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Explaination of: Act 2 Scene 4 – Outside Macbeth’s castle

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English explanation

Ross, a thane, walks outside the castle with an old man. They discuss the strange happenings of the past few days: it is daytime, but dark outside; an owl killed a falcon; and Duncan’s beautiful, well-trained horses behaved wildly and ate one another. Macduff emerges from the castle and tells Ross that Macbeth has been made king by the other lords and MacBeth will go to Scone to be crowned. Macduff adds that Malcolm and Donaldblain seem the most likely murderers. Suspicion has now fallen on the two princes because they have fled the scene.


This image of the darkness strangling the light of day is an indirect manifestation of the murder of Duncan; the light of day is destroyed just as Duncan was murdered. The old man describes an owl eating a falcon; this occurrences echos the slaughter of King Duncan by his ‘nobleman’ Macbeth. Just like an owl, which sleeps during the day and hunts at night, Macbeth “hunted” Duncan in the middle of the night, and then finds that he suffers from insomnia, relating back to owls not sleeping at night. In saying this we can assume that the use of the owl is a metophor for Macbeth himself while implying that a falcon represents Duncan. Another strong use of imagery is shown by the two houses eating each other. Usually calm and loyal these horses turned against their nature and killed one another, again, just as the supposed loyal MacBeth killed his king.

Scenes significance

In this scene we are subject to the significance of unnatural vs. natural. It begins with the old man talking to Ross about the wild events of the night during which in his 70 years on this earth he’s never seen. The brutal and unnatural killing of Duncan is mirrored by all the abnormal things happening to the natural world entailing the start of King MacBeth of Scotland. Macbeth being the unnatural taking rule of the natural. This scene appears extremely important as it signifies the start of the unnatural ruling. The language used in this scene is full of imagery, principally animals. With a scene almost re-enacting the killing of King Duncan, shakesphere weaves this all into a simple conversation between two average men having a chat about how violent last nights weather was.

What initiates the scene?

The previous events that occur to commence this scene are the witches’ predictions of Macbeth being king off Scotland, which leads to the plotting and killing of Duncan. All theses evens contribute again to the theme of unnatural vs. natural in this scene. The murder of Duncan is unnatural, so in this scene Shakespeare uses this scene to show the extent of that change of power in Scotland by illustrating the strange proceedings that have occurred for example an owl killing a Falcon.


Macbeth represents the unnatural. Macbeth although not in this scene is responsible for it occurring. Through Macbeth’s actions the natural world has bee turned upside down. Old man represents the natural past; while he only is seen once in the play he is shown in complete contrast to the two witches. He is a calm yet fairly unknown character one of which represents the minority group of ‘natural’ characters in the play.

Impact on audience

This scene will tend to create mixed reactions from the audience. Many will be left confused by the extent of the supernatural evens that have occurred after the death of Duncan, for example Duncan’s horses apparently eating each other. Certain members of the audience believe that the bizarre events that have occurred reflect the unnatural death of Duncan. The audience also has feelings of curiosity toward the character of Macduff and how his suspicions of Malcolm and Donaldblain regarding the murder of Duncan develop.

Link to the play

Overall this scene is portrayed as dark and gloomy, just as the play itself. It is a fairly quiet scene in which is basically a conversation between to Scottish men. It may have even been put the play to slow down the chaos, before the plays tempos rises again. The catch to the scene is that by the conversation itself, these two men are re-enacting the brutal killing of Duncan as we have explained.

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