Plot Summary / The Story-line
In Act I Scene IV of “Macbeth”, King Duncan, in the royal palace at Forres, asks if the persons in charge of execution of Thane of Cawdor have returned. Malcolm, his elder son, informs the King that they have not come yet, but he gets news from a man who saw the death of the Thane of Cawdor. Malcolm relates how Cawdor faced his execution with dignity and that he prayed for the King’s mercy.
Macbeth and Banquo arrive and they are warmly welcomed by the King. Duncan expresses his gratitude and appreciation for Macbeth’s loyalty and bravery. He announces that his son, Malcolm, will be named Prince of Cumberland, indicating that he is the heir to the throne. Duncan also announces his intention to visit Macbeth’s castle at Inverness to spend the night and enjoy Macbeth’s hospitality. Macbeth leaves for his castle to give the news to his wife and prepare a reception for the King.
Macbeth now considers Malcolm as an obstacle on his way to the kingship, and so he decides to act quickly.
Commentary on Act I, Scene iv
Act I Scene IV of the play “Macbeth” is a crucial scene in developing the central theme of the play. Malcolm’s appointment as the heir to the throne hastens the actions of the play, as it makes Macbeth decide to act quickly. Also, as Duncan decides to visit Macbeth’s palace at Inverness, the audience senses an imminent foul play that might happen there. From this scene, Macbeth starts his journey towards the path of self-destruction.
Furthermore, this scene is important in portraying some traits of both the characters of Duncan and Macbeth. We see Duncan as an innocent and trusted ruler. He shows his sense of gratitude to Macbeth and Banquo for their service by showering his praise on both, promising to reward Banquo generously and honouring Macbeth with a visit to his castle.
On the other hand, we see Macbeth as a hypocrite as he repeatedly emphasizes on his loyalty to the king, but reveals the evil intentions of his mind in his aside.
There is a dramatic irony in this scene when Duncan tells Malcolm about Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal that there is no way to read a person’s mind by looking at his face. The audience actually know the not-so-good intentions of the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth who is also going to be a traitor.
Overall, Act I, Scene IV provides important character developments, it reveals Macbeth’s inner conflict and sets up the central conflict of the play. It also shows the complexity of the relationship between Macbeth and Duncan, as Macbeth expresses both loyalty and ambition towards his king.