Macbeth Act 1, Scene 2: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Recap
  • 0:22 News from the Battle
  • 1:20 Another Battle for Macbeth
  • 2:34 Macbeth Earns a Title
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

Expert Contributor
Marc Mancinelli

Marc is a long-time HS English teacher and has taught at the college level. He has a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in education.

This lesson will go over the battles and military achievements that Macbeth achieves for the Scots in Act 1, Scene 2 of the play 'Macbeth.' It will include quotes along with explanations and an overall summary of the scene.


In Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, three witches, in the forms of ill and weak old women, appeared out of a heavy thunderstorm in a vast piece of unused land in Scotland. They decided to wait for the thunderstorm and the battle nearby to end before they all meet up with Macbeth in a similar place.

News from the Battle

Act 1, Scene 2 of Macbeth begins in a military camp near the palace of King Duncan of Scotland. A wounded and bleeding officer reports the news from the Scots' battle with Irish invaders. He tells King Duncan that the Irish rebel Macdonwald was near success because he was supplied with fresh kerns and gallowglasses, or Irish foot soldiers. But just as the battle seemed lost, Macbeth took matters in hand.

''For brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name-
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution.''

The officer reports that Macbeth fought violently and bravely, using his sword to great effect, and in doing so, he secured victory for the Scots.

''Like valour's minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.''

Macbeth killed his way to Macdonwald, and then cut him from nave to chaps, or from his navel to his jaw.

Another Battle for Macbeth

The wounded officer then goes on to report that Macbeth was soon under a new attack by another enemy.

''No sooner justice had, with valour arm'd,
Compell'd these skipping kerns to trust their heels.
But the Norweyan lord, surveying vantage,
With furbish'd arms and new supplies of men, Began a fresh assault.''

Macbeth defeated the Irish rebels and sent the Irish foot soldiers running, but the Norwegian king has repaired weapons and a fresh supply of soldiers. So he sees vantage (an opportunity) to attack a depleted and tired Scottish army.

King Duncan wonders if this worried his generals. ''Dismay'd not this Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?'' The wounded officer explains that Macbeth and Banquo, another general in the Scottish army, ''fought As cannons overcharged with double cracks; So they Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe.'' Macbeth and Banquo fought twice as hard and twice as violently as before.

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Key Quotes and Explanation in Act 1, Scene 2

Quote #1

CAPTAIN: "The merciless Macdonwald—
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villanies of nature
Do swarm upon him...
For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name!
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valor's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements."

In this quote we see both the loyalty of Macbeth to his king and his propensity for violence, ruthlessness, and bloodshed. When Macdonwald was found to be a traitor, Macbeth immediately came forward to kill Macdonwald, taking immediate retribution for Macdonwald's treachery against the throne. This sets up a contrast with the rest of the play, in which Macbeth will begin to move against the very king he so valiantly protects here. In addition Macbeth "unseamed him from the nave to th' chops," cutting a gruesome wound to Macdonwald as a means of execution, showing that Macbeth has little problem with committing violent acts and also furthering the blood imagery that dominates the play

Quote #2

DUNCAN: "No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive
Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death,
And with his former title greet Macbeth."

In this quote Macbeth receives his title of nobility as the new Thane of Cawdor, a title that is vacant because of the treachery of Macdonwald, the previous thane. We see here that Macbeth is able to bring about his advancement through his own actions, as he is the one that executes Macdonwald. Duncan's phrase "greet Macbeth" echoes the three witches phrase, "There to meet with Macbeth" in Scene 1. This idea of "greeting" and "meeting" suggests that Macbeth is on a collision course with his own fate, as events that unfold in his undoing await him.

Quote #3

DUNCAN: "What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won."

Duncan speaks here of Macdonwald, who has lost his title of Thane, and that Macbeth has "won" the title. There is a foreshadowed reversal of meaning here, however; though Macbeth "wins" the position of thane, he begins his undoing as he gets his first taste of ambition and power realized, which will eventually be his undoing.

Essay Questions:

Use these questions to help you reflect on the scene.

1) How would you characterize Macbeth at this point in the play? If you were going to write a biography of Macbeth at this point, what kinds of things would you say about him?

2) How do you think that King Duncan will receive Macbeth when he sees him? Why do you think so?

3) What do you think Macbeth is thinking at the end of this scene? Do you think he is satisfied with his being named Thane? Does his ambition to become king develop later or does it start now?

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