Summary

The scene is a battlefield, where Scottish forces are defending themselves against an attack mounted by invaders from Norway. The attackers are assisted by a rebellious and disloyal Scottish nobleman, the thane of Cawdor. King Duncan receives reports from the front describing the state of the battle, and making particular mention of the heroic feats of Macbeth and Banquo, two of his generals. Ross eventually reports that victory has fallen to the Scots, and the battle is over. Duncan rewards the valor of Macbeth by giving him the lands and titles formerly belonging to the traitorous nobleman, the thane of Cawdor.

Forres

A castle. Pronounced like forest, but without the t.

enter

To come on stage.

Alarum within.

An alarum is a trumpeted call to arms.

Within means coming from off stage, behind the scenes, not visible to the audience.

sergeant

The term sergeant is not a formal rank, as in modern-day military organizations; it applies to any minor military leader.

bloody

Wounded, bleeding.

as seemeth by his plight

As it seems from his condition, since he is still bleeding, and therefore just recently wounded.

of the revolt the newest state

The latest news from the battle.

captivity

Malcolm, one of King Duncan’s sons, was in danger of being captured in the battle.

knowledge of the broil as thou didst leave it

The state of the battle when you last saw it.

doubtful it stood

The outcome was still uncertain.

spent

Exhausted.

choke their art

Defeat their own efforts. Two exhausted swimmers might cling to each other for support, but in doing so may cause the death of both.

Macdonwald

Macdonwald is the rebellious Scottish noble, who had planned to overthrow Duncan and replace him as king.

Pronounced mac-DON-ald.

Worthy to be a rebel

He deserves to be called a rebel (this was a serious charge of disloyalty and treason).

to that / The multiplying villainies of nature / Do swarm upon him

As if in proof of this, signs of evil appear all over and around him.

western isles

The islands west of Scotland, likely the Hebrides (pronounced HEH-bri-deez).

Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied

Kerns — lightly armed soldiers. Gallowglasses — heavily armed soldiers.

The sergeant is reporting that Macdonwald has received reinforcement soldiers from the western isles.

damned quarrel

Damnable war.

Show’d like a rebel’s whore

Show’d — appeared, behaved. Fortune seemed to side, at least temporarily, with Macdonwald, the rebel.

all’s too weak

I’m too weak to continue.

brave Macbeth

Appellations that seem casual to us had greater significance to Elizabethans. A person’s name, and any labels, or appellations, attached to it, were of greater importance to the Elizabethan than they are to us today. Giving someone a nickname was close to an official act.

well he deserves that name

Macbeth deserves to be called this — “The Brave Macbeth” or “Macbeth the Brave.”

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel

Not caring what Fortune might have planned, and with his sword unsheathed.

smoked with bloody execution

Steamed with blood from the lethal wounds Macbeth had inflicted on enemy soldiers.

valour’s minion

Minion — servant, favorite. Here, the embodiment of valor itself.

carved out his passage

Hacked out a way to his goal.

slave

Another insulting term used to describe Macdonwald, the rebel.

Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him

Macbeth did not even salute Macdonwald before engaging him in combat.

Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps

Before he, Macbeth, sliced him, Macdonwald, open from the navel to the jaws.

And fix’d his head upon our battlements.

Macbeth has taken Macdonwald’s head as a trophy, and set it up on the castle wall.

O valiant cousin! worthy gentleman!

Duncan is praising Macbeth, for his courage and leadership in battle. He and Macbeth are, in fact, distantly related, but terms such as cousin were often used to express affection, and were not necessarily intended to be taken literally.

As whence the sun ’gins his reflection

Just as the sun ’gins (begins) its reflection over the water from the west . . .

Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break

. . . and that’s the direction where violent storms originate . . .

So from that spring whence comfort seem’d to come

. . . even so, when we looked to our usual source of comfort . . .

Discomfort swells.

. . . we found nothing reassuring.

Mark

Remember this, pay careful attention to this.

No sooner justice had with valour arm’d / Compell’d these skipping kerns

Our cause was just and our bravery convincing, so the soldiers we were fighting were forced to . . .

trust their heels

Run away, retreat.

Norweyan lord

The king of Norway.

surveying vantage

Seeing an opportunity.

furbish’d arms

Newly replenished stores of weapons and supplies.

