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William Shakespeare


Act 1, Scene 4:
Questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 23 January 2014
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The action in this scene centres on the first meeting between King Duncan and Macbeth. We note how much the king holds Macbeth in honour and trust, that he has begun to shower fortune on the general and intends to do much more to promote his future.

Yet events quickly change to make Macbeth suspicious of the king: Duncan announces that he intends to make his own son, Malcolm, successor to the throne.


One of the great themes in this play is that of the troubled mind.

One is responsible for one's actions. A saintly life puts one in a tranquil state -- and one's mind remains tranquil. But just step aside into sin . . . !

We are presented in this scene with the clear contrast between Banquo and Macbeth. Each has received a message from the three sisters but each has acted differently.

Banquo does not become a victim to their equivocation. Rather he remains an honourable person. If their prophecies are to come true, it must happen without his lifting a finger.

Macbeth, on the other hand, has chosen to speed up the process through murder. He has stepped outside of natural law and, as a result, his former tranquil mind has become distraught.

He is now beset on all sides. His mind is troubled -- "O, full of scorpions is my mind". He has begun to isolate himself from his former friends and even from his wife. He can trust nobody.

He is also disturbed by fears in other people. First, it is his former friend and companion, Banquo, to whom the witches also made glorious promises. Banquo and his son must therefore die.

Later he will be troubled by Macduff -- clearly his most ardent rival. And then will come the ghostly apparitions and insomnia.

In this, however, Macbeth is not alone. Lady Macbeth, initially the strong but evil agitator, soon also begins to suffer from a troubled mind.

The Macbeths are out of step with nature and must pay the mental price for their actions!

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Why was the Thane of Cawdor executed? (2)

[Need help?]

"He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust."
  • Duncan says this of the deposed Thane of Cawdor. The king appears to believe precisely the same of the new Thane of Cawdor, namely Macbeth. Explain the irony of this. (4)

[Need help?]

"I have begun to plant thee, and will labour to make thee full of growing."
  • Comment on the irony of Duncan's promise to Macbeth. (4)

[Need help?]

"Sons, kinsmen, thanes . . . know,
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm
  • What is the problem with this decision? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why does Macbeth in particular view this decision with shock? Why does he leave the king's company so hurriedly? (4)

[Need help?]

What does Macbeth mean when he says, "I'll make myself the harbinger"? (2)

[Need help?]

Duncan has been described as "gracious, magnanimous and sweet-natured".
  • Is this a valid description of the king? Explain. (10)

[Need help?]

"Our duties are to your throne and state, children and servants; which do but what they should, by doing everything safe toward your love and honour"
  • Comment on the irony of Macbeth's words. (4)

[Need help?]

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