|What, is this so?|
|First Witch||Ay, sir, all this is so: but why|
|Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?|
|Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,|
|And show the best of our delights:|
|I'll charm the air to give a sound,|
|While you perform your antic round:||130|
|That this great king may kindly say,|
|Our duties did his welcome pay.|
|[ Music. The witches dance and then vanish, with HECATE ]|
|MACBETH||Where are they? Gone? Let this pernicious hour|
|Stand aye accursed in the calendar!|
|Come in, without there!|
|LENNOX||What's your grace's will?|
|MACBETH||Saw you the weird sisters?|
|LENNOX||No, my lord.|
|MACBETH||Came they not by you?|
|LENNOX||No, indeed, my lord.|
|MACBETH||Infected be the air whereon they ride;|
|And damn'd all those that trust them! I did hear|
|The galloping of horse: who was't came by?||140|
|LENNOX||'Tis two or three, my lord, that bring you word|
|Macduff is fled to England.|
|MACBETH||Fled to England!|
|LENNOX||Ay, my good lord.|
|MACBETH||Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits:|
|The flighty purpose never is o'ertook|
|Unless the deed go with it; from this moment|
|The very firstlings of my heart shall be|
|The firstlings of my hand. And even now,|
|To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:|
|The castle of Macduff I will surprise;||150|
|Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o' the sword|
|His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls|
|That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool;|
|This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.|
|But no more sights!--Where are these gentlemen?|
|Come, bring me where they are.|
Next: Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 2
Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 1
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
The interest in this act centres around Macbeth's relation to Macduff, who has been already pointed out as his sole opponent among the Scottish nobles. In the first scene, Macbeth is warned against him by name and resolves to put him to death; in the second, assassins, who have come too late to find him in his castle, massacre by Macbeth's orders his entire household; in the third we find him in England stirring up Malcolm to war against the tyrant, receiving the terrible news of the slaughter of his wife and children, and vowing revenge upon their murderer. We see less of Macbeth in this act than in any other, but we see enough to show us how, by this time, he has wholly given himself over to evil.
The difference between the Macbeth whom the witches waylaid and the Macbeth who seeks them out has been already pointed out. Even more terrible is the difference between the Macbeth who was "too full o' the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way," and the Macbeth who orders the massacre of Macduff's wife and children. The wanton cruelty of this crime, by which Macbeth has absolutely nothing to gain, marks the lowest point of his fall.
At the close of the act, we join with Macduff in thinking of him as "this fiend of Scotland," and look forward eagerly to the punishment that is about to be meted out to him. It will be shown later on with what art the poet contrives to regain for him a certain portion of our sympathy.
The witches who know that Macbeth is coming to consult them are revealed in a cavern preparing their enchantments. We may suppose that the caldron with all its horrible ingredients was necessary to call up the apparitions which the witches mean to show Macbeth. The student should note carefully the forms and utterances of these apparitions, and consider in what way their words confirm Macbeth in his evil purposes, and embolden him against repentance.
The speeches of the witches are thrown into the same trochaic metre that they have employed on their former appearances. The difference between this and the light iambic metre in which Hecate speaks, is one of the main reasons for rejecting that character as the interpolation of another poet than Shakespeare.
Please click here for detailed explanatory notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1.1-47) and analysis.
50. conjure, adjure. The accent is on the first syllable. The whole speech is very characteristic of the desperate recklessness of Macbeth. He is determined to have an answer from the witches, no matter what storms their enchantments raise, and no matter what destruction of life and property results.
50. profess, make claim to know.
53. yesty, frothy, like yeast.
54. navigation, ships.
55. bladed corn, corn in the green ear.
55. lodged, beaten down.
57. pyramids, towers, or steeples.
59. germens, seeds of life.
63. our masters, the evil spirits, whom the witches serve and who presently take shape as the three apparitions.
64. eaten. According to an old Scotch law a sow who ate her pigs was to be stoned to death as a monster.
65. nine farrow, litter of nine.
67. high or low, great spirit or small.
68. deftly, fitly.
