Macbeth Act 1, Scene 3 Summary
- The three witches meet again on the heath and check in about what everyone's been up to.
Oh, the usual witchy stuff: one was killing swine; another has been making some poor sailor's life miserable.
- Her sisters are going to help her by depriving him of sleep and by "drain[ing] him dry as hay," which means the sailor's going to have some serious gastro-intestinal problems and/or that he's going to be unable to father children.
- Brain Snack: plenty of people actually believed in witches the 16th and 17th centuries, and not the friendly pagan kind, but the ones who were in the habit of doing things like whipping up nasty storms and causing male impotence.
- What, you want more? Shakespeare wrote Macbeth during the reign of King James I of England, who was really interested in witchcraft. He authorized the torture of witches in Scotland in 1591 and also wrote a book on the subject, Daemonologie, in 1603.
- Witch #1 also came back with a pilot's thumb, a convenient rhyme for "Macbeth doth come," heralded by "a drum."
- Hearing Macbeth's approach, the witches dance around in a circle to "wind up" a "charm."
- Macbeth and Banquo show up, and Macbeth delivers his first line: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." Hmm. Where have we heard that line before?
- Banquo notices the witches (they're kind of hard to miss) and speaks to them, using some variety of "You're not from here, are you?"
- The witches put their fingers to their lips, but that does not deter the perceptive Banquo from noticing their beards.
- Macbeth tells them to speak, and they hail Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and future King. Banquo, who apparently took over the narration for these five lines, mentions that Macbeth is "rapt," as if he's in a trance. (Get your highlighter out —this word comes up a lot in the play.)
- Banquo asks if the witches will look into his future too. Sure: he'll be lesser and greater than Macbeth, and not too happy, but happier than Macbeth. Oh, and he'll be father to kings, though he will not be a king himself. Great, thanks for clearing that up.
- Macbeth says he's already the Thane of Glamis but it's hard to imagine becoming Thane of Cawdor, especially because the current Thane of Cawdor is alive.
- He demands to know where the witches got their information. The witches don't respond, but simply vanish into the foggy, filthy air.
- Banquo suggests that maybe they're tripping on some "insane root" but conversation quickly moves on to the big news about their own fates, as promised by the witches. Ross and Angus, two noblemen sent by Duncan (the King), break up the party.
- Ross passes on that the King is pleased with Macbeth's battle successes of the day, and announces that the King would like to see him, and also that Macbeth is the new Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth does some private ruminating.
- On the one hand, the sisters' first prophecy that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor can't be evil, since it's true.
On the other hand, the witch's prophecy could be evil, especially since it's got Macbeth thinking about something naughty.
This is where we get the first inkling that Macbeth might be down for a little regicide (fancy word for killing a king).
- He says he's just had a really awful and disgusting thought about "murder" that's made him feel a little panicky.
- While Macbeth is deep in thought, Banquo comments to Ross and Angus that Macbeth seems "rapt," in a trancelike state.
- Macbeth concludes his dramatic musings and says that he's just going to leave things to "chance." If "chance" wants him to be king, then he will be.
- They hasten to the King, and Macbeth and Banquo agree to talk more about everything later.
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