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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act I, Scene 2

Summary

This short scene is set in King Duncan's camp and further introduces the main character Macbeth. An unnamed sergeant, bleeding from battle wounds, comes into camp and reports on the progress of the fighting, mentioned earlier by the witches in Scene 1. The brave Macbeth has won the battle and killed the rebel Macdonwald and "fix'd his head upon our battlements." But as soon as this victory is won, Sweno, the Norwegian King, sees an advantage as the enemy celebrates and launches a fresh assault upon Macbeth and his army. Macbeth and Banquo withstand the attack and "redoubled strokes upon the foe" to win another victory.

After completing this report to Duncan, the soldier departs to tend his wounds, and the Thane of Ross, a loyal Scottish nobleman, enters to greet the king. He comes from Fife and brings further news of the fighting. He reports that the Thane of Cawdor has become a traitor and joined forces with the King of Norway in the battle against Macbeth, but "the victory fell on us," and the Norwegian King was made to pay 10,000 dollars. King Duncan is furious at the news about the Thane of Cawdor and orders his execution. The title of Thane of Cawdor will be given to Macbeth as a reward for his heroism in battle.


Notes

This scene is in sharp contrast to the previous scene of darkness, doom, and cryptic planning. This setting, in the King's camp, is bright with the color of military costumes and regal clothing. It is also heroic in nature and direct in conversation and planning, in further contrast to the opening scene. The location of the camp is close to the battlefront, as indicated by the opening sound of alarm and the presence of a soldier still bleeding from recent fighting. The real significance of the scene is to further introduce Macbeth and reveal the King's attitude that he is a hero to be honored. But the scene is also filled with ironies and foreshadowing that should be noted. Macbeth and Banquo are described as "two spent swimmers", a strange description for battle heroes, but a perfect foreshadowing of their later deaths. Macdonwald is beheaded in the scene and foreshadows the later murder of Macbeth when his head is carried on a pole for all to see.

There is irony related to the title of Thane of Cawdor. The original traitor to the King, the Thane of Cawdor, is executed, and Macbeth is given his title; later, as the second Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth becomes the traitor to the King and murders him; in due time, Macbeth is also executed like the original Thane of Cawdor. Ross, the Scottish nobleman in the scene, bears good news about the battle and is sent to give Macbeth the good news about his new title; later in the play he bears bad news to Malcolm and Macduff about the murder of Macduff's family. Finally, King Duncan celebrates Macbeth as a hero in this scene; later in the play, Macbeth will murder Duncan and celebrate his own ascension to the throne.

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