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In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the forces vanquished by the respected general Macbeth include those of Norway and Ireland, as well as the rebel Scottish forces of the “merciless Macdonwald,” a traitor to King Duncan, on whose behalf Macbeth and Banquo fight so heroically. The operative section of the play in which Macbeth’s military triumphs are discussed occur in Act I, Scene II, in conversations involving a “sergeant,” Duncan, Malcolm, Duncan’s son, and the characters Lennox and Ross. These conversations, which follow the play’s opening scene involving the three witches, provide the background for the character of Macbeth and set the stage for his ascent up the ranks of the Scottish hierarchy. It is through his defeat of the rebellion led by Macdonwald, the Thane of Cawdor, that the grateful king bestows upon his victorious general the title of Thane of Cawdor as a reward. It is in this context that King Duncan, in reference to Macbeth’s victory over the traitorous Macdonwald and the former’s promotion to the position formerly held by the latter, utters the phrase, “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won.” This promotion represents the initial stage of Macbeth’s ascent to the throne in accordance with the witches’ prophecies.
While the defeat of Macdonwald solidifies Macbeth’s reputation as a loyal subject to the king, it is victory over the forces of Sweno of Norway that represent his greatest military triumph. The character Ross, in discussing Macbeth’s victory over armies of Sweno, mentions the ransom demand that has been imposed on the Norsemen:
Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition:
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme's inch
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.”
This reference to the financial obligation imposed upon the vanquished by the victor suggests the scale of the Norwegian defeat by the armies under Macbeth’s command.
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