The first twenty lines of the scene consist of a verbal scene painting of the disturbances in nature that have surrounded events so far. The “Great Chain of Being” theory outlines how a break in the natural order of things (e.g. the murder of a king) affects every other element in the chain, stability is disrupted, and chaos ensues. The Old Man, who begins the scene, provides an almost homely, commonplace point of view or commentary on events. This is established by his self-description of “Threescore and ten I can remember well,” with its biblical resonance of the natural span of a man’s life. Ross reinforces this by calling the Old Man, “good father,” thereby validating his views, etc. Further, Ross provides a description of how the murder has perverted the normal balanced arrangement–day has been turned into night. And lest we overlook the message, the Old Man makes all plain with his “’Tis unnatural, / Even like the deed that’s done.” Even the lower elements in the chain are affected, such as Duncan’s own horses “Contending ’gainst obedience, as they would make / War with mankind” (rather than fulfill their natural function).
The second half of the scene, marked by Macduff’s entrance, is largely informational. Because Malcolm and Donalbain have fled, they are now suspected by being implicated in their father’s murder. And in a true upending of the scheme of things (at least as far as the audience is concerned), Macbeth has been named king and is to be crowned. It’s left to the Old Man to conclude the scene with a couplet in which he hopes for yet another reversal of events “That would make good of bad, and friends of foes.”
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