Act 1, Scene 4: Malcolm the heir


Duncan is a naive ruler

In Act 1, Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, King Duncan comes across as a naive ruler. The former thane of Cawdor has just been executed for treason after joining a rebellion against the King. Duncan remarks about Cawdor:

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust. (1.4.13-16)

Duncan trusted Cawdor completely and never suspected anything. Therefore, he concludes that there is no way of knowing if someone is really trying to deceive you. His words foreshadow how Macbeth will soon betray him, just like the former thane of Cawdor did. The element of foreshadowing is underlined by the fact that Macbeth enters the stage right after Duncan’s remark. 

King Duncan’s naivety is also shown through dramatic irony. Unlike Duncan, we know that Macbeth is already plotting to kill him. When he arrives, Duncan greets him warmly and apologizes for not having rewarded him for his role in fighting the rebellion yet. To us, Macbeth’s humble reply sounds like a lie: “The service and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself.” (1.4.25-26). We know that Macbeth’s greed for more power has been awakened. 

Once Macbeth learns that the King plans to spend the night at his castle, he immediately takes his leave. Again, the dramatic irony becomes clear. We realize tha...

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