68. The "armed," i.e. helmeted, head represents Macbeth's own head which was destined to be cut off by Macduff. The bloody child represents Macduff, who had been ripped from his mother's womb. Note the concealed meaning in the witch's statement that this apparition is more potent than the first.
74. harp'd, touched.
78. Had I ... hear thee, if I had more ears than I have, I'd listen to you with all of them; a figurative way of saying that Macbeth is listening with eager attention.
83. double, used here as an adverb.
84. take a bond of fate. "Fate" is probably used here in the sense of "Death." Macbeth intends to kill Macduff, and by so doing he will obtain a "bond," a sure pledge, from Death that Macduff will never harm him. Thus he will be doubly sure, first by the prediction just uttered, next by Macduff's death.
86. sleep in spite of thunder. Macbeth has already complained of his restless sleeplessness. It is natural to suppose that a stormy night, recalling to him the terrors of the night in which he murdered Duncan, would still further heighten his distress. But he thinks that if he can get rid of his last fear by killing Macduff, he will be able to rest again.
86. The third apparition represents young Malcolm; the tree represents Birnam wood.
88, 89. round And top, the crown and highest attainment.
93. Birnam wood, a forest twelve miles from Dunsinane. In this line "Dunsinane" is accented on the second syllable, elsewhere in the play on the first.
95. impress, force into service.
96. bodements, predictions.
97. Rebellious head, an army of rebels.
98. our high-placed Macbeth. The phrase seems rather awkward, coming from Macbeth himself. Possibly "our" has something of the force of the royal "We" in it. "High-placed" is thought by Dr. Liddell to refer to Macbeth's situation on Dunsinane hill.
99. the lease of nature the allotted span.
100. mortal custom, the custom of mortality, i.e. death.
106. noise, music.
111. Eight King, the eight sovereigns of the Scottish house of Stuart, from Robert II to James VI, inclusive. According to Holinshed, this house traced its descent back to Banquo.
118. I'll see, I wish to see.
119. a glass, a magic glass by means of which one could foresee the future. The eighth king who bears the glass is James VI of Scotland, ruling in England as James I when this play was written. Shakespeare meant to pay him a compliment by declaring that many of his descendants should reign. The present king of England is descended on the mother's side from James I.
121. balls, the golden orb carried by the monarch at his coronation. James was twice crowned, once in Scotland, and once in England.
121. treble sceptres, indicating the official title of the English monarchs from James I to George III, viz.: "King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland."
122. A syllable is wanting in the third foot. Its place is supplied by the pause after Macbeth's ejaculation, "Horrible sight!"
123. blood-bolter'd, with hair matted with blood.
124. What, is this so? These words, and the following lines to 132, inclusive, are almost certainly interpolated. Macbeth has just said, "I see 'tis true," and it is therefore out of keeping for him to ask the witches, "is this so?" The metre of the witch's speech is like that of Hecate in iii. 5, and unlike that which Shakespeare uses for the witches, and the suggestion of the witch that she and her sisters cheer up Macbeth by a dance, is too absurd to need discussion. The passage is one of the spectacular interpolations with which the reviser sought to increase the drawing power of Macbeth.
132. Our duties ... pay, our dutiful service (shown in the dance) gave him a welcome; an awkward and un-Shakespearean line.
134. Stand ... calendar, became a day marked in the calendar as one of ill omen.
127. sprites, spirits.
130. antic, fantastic, grotesque.
135. Enter Lennox. Lennox, we must imagine, had accompanied Macbeth on his visit to the witches, but had been left outside the cave. There is a distinct significance in the fact that the lord who, in the preceding scene, had called Macbeth a tyrant, appears here as his confidential companion. In spite of his spies Macbeth did not know how his nobles hated him.
139. damn'd all those that trust them, Macbeth does not realize that he is pronouncing judgment on himself, for, in spite of the show of the kings, he still trusts in the predictions of the witches.
144. anticipatest, preventest.
145. flightly, fleeting.
147. firstlings, first offsprings.
153. trace him in his line, his relatives.
155. sights, apparitions.
155. no more sights. Macbeth has had more than enough of the witches and their apparitions.
