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How does Shakespeare portray Macbeth as a valiant soldier in Act I of the play Macbeth?

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evan2491 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 19, 2012 at 2:20 AM via web

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How does Shakespeare portray Macbeth as a valiant soldier in Act I of the play Macbeth?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:40 AM (Answer #1)

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The second scene of Act I of Macbeth begins with a messenger who describes the result of a bloody battle to King Duncan. It emerges that a rebel leader, Macdonwald, has risen against Duncan, and that Macbeth, one of Duncan's thanes, has covered himself in glory in the battle:

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name— 
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel, 
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valor's minion carved out his passage 
Till he faced the slave, 
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, 
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.

The messenger goes on to describe Macbeth's victory over a fresh assault, this by a Norwegian lord, comparing the bloodshed on the field to Golgotha. The modern reader, and indeed Shakespeare's audiences, may have been taken aback by the violence of this account, but clearly Duncan is cheered by the news, exclaiming "valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!" So Macbeth is portrayed as a loyal and brave vassal of Duncan, but the graphically bloody nature of the messenger's account may be interpreted as foreshadowing. Macbeth, it is obvious, is capable of extremely bloody deeds. 

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:50 AM (Answer #2)

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It may be hard to think of Macbeth as a hero, given his later actions in the play.  However, he had distinguished himself in battle before that.  At the beginning of the play, he has gained recognition for himself through his defeat of the king of Norway  and the rebellious Macdonwald. (enotes character analysis, Macbeth)

Macbeth is described as being brave in battle in Act 1, scene 3.  In this scene, a bloody sergeant describes Macbeth's bravery to King Duncan.

The bloody sergeant tells Duncan that Macbeth is very brave.  In battle, he faces Macdonwald.

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish'd steel, 

Which smoked with bloody execution,(20) 

Like valor's minion carved out his passage 

Till he faced the slave (Act 1, scene 3)

Macbeth does not seem afraid.  He cuts Macdonwald in half.  Then, the sergeant tells Duncan, the battle surges up again.  Duncan asks if Macbeth and Banquo were "dismayed" and the sergeant says they were, and "they/Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe" (Act 1, scene 3).  They bravely finished and won the battle.

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