LITERARY COMMENTARY The given extract has been taken from Shakespeare’s one of the finest literary works – Macbeth- Act 1
The given extract has been taken from Shakespeare’s one of the finest literary works – Macbeth- Act 1, Scene 2. In this scene, King Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Lennox along with other attendants and the bleeding captain are present in a camp near Forres.
The extract begins with the bleeding captain giving the latest update about the Scots’ battle against the rebels. In this extract, he presents Macbeth as an extremely brave, fearless and a powerful man. He explains how initially victory was doubtful as both the armies like exhausted swimmers clung to each other and struggled but were unable to move. He describes Macdonwald as a ‘merciless’ and ‘treacherous’. He makes use of subtle analogy of swarm of bees to point at the various fouls committed by Macdonwald. He also states that, although Macdonwald was supported by foot soldiers and horsemen with lady luck smiling at his enemies as if she was his whore, Macbeth successfully overthrew Macdonwald.
Metonymy has been used here effectively to refer ‘brandished steel’ to ‘sword’ when the captain points at the brutal and immoral killing of the Macdonwald – the rebel with a ‘brandished steel’ without even shaking hands with him or bidding him farewell. The captain also mentions Macbeth as ‘Valor’s minion’ where ‘valor’ has been personified to imply that Macbeth was valor’s favourite. These reckless actions of Macbeth present him as barbaric, primitive and ruthless. Imagery has been used extensively in order to bring out the violent and bloody scenes from the battlefield such as ‘his brandished steel which smoked with bloody execution’- the word ‘smoked’ and ‘bloody’ give the essence of violence. Also, the description of how Macbeth like a tyrant, mercilessly ripped Macdonwald open from his navel to his jawbone and stuck his head on the castle walls show Macbeth’s immoral and violent behaviour. The morbid image of battle brings out the theme of violence and desire for victory and power.
After hearing the pleasant news of Macbeth’s victory, Duncan is overjoyed and praises Macbeth for his valour. At this point, the audience is also familiarised with the fact the Macbeth was actually King Duncan’s cousin as he addresses him as ‘valiant cousin’.
As the captain continues his report, he informs the King about the unforeseen battle which Macbeth and his fellow general Banquo had to fight against the Norwegian lord and the Thane of Cawdor. He metaphorically sheds light on the reality that just as violent storms accompany the onset of spring victory against the rebels brought several problems for Macbeth like the fresh assault by the Norwegian king.
On being asked by King Duncan whether this surprise attack startled the two brave generals, the captain refutes the statement with the help of a simile that the attack dismayed them as much as sparrows frighten eagles and rabbits scare lions. In fact, he further glorifies the brave generals by comparing them to canons that fearlessly shot at the enemies with double the ammunitions inflicting blows four times more powerful than their enemy. He refers to the horrific scene of the battle field to Golgotha, a hill near Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. The captain further elaborates that Macbeth and Banquo fought the battle so valiantly and heroically that it appeared as the two fearless generals wanted to have a bath with their enemy’s blood. These actions of Macbeth bring out the theme of violence, cruelty and ambition which is unchecked by moral constraints.
The captain had also fought courageously in the battle and was bleeding profusely. He was so exhausted that he could speak no more. In order to emphasize on the seriousness of the captain’s injury, the wounds of the captain have been personified by giving them the human emotion of crying. Thus, he concludes his report and requests for medical aid. Duncan appreciates the first-hand knowledge given to him by the captain. He is humble enough to say that his words bring him as much honour as his wounds.
The underlying purpose of the extract was to present Macbeth as a glorified personality with supreme power. Shakespeare has successfully presented through the words of the bleeding captain that Macbeth was a strong character with desire for power and authority. In this extract Macbeth’s loyalty and allegiance towards King Duncan has been portrays clearly. However, this entire scene is a dramatic irony in the sense that as the play progresses the audience is acquainted with the fact Macbeth was weak natured, fickle and impressionable. The irony also lies in the fact that Macbeth deceitfully murders the king under the influence of his treacherous wife for his ulterior motives and ambition for power.