Back at the palace, Duncan asks if the thane of Cawdor has been executed yet, and remarks that you can’t judge a person’s character by looking at his face. He receives Macbeth and Banquo, congratulates them on their success, and promises to help their careers. Duncan announces to his court that his son, Malcolm, is now the official heir to the throne. Macbeth realizes that this presents a serious obstacle to his plans to become king.


A castle.


A flourish was a brief tune played on ceremonial trumpets, marking the coming and going of royalty.


To come on stage.

Is execution done on Cawdor? Are not / Those in commission yet return’d?

Has the Thane of Cawdor been executed? Haven’t the people who were going to execute him returned yet?

My liege

My lord.

Pronounced leezh.

set forth / A deep repentance

Spoke of his deep regret.

nothing in his life / Became him like the leaving it

Nothing he had ever done during his life was as appropriate as the way he acted when he died.

he died / As one that had been studied in his death

He died as if he had been prepared for death, had thought about it, had made his peace.

To throw away the dearest thing he owed, / As ’twere a careless trifle.

He gave up the most precious (dearest) thing he owned (owed) — his life — as if it were a thing of no worth.

There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face

It’s useless to try to determine a person’s character just by looking at his/her outward appearance.

Duncan tells us that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but Macbeth hasn’t learned this yet. He will, in the end, but it’ll be too late for the knowledge to do him any good.

He was a gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust.

He — the now-executed Thane of Cawdor.

Duncan is now beginning to build his trust in Macbeth — who also betrays him.


The term “cousin” was often used informally, to show affection, but in this case it’s accurate — the historical Macbeth and Duncan really were cousins.

The sin of my ingratitude even now / Was heavy on me

Duncan speaks elaborately, thanking Macbeth profusely for his efforts in the battle; this is his first opportunity to do so, and Duncan feels that because he has wanted to thank Macbeth for some time, but has only now been able to do so, he might have seemed ungrateful. Obviously, this is not the case, but it is a courtesy to say so.

Was heavy on me — I felt it deeply

thou art so far before / That swiftest wing of recompense is slow / To overtake thee.

thou art so far before — you’ve done so much more than any reward can repay

swiftest wing of recompense — my best efforts to reach you and reward you for your heroism

overtake thee — reach you

Would thou hadst less deserved, / That the proportion both of thanks and payment / Might have been mine!

Would thou hadst less deserved — I wish, in a way, that you had done less than you did, because then the rewards to be given could be more appropriate (and I could have given those appropriate rewards).

only I have left to say, / More is thy due than more than all can pay.

Instead, all I can say is that you deserve more than I can give, even if I could give you more than everything I own.

The service and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself.

Macbeth returns a courteous answer, saying that his loyalty to Duncan is its own reward.

Your highness’ part / Is to receive our duties; and our duties / Are to your throne and state, children and servants, / Which do but what they should, by doing every thing / Safe toward your love and honour.

Macbeth says that Duncan’s rightful place is to accept that loyalty and service. He repeats that his duty is to the king and the country, the king’s children and household, who do their duty when they do everything they can that contributes to Duncan’s safety and comfort and honor.



I have begun to plant thee, and will labour / To make thee full of growing.

Duncan compares Macbeth’s future career to a plant, which he (Duncan) will tend, making sure that it grows well.

That hast no less deserved, nor must be known / No less to have done so, let me enfold thee

You have done just as much as Macbeth, and deserve as well as he does to have people know this.

enfold — embrace

There if I grow, / The harvest is your own.

If my career also flowers, like Macbeth’s, the best results of that flowering also belong to you.

My plenteous joys, / Wanton in fulness, seek to hide themselves / In drops of sorrow.

plenteous — plentiful

Wanton in fulness — recklessly intense

seek to hide themselves — may not be apparent

drops of sorrow — Duncan is crying tears of joy.

you whose places are the nearest

You who are nearest in my affections, closest to my heart (and closest in rank).


Duncan is announcing publicly that his oldest son, Malcolm, is to rule the kingdom after he (Duncan) dies. Malcolm is therefore to be addressed from now on as the Prince of Cumberland — the title of the heir to the throne of Scotland (equivalent to England’s Prince of Wales).

