Overview Act I
"Threes" in 1.1
"Threes" in 1.1 (II)
Weird Sisters I
Weird Sisters II
Act 1, Scene 2
I. 2 Images
Word Use in 1.2
Word Use in 1.2 II
Partial Lines (1.2)
Partial Lines II
Phrases and 1.3
The Future Now
The Chalice (1.7)
Sacking the Temple
Sack. the Sacred II
The "Chance" II
Duncan's Deceptions in Act I (II)
Bill Long 7/20/05
A Cute Little Scene--1.6.1-10
Duncan, therefore, is a man who speaks hyperbolically and relies on reports. Maybe these characteristics led him to misjudge people so badly. He may also have thought that since he was a good person the people with whom he was dealing either were themselves good or would be so taken up in his effusive goodness that their tendencies towards evil would be curtailed. We know it is true that excitement is contagious; why not goodness? The most difficult lesson for the good person to learn is that sometimes there is nothing you can do to win people over to you. Sometimes people will remain inveterately opposed to you simply because they want to be so.
Deceived by a Place
But Duncan not only misjudges people. He also is deceived by a place: Dunsinane, in Inverness, the home of the Macbeths. Lady Macbeth will pray for "thick Night" to come to her home, which will "pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell" (and the notions of darkness and fetid odor are communicated by this line--1.5.50-51). For Lady Macbeth Dunsinane will become a dark, foul-smelling, thickly evil place. But not so for Duncan. His arrival at the castle is described in 1.6. Listen to the way that Shakepseare tries to create the notion of a calm, peaceful, and pleasant repose. Duncan speaks first:
"This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/ Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/ Unto our gentle senses" (1.6.1-3).
Though none of the commentators mention it, I hear the slightest echo of the opening words of the beautiful KJV of Ps. 84 here. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God" (Ps. 84:1-2). Gentle breezes waft the sovereign into the courtyard; the air is life-giving. The King has completely let down his guard.
More Gentle Descriptions
One of the reasons I see Ps. 84 standing behind 1.6 are the words of Banquo that follow those of Duncan. First, however, let's return to the Psalm. After longing for the house (of the Lord), the Psalmist turns to a most unlikely subject: birds.
"Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thing altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God" (Ps. 84:3).
In other words, an indication of the sublime glory of the Lord's house is its being a home for the birds. Rather than interpreting the birds' presence as a defiling of the holy place (who wants droppings all over the courtyard?), the Psalmist sees it as mute testimony to a sort of divine magnet which is operating in the world. Even wordless creatures are drawn ineluctably to the house of God.
When Banquo speaks after Duncan, he also turns to the theme of birds:
"This guest of summer,/ The temple-haunting martlet, does approve,/ By his loved mansionry, that the heaven's breath/ Smells wooingly here: no jutty, frieze,/ Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird/ Hath made his pendent bed, and procreant cradle:/ Where they most breed and haunt, I have observ'd/ The air is delicate" (1.6.3-10).
How lovely then is the dwelling place not only of the temple of God, but of the castle of Macbeth, where the "temple-haunting martlet," rather than the sparrow makes its home.
But if the language of Ps. 84 is in Shakespeare's "deep background" as he pens this scene, note how he has also changed it to suit his purposes and show his flair. Dunsinane is unhealthy because it will be filled with the "dunnest [very dark or dusky] smoke of Hell" (1.5.51). Thus, it is important for Shakespeare to stress that both the King and Banquo think that the air is fresh and invigorating, and that everything smells "wooingly." But note Shakespeare's flair, also. This is where he exceeds Scripture in the beauty and fulness of his language. Where do the birds nestle? Not simply at God's altars or in the rafters. Instead, we are taken on an tour of architectural terms from the early 17th century--"jutty, frieze, buttress, coign of vantage" are all the places for the "martlet." And, the martlet doesn't just set up shop there, or build its nest. These most angular or jutting protuberances are the martlet's "pendent bed, and procreant cradle." He "hangs" or "swings" there and breeds there. It is a safe and welcoming place for nature's most tender creatures.
I will only note in conclusion that Shakespeare's architectural excursus here is matched by his other linguistic feats in Act 1. Especially as the Act rises in its intensity, he employs well-crafted images from various human activities to express his points. Notice, for example, the finely honed language from alchemy in 1.7.65-70 to describe the effect of "wine and wassail" on Duncan's guards. Note the language from horse-racing and fishing in Macbeth's first speech in 1.7, where language of vaulting tumbles over language of trammeling. Indeed, note a brief reference, which I will develop in another essay, to the communion chalice in 1.7.11. His language creates a mood and allows him to strut his stuff. Here, in 1.6, the language gives a deceptive "air," so to speak. It creates the impression that all is safe, healthy and fine. Would that reality would match appearance more than it does. But it certainly will not do so for Duncan, the genial, affirming, just and deceived King.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long