Macbeth
William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming

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Act 2 Scene 4
Summary

On his way home from the castle, the Thane of Ross meets an elderly man who confirms rumors of disruption of the natural world. Then Macduff appears to announce that the fallen king has been buried. Moreover, he adds, the late king’s sons have fled the country. Given this, he explains that Macbeth has been made king. His statements fulfill the witches’ first two prophecies.

Analysis

As a figure of wisdom, the old man’s presence is important to society. In this scene, he speaks with certainty regarding an event that has already happened, unlike the witches. His metaphorical representation of the king’s death emphasizes the enormity of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s crime. The old man explains to Lennox the extent to which trust that previously existed in society has been destroyed. King Duncan trusts Macbeth so much that he could not imagine Macbeth would later betray him. As the old man says, the natural order of life has been replaced by unnatural disorder. For example, darkness has replaced daylight and an owl — a small animal — has eaten a fox. Moreover, the king’s horses on the stable eat each other. These strange occurrences in the natural environment reflect the chaos that envelopes Scotland’s royalty.

Macduff confirms the occurrence of a series of related events. First, King Duncan has been buried, and Macbeth has ascended to the throne. As a result, Macbeth goes to Scone, the venue for his coronation. In addition, the king's sons have fled the country for fear of being targeted by Macbeth’s royal court. The events and speech surrounding Macbeth’s coronation indicate Banquo’s life is in danger. The subplot in this scene lays the groundwork for Banquo’s imminent demise.

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