Hello, thanks for the question. Below I have outlined some of the
primary thematic techniques used in Macbeth, relating specifically to
the murder of King Duncan.
In doing so, I quoted excerpts from the play and provided commentary
on those quotes and the ways in which they contributed to portraying a
dramatic buildup to the murder of King Duncan.
I also provided additional links and excerpts from web sources on
Duncan and Macbeth in general, as well as a list of books on the
**The following cited portions of this answer are taken from the New
Folger Library edition of Macbeth, published in 1992 by Washington
King Duncan has sent Macbeth to seek out and kill the Thane of Cawdor
who has been branded a traitor. Macbeth is successful in his task and
Ross, a Scottish noble tells him:
"As thick as tale
Came post with post, and every one did bear
Thy praises in his kingdoms great defense,
and poured them down before him".
By this we can see that Macbeth is being revered by the people as a
great servant to the king and his people and his is thought to be an
honorable and trustworthy person. This is a dramatic assessment of the
man who's character is less than noble and who's actions soon prove to
be anything but loyal and honorable.
Macbeth is laboring under the weight of a prophecy which declares he
will be king but we see that Macbeth is not content to simply let Fate
guide him to this end, rather, he feels as though his intervention is
necessary to achieve this greatest of his ambitions. Despite his airy
"If chance will have me king, why, chance may
crown me without my stir".
Macbeth is in essence the man who derides passive acceptance of chance
and instead, in true megalomanical fashion, he continues on a course
that will ASSURE him of his victory.
When Duncan is told of the death of the Thane of Cawdor and his
confession of his treason and his askance for pardon and forgiveness,
"There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust".
Here we see that Duncan values loyalty highly and that he places a lot
of emphasis on trust. From his dialogue with Macbeth, one can see that
he places a lot of that trust in Macbeth, thinking him above reproach
and in no way a threat to his life. Shortly before his murder, he goes
to stay at the house of Macbeth and his wife and he praises the both
of them for their hospitality:
"See, see that our honored 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 'ild us for your pains
And thank us for your trouble".
The Macbeths are extremely gracious in their hospitality and give no
indication of their plotting. Even as the king has retired for the
night, Banquo, his loyal servant, finds Macbeth and gifts him with a
large diamond for the lady of the house by way of thanks. It is here
that the drama builds. Macbeth begins to talk of the dagger, calling
to mind many occult visions, even mentioning one of the witches who
spoke the prophecy that he clings to -Hecate.
"Hecate is the Greek goddess of the crossroads. She is most often
depicted as having three heads; one of a dog, one of a snake and one
of a horse. She is usually seen with two ghost hounds that were said
to serve her. Hecate is most often mispercepted as the goddess of
witchcraft or evil, but she did some very good things in her time. One
such deed was when she rescued Persephone, (Demeter's daughter, the
queen of the Underworld and the maiden of spring), from the
Underworld. Hecate is said to haunt a three-way crossroad, each of her
heads facing in a certain direction. She is said to appear when the
ebony moon shines."
Macbeth speaks of witchcraft a wolf's howl and the bell that sounds
-the bell of course being symbolic for the "death knell".
"I go, and it is done. The bell invites me.
Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or hell".
Macbeth also speaks of a ghost which may be taken as a sign that he is
in a sense, a ghost of his former self, an illusion of truth and
possessed of a transparent and amorphous soul.
Shortly after the murder, when it is discovered that there is foul
play, both Macbeth and his wife profess great horror and sorrow at the
death of their beloved king. Macbeth claims to repent the haste which
caused him to kill the supposed assassins and Lady Macbeth is
apparently so overcome that she must be carried away and attended to.
Again we see, that as foreshadowed earlier, Macbeth has gone from the
trusted and honorable man, to a lying and deceiving traitor -much like
the one he was sent to kill in the beginning, although at least that
man repented of his crimes which is something that we begin to see
that Macbeth is incapable of.
What happens after the murder is Duncan is that the reader begins to
truly understand that his death was merely the beginning of a chain of
deaths, the first lie in a mountain of them. Macbeth and his wife are
on constant guard of betraying their thoughts and a madness begins to
seep into the both of them. When plotting Banquo's death, Macbeth
doesn't even tell his wife of the plan. She questions his brooding
mood and he tells her that they "have scorched the snake, not killed
it" meaning that more blood must be spilled before they can become
complacent. From this point on they must constantly be on their guard
against emotions that might betray their heinous actions. In the
beginning, Macbeth thought that only Duncan stood in the way of his
destiny - but his death only proved that others remained loyal and
that they too must be dealt with or else his plans would fail. He
believed that if he did nothing to ensure his throne, then the
prophecy would not be fulfilled.
