There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.
Duncan says this in response to receiving news that the Thane of Cawdor who betrayed him (Not Macbeth, who’s been named the new Thane of Cawdor). What he means is that there’s no way to judge a book by its cover when it comes to people; There’s no way to understand what’s going on in other’s minds based on how they appear.
This goes to show that Duncan is a poor judge of character - perhaps it is his old age, or perhaps it is his nature, but seeing as how he was unable to perceive or predict his betrayer’s intentions previously lends credence to the notion that he’s quite the simple King.
Perception vs. Reality In this case, we see that Duncan’s perception of reality is far from what is actually going on. While his action of promoting Macbeth and praising him as “O worthiest cousin,” can be seen as generous, we also worry that he might be falling into an overeager and rashly quick judgment of Macbeth’s character as a hero deserving of riches and wealth (Mac. 1.4.17).
This quote can also be said to touch on the theme of destiny - is his over-trusting character and inability to judge others accurately his tragic downfall, and is he therefore destined to be betrayed? Or does he understand the risks and still go forth with open arms, ready to give others a chance to resist betraying their King? Either way, it’s pretty clear that Duncan’s attitude, while a little naive, is gracious and generous.
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down or else o’erleap,
Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.
Near the conclusion of Act 1 Scene 4, we see Macbeth deliver this line which begins to solidify his wrongful ambition - after being promoted, rewarded, and praised by Duncan (as opposed to Banquo, who was side by side with Macbeth in both battles but only received a hug and some thanks), Macbeth immediately begins to plot some kind of scheme to get Duncan’s eldest son, Prince Malcolm out of the way. Duncan’s announcement regarding his inheritance being passed to Malcolm couldn’t have come at a worse time, since Macbeth was just recently prophesied by the witches to become King.
In this aside, Macbeth shows some true transformation in character, bending his path from righteousness to darkness. In contrast to Act 1 Scene 3, where Macbeth dismisses his thoughts of murdering King Duncan [Come what come may, Time and hour runs through the roughest day (1.3.163)], this scene shows Macbeth deciding to take action. His statement, “Stars, hide your fires” (1.4.57) is a reference to the heavens and all that is light (at night) being diminished - this metaphor could be talking about his shunning of the heavens and their piercing lights which would expose his actions, or about the lights of morality within his own soul that he wishes to cover up.
In the last few scenes, we’ve introduced some themes that we’ll continue to build up evidence for throughout the play - but we’ll begin to focus on novel concepts instead of re-explaining what each of the themes mean and how they relate to the quotes in detail. For this quote, think of ways that it could relate to themes of Fate vs. Free Will and Ambition. In particular, we’re introduced to some new imagery in this scene - darkness.
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
While the theme of physical darkness has been present ever since Act 1 Scene 1, the darkness mentioned in this scene could be more indicative of a darkness within the soul, where evil resides and expresses itself. It can be interpreted as a metaphor for evil intention
In this scene, Duncan reflects on how he trusted the recently executed Thane of Cawdor. He also meets with Macbeth to officially name him Thane of Cawdor, gives Banquo nothing, and announces that his eldest son, Malcolm, will be the next King. In an aside, Macbeth turns to dark thoughts and begins to hatch a plan to get rid of Malcolm.
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