Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 Full Summary {Step by Step Guide}

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Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 Full Summary | Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 4 Summary

King Duncan, Lennox, and Malcolm are in Duncan’s castle at Forres, Scotland. Duncan asks his son Malcolm if the former Thane of Cawdor has been executed (killed).

Malcolm tells his father that those in charge of the execution have not come back yet, but Malcolm has talked to someone who saw the execution.

The watcher told Malcolm that the thane died well. He confessed that he had acted against the king, asked for the king to forgive him, and said he was sorry.

Malcolm says, “Nothing in his [the former Thane of Cawdor’s] life/ Became him like the leaving of it.”

Note: Malcolm is saying that even though the Thane of Cawdor had achieved success in life, the brave and sincere way he died was his greatest achievement.

Malcolm continues to compliment the Thane of Cawdor by saying that the man died so well that it seemed like he had studied how to die bravely and how to make it seem like throwing away his life was like throwing away something unimportant.

King Duncan says that there is no art” (way) “to find the mind’s construction in the face” (no way to know what someone is thinking by looking at his face).

Duncan says the Thane of Cawdor had been a man in whom he had “an absolute trust.”

Note: When Shakespeare has Duncan talk about his trust in the former Thane of Cawdor, we remember that Macbeth is the new Thane of Cawdor.

Macbeth is thinking of killing Duncan, so Macbeth can become king. (He and Duncan had the same grandfather, so the people of Scotland will accept Macbeth as king.)

It looks like Duncan will be betrayed by two of the people he most trusted. Shakespeare is foreshadowing (giving us clues) about what will happen later in the play.

Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus go to King Duncan. The king is very happy to see them.

King Duncan greets Macbeth, calling him “Cousin.” The king says he feels bad that Macbeth has done so much for him that the king can never give him enough to reward him.

Macbeth says his reward was doing the right thing. He says it is his duty to help his king. It is the king’s duty to receive his people’s love and accept their service.

Macbeth says his relationship with the king is the same as the relationship of children to their parents and servants to their masters.
King Duncan says Macbeth is very welcome.

The king says he has begun “to plant” Macbeth and the king will work hard to help Macbeth grow. (The king means that he will help Macbeth become richer and more powerful.)

King Duncan then speaks to Banquo, telling him that he did as much as Macbeth to protect the king’s throne and state. Banquo should be equally rewarded and famous.

The king says he wants to “enfold” Banquo and hold him close to his heart.  (The king wants to help Banquo become even more successful.)

Banquo says if he grows more successful it will be because of the king’s help, so he will be the king’s harvest. (Banquo is saying he will be like a plant that has been taken care of, so his success will be the result of the king’s work as much as the result of his own work.)

The king says he is so happy that his joys are showing themselves as tears in his eyes. (The king is crying because he is so happy.)

He says that he wants everyone to know that he is naming his son Malcolm as the Prince of Cumberland, but there are rewards to come for everyone. (This means that Duncan plans to have Malcolm become the next king, but also he will give more power to others.)

The king says he is going to Inverness to Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth says he will be the harbinger (messenger) who will make his wife happy by telling her that the king is coming.

Macbeth is not happy to learn that King Duncan wants his son Malcolm to be the next King of Scotland. Macbeth thinks aloud (though only the audience watching the play hears him).

He says that Malcolm is a step (something in his way) and Macbeth says he knows he will have to jump over that step or fall down. (Now Macbeth has two people in his way, two people who can stop him from becoming king and making the witches’ prophecy come true.)

Macbeth talks to the stars. He tells them that they should not shine their light on his evil (bad) thoughts (of killing people in order to become king).

He says he should “wink” or close his eye so that it will not see his hand do evil things. (Although Macbeth does not want to see himself murder, he also says “let that be” meaning that he wants to be king even if he must murder people to make it happen.)

While Macbeth has been thinking about murdering his king, King Duncan and Banquo have been talking quietly. After Macbeth leaves, the two continue talking.  (Their conversation is an example of irony – when something is happening that is the opposite of what is expected.)

The king is agreeing with Banquo, saying that Macbeth is a brave man, the bravest in Scotland. (This is ironic because Duncan is complimenting a man who wants to murder him!)

The king says they should leave now for Macbeth’s home since he has gone ahead to prepare for their comfort.

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