Sources on King Duncan:
Cliffs Notes: Character Analysis of Duncan
<<Most importantly, Duncan is the representative of God on earth,
ruling by divine right (ordained by God), a feature of kingship
strongly endorsed by King James I, for whom the play was performed in
1606. This ?divinity? of the king is made clear on several occasions
in the play, most notably when Macbeth talks of the murdered Duncan as
having ?silver skin lac?d with ? golden blood? (Act II, Scene 3). The
importance of royal blood, that is, the inheritance of the divine
right to rule, is emphasized when, in the final scene, Duncan?s son
Malcolm takes the title of king, with the words ?by the grace of Grace
/ We will perform.?>>
Duncan, King of Scotland
<<As King Duncan is having dinner under his roof, Macbeth thinks hard
about his planned murder. Macbeth is afraid of being caught, and
"Besides, this Duncan / Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been /
So clear in his great office, that his virtues / Will plead like
angels, trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of his
taking-off" (1.7.16-20). Later in the scene, Lady Macbeth enters and
persuades Macbeth to proceed with the plan, but not because of
anything than Duncan has done or not done.>>
<<"Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done't"
(2.2.12-13), says Lady Macbeth of King Duncan. "Done't" means "done
the murder." Duncan was saved from death -- but only for about a
minute -- by the fact that he reminded Lady Macbeth of her father.
A moment later, Macbeth comes with the news that he has done the deed.
However, the sight of King Duncan's blood on his hands horrifies him,
and at the end of the scene, he calls out to the unknown person who is
knocking on the gate, "Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou
<<Is the king stirring, worthy thane?" (2.3.45), Macduff asks Macbeth,
in the early morning hours, not long after Macbeth has murdered King
Duncan. After Macduff discovers the King's body, he speaks of him as a
blessed saint, crying out, "Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope /
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence / The life o' the
building!" (2.3.67-69) >>
Cliff's Notes, on the murder of King Duncan
<<At first Macbeth is loth to commit a crime that he knows will invite
judgment, if not on earth then in heaven. Once more, however, his wife
prevails upon him. Following an evening of revelry, Lady Macbeth drugs
the guards of the king?s bedchamber; then, at a given signal, Macbeth,
although filled with misgivings, ascends to the king?s room and
murders him while he sleeps. Haunted by what he has done, Macbeth is
once more reprimanded by his wife, whose inner strength seems only to
have been increased by the treacherous killing. Suddenly, both are
alarmed by a loud knocking at the castle door.>>
Macbeth Characters Analysis
The Text of Shakespeare's Macbeth
Macbeth - searchable, indexed version
The Tragedie of Macbeth
The Real Macbeth Discussion
Books on Macbeth:
Understanding Macbeth: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and
by Faith Nostbakken, Claudia Durst Johnson. 240 pgs.
Macbeth: A Guide to the Play
by H. R. Coursen. 212 pgs.
William Shakespeare's Macbeth (literary criticism)
by Harold Bloom. 177 pgs.
The Royal Play of Macbeth: When, Why, and How it Was Written by Shakespeare
by Henry N. Paul. 438 pgs.
Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth
by A. C. Bradley. 502 pgs.
Shakespeare the Playwright: A Companion to the Complete Tragedies,
Histories, Comedies, and Romances (includes a chapter on Macbeth)
by Victor L. Cahn. 865 pgs.
Shakespearian Tragedy (includes a chapter on Macbeth)
by H. B. Charlton. 250 pgs.
Shakespeare's Use of Learning: An Inquiry into the Growth of His Mind
& Art (includes "Othello, Macbeth, King Lear")
by Virgil K. Whitaker. 366 pgs.
Patterns in Shakespearian Tragedy (includes "The Operation of Evil:
Timon of Athens and Macbeth")
by Irving Ribner. 210 pgs.
William Shakespeare: A Reader's Guide (includes a chapter on Macbeth)
by Alfred Harbage. 498 pgs.
Engendering the Narrative Act: Old Wives' Tales in The Winter's Tale,
Macbeth, and The Tempest, in Criticism
by Mary Ellen Lamb. 27 pgs.
Shakespeare as Political Thinker (includes "Macbeth and the Gospelling
by John E. Alvis, Thomas G. West. 430 pgs.
Shakespeare's Tragic Frontier: The World of His Final Tragedies
(includes a chapter on Macbeth)
by Willard Farnham. 289 pgs.
Marlowe, Shakespeare, and the Economy of Theatrical Experience (
includes "Banquo's Ghost")
by Thomas Cartelli. 250 pgs.
-Read through a personal copy of Macbeth
-Google Search terms
- "king duncan" macbeth
- "murder of king duncan"
- duncan, macbeth
I hope this helps with your project. Please request clarification if
you need any additional assistance with your question.