Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Detailed Summary of Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 6

Hoboys and torches. Enter King Duncan, Malcolm, Donalbain, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, Angus, and Attendants:
In this short little scene, nothing much happens, except that the lamb is brought to the door of the slaughter-house. King Duncan is most gracious and kind to his hostess, who means to kill him.

The first thing to notice is the stage direction. The King's arrival is announced not with the usual flourish of trumpets, but with "Hoboys," which are the ancestors of our mournful-sounding oboes. Also, the King's followers and servants are carrying torches, to indicate that the sun is down. Both the sound of the oboes and the darkness of the hour remind us that the King will never again see the light of day.

Pausing at the gate of Macbeth's castle with his loyal followers, Duncan remarks that "This castle hath a pleasant seat [location]; the air / Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / Unto our gentle senses" (1.6.1-3). Banquo agrees. The air must indeed be sweet, he says, because swallows have built their nests here. Banquo describes those nests as the swallows' "pendant bed and procreant cradle" (1.6.8). In other words, the nests that are hanging ("pendant") high on the castle walls are the beds of the birds, the place ("procreant cradle") where they make love and produce chicks and keep their chicks safe. Thus, on the outside of the castle, everything looks homey and cozy, but inside the castle, Duncan will be murdered.

Now Lady Macbeth enters, and King Duncan makes a gentle jest. He says to her:
See, see, our honour'd hostess!
The love that follows us sometime is our trouble,
Which still we thank as love. Herein I teach you
How you shall bid God 'ield us for your pains,
And thank us for your trouble. (1.6.10-14)
Duncan's whole speech is based on our ancient custom of a guest saying something like "I don't want to trouble you," and the host replying with some version of "It's my pleasure." By saying that his people's love is sometimes his "trouble," King Duncan is saying that his loving people go to a great deal of trouble for him, and he's troubled by the fact that they take all that trouble. Nevertheless, when people take trouble for him, he knows that they do it because they love their king, and so he thanks them for their love. Next, referring to himself royally as "us," the King jokingly tells Lady Macbeth that he's saying all of this so that -- instead of him thanking her for taking trouble -- she will thank God and him for giving her trouble.

The joke is not as complicated as this explanation has been, and in making it the King shows himself to be kindly and humorous. He can make the joke only because he's sure that it's really no trouble, and that she really is glad to be his hostess, because she really is a loving subject to her king.

Of course the grand irony is that we know that Lady Macbeth plans to kill her King that very night. By the end of the scene, he and she are walking to the castle gates hand-in-hand. It's a chilling picture.