Such announcements ahead of time were a good idea, because at this time the throne did not always pass automatically to a son when the king died. Anyone who dared might decide to claim the throne, and if he could back up that claim in a contest of arms, the king’s son might be left with nothing.


In this speech, Duncan uses “the royal we” — to say “we” and “us” and “our” was a way of making things more official, more kingly. Popes, bishops, kings, anyone in authority could use “the royal we” to emphasize authority and majesty. It’s still used on occasion today, by popes and royalty.

establish our estate upon / Our eldest, Malcolm,

Leave our estate, our kingdom, to our eldest son, Malcolm.

Remember that the succession to the throne was not automatically passed from father to son in many cases. Here, Duncan is making it official that he intends for Malcolm to succeed him.

whom we name hereafter / The Prince of Cumberland

Whom we officially declare from this point forward to be the Prince of Cumberland.

In Scotland, the title “Prince of Cumberland” was equivalent to England’s “Prince of Wales” — the official title of the heir apparent, or next in line to the throne.

which honour must / Not unaccompanied invest him only, / But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine / On all deservers.

Malcolm is not the only one to be honored; Duncan wants everyone who has helped his cause to be honored, and to have those honors made known. He intends to give them all tokens of his appreciation, gifts to reward them for their support.

From hence to Inverness, / And bind us further to you.

Duncan states that he will travel from here to Inverness — Macbeth’s own castle — and there do more to honor Macbeth.

The rest is labour, which is not used for you

Again, Macbeth answers courteously, saying that he will work to prepare his home for the coming visit, but that this is work he wants to do, so that he might present a proper welcome to the king.

I’ll be myself the harbinger and make joyful / The hearing of my wife with your approach;

I’ll bring the news of your visit to my wife myself; she’ll be happy to hear that you’re coming.

harbinger — in Shakespeare’s day, this meant a person sent ahead to make arrangements for lodgings (Macbeth could have sent a servant to tell Lady Macbeth the news, but he wanted to tell her himself). Today, the word means a person who brings news or foreshadows events to come.

Pronounced HAR-bin-jur.

So humbly take my leave.

It was proper etiquette at the time to ask permission before leaving the royal presence. However, since everyone is on good terms and the conversation is at a natural stopping point, this is really just a courtesy.

My worthy Cawdor!

Duncan once again salutes Macbeth, using Macbeth’s new title by way of saying farewell.

Saying Cawdor was just a shorthand way of saying Thane of Cawdor. Elsewhere in the play, the Thane of Ross is addressed simply as Ross, and Macbeth is addressed as Glamis instead of Thane of Glamis.


In an aside, the character speaks privately to himself for a moment, or directly to the audience, or privately to some (but not all) of the other characters present.

As a matter of convention, an aside is always a true statement of what the character thinks. A character speaking in an aside may be mistaken, but may not be dishonest.

An aside (again as a matter of convention) cannot be heard by those not spoken to.

that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, / For in my way it lies.

When Duncan named Malcolm as his successor, he created an obstacle (step) to Macbeth’s plan to claim the throne for himself. Macbeth must now either abandon his plan or find a way to overcome (o’erleap — leap over) the obstacle. We can be fairly sure that he’s already planning the takeover, since he states that the obstacle lies in his way.

Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires

hide your fires — go dark

let not light see — Macbeth figuratively hopes that his thoughts, like his actions, will be hidden by dark of night.

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.

Macbeth wants his sight (the eye — his conscience) to fail to notice (wink — enter into collusion with) what his hand is going to do (kill Duncan).

He is making up his mind to act (yet let that be), even though the eye won’t want to see the results.


He leaves the stage.

he is full so valiant, / And in his commendations I am fed; / It is a banquet to me.

Macbeth is so brave, so deserving of honors, that Duncan finds paying him compliments as satisfying as a banquet of good food.

Let’s after him, / Whose care is gone before to bid us welcome

Let’s follow Macbeth, who has gone on ahead to prepare for the royal visit.

It is a peerless kinsman.

Macbeth is a gentleman with no equal.


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

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.