeth is informed of his success in battle and is told he is to be made Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan.
•Ross and Angus herald Macbeth into the King’s presence and inform him of his new title.
•Macbeth is surprised to hear of the title as he was not expecting to receive it.
•Banquo is surprised to hear the news as he was not expecting the King to grant it.
•Ross and Angus inform Macbeth and Banquo that the Thane of Cawdor was overthrown for treason and Macbeth expresses his disbelief.
•Banquo wonders if the King’s promise to make Macbeth and Banquo’s children kings will come true.
Macbeth: Two Truths Are Told
•Oftentimes, the instruments of darkness tell us truths to win us over to our harm.
•Macbeth is presented with the news that he is the Thane of Cawdor, which causes him to question if the news is good or bad.
•Banquo encourages Macbeth to accept the news, noting that “new honors come upon him”.
•Duncan inquires if Cawdor’s execution has taken place yet, and Malcolm reports that he spoke to someone who saw him die and that he confessed his treasons.
•Macbeth watches Cawdor leave his life “like one that had been studied in his death”, noting that he threw away the dearest thing he owed as if it were a careless trifle.
Duncan and Macbeth’s Exchange of Loyalty
•Duncan expresses his gratitude to Macbeth for his loyalty and offers him a position of honor.
•Banquo is also praised for his loyalty and kindness.
•Duncan decides to crown Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland, and entrusts the noblemen with the task of welcoming Macbeth to Inverness.
•Macbeth is pleased and humbly takes his leave.
•Duncan and Banquo are praised for their courage and loyalty, and Duncan invites them to follow him.
Lady Macbeth’s Ambition
•Lady Macbeth has received news of the King’s arrival and the title of Thane of Cawdor bestowed upon her husband.
•She expresses her ambition for him to become King, as well as her fear of his too generous nature.
•A messenger informs Lady Macbeth that the King is coming and they must be prepared.
•Macbeth arrives and Lady Macbeth calls upon the spirits to unsex her so she can be ruthless in her ambitions.
Macbeth Act 1 Scene 6
•Duncan and company enter the castle and remark on the pleasantness of the air.
•Lady Macbeth enters, and Duncan pays her respect.
•Macbeth and Lady Macbeth discuss Duncan’s visit, and Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to leave the rest to her.
•Banquo remarks on the martlet’s presence, noting that the bird has made its bed in the castle.
Lady Macbeth and Duncan Interactions
•Lady Macbeth expresses her gratitude for Duncan’s honor towards her house, to which he responds with an invitation for her to be his guest.
•Duncan inquires after the Thane of Cawdor, mentioning that they had been pursuing him and intended to be his purveyor.
•Duncan and Lady Macbeth exchange pleasantries before the former takes her hand and leads her to his host.
•Macbeth muses on the consequences of assassination, noting that the deed must be done quickly in order to avoid any potential repercussions.
•He reflects on the morality of murder, questioning whether it is right to take a life despite the fact that Duncan has been a good ruler.
•Macbeth concludes that he cannot commit the murder himself, both as Duncan’s kinsman and host.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s Conversation in Act 1, Scene 7
•Macbeth speaks of his ambition and Lady Macbeth questions whether he is afraid to act upon it.
•Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to proceed with their plan and assures him that they will not fail.
•Lady Macbeth suggests drugging Duncan’s chamberlains with wine and wassail so that they will not remember the event.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s Plan
•Macbeth and Lady Macbeth discuss how they can perform upon Duncan and use the daggers of his chamber to mark him with blood.
•Macbeth suggests they bring forth men-children only.
•Lady Macbeth proposes they make a clamor and roar upon his death.
•Macbeth insists that no one can receive it other than them.
•Macbeth declares he is settled and ready to proceed with their plan.
•They exit, with the reminder that false face must hide what the false heart knows.
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