Explanatory notes below for Act 1, Scene 2
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
This scene is one of the most difficult of the play. Indeed, the extraordinary character of its diction and the irregularity of its
metre have induced some critics to condemn it as un-Shakespearean and to assign it to Thomas Middleton. But there seems to be no
good ground for this. The scene has very probably been 'cut' for
purposes of representation, and the high-flown language of the principal speakers is due in part at least to their excitement of
mind. Each of them has come hot-foot from a field of battle where he has seen a glorious victory over the enemies of his country; and at such a time men do not talk plain prose.
The purpose of the scene is to tell us something about Macbeth,
who has only been named in the preceding scene. We learn here
that he is a Scottish nobleman, a near kinsman of the old king, and a valiant warrior. In a single day he has routed two hostile armies,
one of the Scotch rebels under Macdonwald, whom he has slain with
his own hand, the other that of the invading Norwegians under
Sweno. He has been assisted by another nobleman, Banquo, but
the main glory of the victory is ascribed to Macbeth.
The scene is laid in the king's camp near Forres, a little town in
the north of Scotland. Forres is really some ninety miles north of
the county of Fife, in which Macbeth is supposed to be fighting,
but Shakespeare, who knew little, and cared less, about Scotch geography, makes it within earshot of the battle. The phrase "alarum
within," in the stage directions, indicates the noise of the battle;
and as the king and his lords enter, they meet a wounded soldier
who has just come from the front.
22. the slave, Macdonwald. The word, of course, is not used
literally, but only as a term of reproach.
23. Which, Possibly something has been omitted after the word
"slave," for the text as it stands is somewhat obscure. "Which" is equivalent to our modern "who," and would naturally refer to
"the slave," i.e. Macdonwald. But the sense seems to require
that it refer to Macbeth. Compare i. 5. 36-37 for a somewhat
similar construction. The phrases "shook hands" and "bade farewell" have about
the same meaning, equivalent to "left." The sense of the whole
passage, then, is that Macbeth cut his way through the battle to
Macdonwald and never left him until he had killed him.
26. cousin. According to Holinshed Macbeth was Duncan's
29, 30. So...swells. Just as storms come from the east,
where the sun rises, so trouble, i.e. a fresh battle, arises from the victory of Macbeth which seemed a source of comfort to his nation.
31. justice ... with valour arm'd. The reference, of course,
is to Macbeth.
34. furbish'd arms, the reference is to the bright arms of the
fresh Norwegians as contrasted with the battered and blood-stained
weapons of Macbeth and his men.
37. captains, probably pronounced as a word of three syllables.
An old form of spelling, "capitain," shows this pronunciation.
38. Yes, spoken in irony.
63. rebellious. It is not exactly accurate to speak of Sweno's
sword as "rebellious." He was an invader, not a rebel; but he was
assisted by the rebel Cawdor, and so the adjective is not altogether
70. Saint Colme's inch, the "inch," or island, of St. Colme, or Columba, a little island in the Firth of Forth. We may imagine that
the Norwegian ships were lying in the Firth, and that after Sweno's defeat he fled to them. Then, in order to secure the bodies of his
dead warriors, he paid down ten thousand dollars at the abbey on the island.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_1_2.html >.