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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT II, SCENE IV
This scene moves the action outside of Macbeth's castle for the first and only time in Act II. By doing that, Shakespeare gives us a wider perspective on the murder.
Many readers see the Old Man as a "chorus" figure. That means that, like the chorus in ancient Greek drama, he represents the common people and expresses their views.
The Old Man and Ross discuss all the strange things that have been happening since Duncan's murder. Nature itself seems upset: it is dark during the day; an owl killed a hawk (the opposite of what normally happens). Duncan's horses ate each other!
These events can be interpreted in several ways. You could say that
physical nature is reacting to protest a crime that has been committed
against human nature. Or, possibly, that "heaven" or "the
gods" are expressing their anger. Or you can say that nature mirrors
the state; that when a rightful king falls all the rest of God's order
falls apart, too.
Remember the theme of light and darkness. At this point, it seems the entire country has been plunged into darkness by Macbeth's evil deed.
Macduff enters and reports the "official version" of who committed the murder and what is going to happen. Without coming out and saying so, he makes it clear that he does not believe a word of it.
Shakespeare conveys Macduff's skepticism with great economy. Macduff, a plain-spoken man, tells his news simply. Asked who killed Duncan, he says, "Those that Macbeth hath slain." Asked why, he replies, "They were suborned" (lines 23-24)- they were bribed. He just gives the facts, without comment. He also reports that, because they ran away, Malcolm and Donalbain are suspected of being responsible.
Macduff doesn't bother to point out that the story sounds unlikely. Ross's responses show that he does not need any prompting to realize that it is hard to believe.
Look how Shakespeare shows that Macduff does not like what is going on: Macduff says that Macbeth has been named king and has gone to Scone to be crowned. Asked if he is going to Scone himself, Macduff replies, "No, cousin, I'll to Fife" (line 36)- he is going home. That is an insult to Macbeth. Without saying much, Macduff makes his attitude completely clear.