In Macbeth, how does Macbeth describe Duncan's wounds, and what is significant about his description?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Macbeth describes the sight of the murdered Duncan in this passage:

Here lay Duncan,

His silver skin laced with his golden blood,

And his gashed stabs looked like a breach in nature

For ruin's wasteful entrance:

One interpretation of this passage is that Macbeth's description is worded to reflect the tremendous pain he supposedly felt as he looked upon the King's broken body. Earlier, Macbeth had advised Lady Macbeth "to mock the time with fairest show," to put on an act to mislead others as to their feelings and intentions toward the King. He also told her, "False face must hide what the false heart doth know." In describing Duncan's body in such emotional terms, Macbeth is following his own advice, putting on a show of grief to cover up that he has killed the King.

Another interpretation, however, is that Macbeth feels genuine grief. Until his ambition was aroused, Macbeth had been a strong and loyal defender of King Duncan who, in return, had treated Macbeth with great trust, respect, generosity, and kindness. Before murdering Duncan, Macbeth had been repelled at the idea and had acknowledged Duncan as being such an excellent monarch that "tears would drown the wind" at his death. Furthermore, once he had murdered Duncan, Macbeth was so sickened, he refused to return to Duncan's room to return the daggers he had accidentally carried away. He could not bear to look at what he had done. Perhaps there is truth in both interpretations.

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