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In Act 2 Scene 4, Ross converses with an Old Man who shares some news with him. Ross notes that, even though day should have arrived "by th' clock . . . dark night strangles the traveling lamp" (2.4.6-7). The hour has arrived which should bring broad daylight, but it is still pitch dark outside.
The Old Man notes that a "falcon, towering in her pride of place,/ Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed" (2.4.13-14). This event symbolizes that an owl (though also a raptor, still a lesser bird) kills the more majestic falcon (Duncan).
Ross also notes that Duncan's beautiful and swift horses "[t]urned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,/ Contending 'gainst obedienace, as they would/ Make war with mankind) (2.4.15-17). Nature rebels against the unnaturalness of regicide.
The Old Man replies that they "eat each other" (2.4.18); these noble steeds (representing the nobility of Scotland) become cannibals just as the nobility of Scotland will begin to turn against and kill one another.
These strange events represent the unnatural murder of a king who treated his murderers like his own children, but it also represnts the unnatural suspicion which falls on Duncan's beloved and faithful sons.
Ross discusses with the old man about the unnatural occurrences that have both men afraid:
"Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange, but this sore
Hath trifled former knowings,"
"Ross. Ah! good father,
Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man's
Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock 'tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.
Is't night's predominance, or the day's shame,
That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
When living light should kiss it?
Old Man.'Tis unnatural,
Even like the deed that's done. On Tuesday last,
A falcon, towering in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and kill'd.
Ross. And Duncan's horses,—a thing most
strange and certain,—
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turn'd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would
Make war with mankind." (Act II, Scene IV)
-Night or darkness in the daytime
-An owl has killed a mighty falcon
-Duncan's horses broke out of their stalls and killed and ate each other.
-The weather is violent, blowing and swirling and destroying homes
Nature is out of sync because of Duncan's murder. The balance between good and evil has been tipped in favor of evil with Macbeth's heinous crime against a divinely appointed king.
The darkness during the day, as described by Ross, appears to be a solar eclipse.
For additional examples of Shakespeare’s use of solar and lunar eclipses to indicate disorder or imminent change, see:
- King Lear, Act I, Scene II
- King Henry VI, Part II, Act VI, Scene I
- Hamlet, Act I, Scene I
- Othello, Act V, Scene II
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