Dismay’d not this

Didn’t this upset and discourage . . .

captains

The term captain is not a formal rank; it applies to any military leader. Macbeth and Banquo are the generals of the king’s army, but they are still the captains of the troops.

As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion.

Macbeth and Banquo were as discouraged as eagles would be by sparrows, or as a lion would be by a rabbit — in other words, not at all.

If I say sooth

Sooth — truthfully. To report this accurately.

cannons overcharged with double cracks

Cannons with two charges of gunpowder (cracks), instead of one, could shoot their cannonballs with greater force. They were therefore more dangerous, more explosive.

This is an anachronism — Shakespeare knew of cannons and gunpowder, but Macbeth and his contemporaries had been dead at least two or three hundred years before these things first appeared in Scotland.

This is the first time, but not the last, we see things described as doubled. Watch for more repetitions of this theme.

Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe

Fought even harder than before. For the sake of emphasis, the sergeant is claiming that Macbeth and Banquo fought not just harder, not just twice as hard, but twice twice as hard.

Except they meant

Unless they intended.

memorise another Golgotha

Create another memorial like Golgotha (the place of Christ’s death, and emblematic of death in general), by killing everything in sight.

I cannot tell.

I don’t know.

But I am faint, my gashes cry for help.

I am too weak from my wounds to continue; I need medical attention right away.

So well thy words become thee as thy wounds; / They smack of honour both.

Your words (the content of what you said, as well as the manner of your speech) are as worthy of praise as the honorable wounds you received in a worthy cause (fighting for the king). They are both honorable.

thane

A title of nobility, roughly equal to an earl.

Now coming on stage is the thane of the region called Ross; he can be addressed by his title — The Thane of Ross — or just Ross.

Other nobles are addressed in similar fashion — Macbeth is the current thane of the region known as Glamis (pronounced glahmz), and is properly addressed as Thane of Glamis, or just Glamis.

What a haste looks through his eyes! So should he look / That seems to speak things strange.

Judging from his expression, he seems to be in a great hurry. This is under­stand­able, if he has un­ex­pected and important news.

Fife

Fife is a district of Scotland, governed by the Thane of Fife, Macduff.

Norweyan

Norwegian.

flout

Literally, “disobey.” In this case, insult the Scots.

fan our people cold

Blow cold breezes of despair on our forces.

Norway

The Norwegian king, often referred to simply as Norway.

terrible numbers

Numerous soldiers.

The thane of Cawdor

The Thane of Cawdor, a Scottish nobleman, has treasonously allied his forces with the invading king of Norway’s troops, and is helping him attack the rest of Scotland. Most likely, the Thane of Cawdor has been promised the kingdom of Scotland if he will help Norway defeat Duncan.

dismal

Dismaying.

Bellona’s bridegroom, lapp’d in proof

Bellona was the goddess of war, so her bridegroom would be a great warrior.

Lapp’d in proof — covered with (the enemy’s) blood. Macbeth is being praised as a great and terrifying warrior.

Confronted him with self-comparisons

Macbeth showed the Thane of Cawdor that he (Macbeth) was just as determined to win as he (the Thane of Cawdor) was.

Point against point rebellious, arm ’gainst arm.

Sword of loyal Scotsman against sword of rebel troop, weapon against weapon.

Curbing his lavish spirit

Bringing the rebel under control.

The victory fell on us.

We defeated the enemy.

That now / Sweno, the Norways’ king, craves composition

So thoroughly did we defeat the enemy, in fact, that Sweno (the king of Norway) now wants to surrender, and is asking for terms.

Nor would we deign him burial of his men

But we would not even allow him to bury his dead.

Till he disbursed at Saint Colme’s inch

Until he paid us, at Saint Colme’s Island (in the Firth of Forth).

Ten thousand dollars

This was a great deal of money, a fortune.

No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive / Our bosom interest

The Thane of Cawdor shall never again have the opportunity to deceive (betray) our dearest hopes.

pronounce his present death

Announce his impending execution.

And with his former title greet Macbeth.

Macbeth is to be given the title, lands, and possessions of the former Thane of Cawdor, in recognition of Macbeth’s valor on the field. He will then be the Thane of Cawdor as well as the Thane of Glamis.

I’ll see it done.

I’ll make sure it’s taken care of.

What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.

The Thane of Cawdor will lose his lands and titles, and Macbeth will receive them.

Exeunt

Latin, literally “they leave.” Everyone leaves the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.