How to cite the explanatory notes:________
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_4_1.html >.
The Chronology of Shakespeare's Plays
Establishing the Order of the Plays
How Many Plays Did Shakespeare Write?
Shakespeare's Reputation in Elizabethan England
Words Shakespeare Invented
Quotations About William Shakespeare
Portraits of Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
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Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
Shakespeare's Blank Verse
Edward Alleyn (Actor)
What is Tragic Irony?
Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
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Explanatory Notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1)
The Theme of Macbeth
Origin of the Weird Sisters
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|Points to Ponder ... "[The Witches'] relation to the play as a whole is no less important than to Macbeth as an individual. These creatures, whose proper element is the tempest, whose chariot is the whirl-wind, whose religion is to do the evil, form a fit setting for a drama in which the very ground rocks beneath one's feet, in which the whole action is a stormy struggle between the powers of good and the powers of evil." N. B. Bowman. Read on...|
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Soliloquy Analysis: If it were done when 'tis done (1.7.1-29)
Soliloquy Analysis: Is this a dagger (2.1.33-61)
Soliloquy Analysis: To be thus is nothing (3.1.47-71)
Soliloquy Analysis: She should have died hereafter (5.5.17-28)
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Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)
How to Stage a Production of Macbeth (Scene Suggestions)
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The Curse of Macbeth
Macbeth Q & A
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Summary: Act 4, scene 1
In a dark cavern, a bubbling cauldron hisses and spits, and the three witches suddenly appear onstage. They circle the cauldron, chanting spells and adding bizarre ingredients to their stew—“eye of newt and toe of frog, / Wool of bat and tongue of dog” (4.1.14–15). Hecate materializes and compliments the witches on their work. One of the witches then chants: “By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes” (4.1.61–62). In fulfillment of the witch’s prediction, Macbeth enters. He asks the witches to reveal the truth of their prophecies to him. To answer his questions, they summon horrible apparitions, each of which offers a prediction to allay Macbeth’s fears. First, a floating head warns him to beware Macduff; Macbeth says that he has already guessed as much. Then a bloody child appears and tells him that “none of woman born / shall harm Macbeth” (4.1.96–97). Next, a crowned child holding a tree tells him that he is safe until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill. Finally, a procession of eight crowned kings walks by, the last carrying a mirror. Banquo’s ghost walks at the end of the line. Macbeth demands to know the meaning of this final vision, but the witches perform a mad dance and then vanish. Lennox enters and tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth resolves to send murderers to capture Macduff’s castle and to kill Macduff’s wife and children.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 1 →
Summary: Act 4, scene 2
At Macduff’s castle, Lady Macduff accosts Ross, demanding to know why her husband has fled. She feels betrayed. Ross insists that she trust her husband’s judgment and then regretfully departs. Once he is gone, Lady Macduff tells her son that his father is dead, but the little boy perceptively argues that he is not. Suddenly, a messenger hurries in, warning Lady Macduff that she is in danger and urging her to flee. Lady Macduff protests, arguing that she has done no wrong. A group of murderers then enters. When one of them denounces Macduff, Macduff’s son calls the murderer a liar, and the murderer stabs him. Lady Macduff turns and runs, and the pack of killers chases after her.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 2 →
Summary: Act 4, scene 3
Outside King Edward’s palace, Malcolm speaks with Macduff, telling him that he does not trust him since he has left his family in Scotland and may be secretly working for Macbeth. To determine whether Macduff is trustworthy, Malcolm rambles on about his own vices. He admits that he wonders whether he is fit to be king, since he claims to be lustful, greedy, and violent. At first, Macduff politely disagrees with his future king, but eventually Macduff cannot keep himself from crying out, “O Scotland, Scotland!” (4.3.101). Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland leads him to agree that Malcolm is not fit to govern Scotland and perhaps not even to live. In giving voice to his disparagement, Macduff has passed Malcolm’s test of loyalty. Malcolm then retracts the lies he has put forth about his supposed shortcomings and embraces Macduff as an ally. A doctor appears briefly and mentions that a “crew of wretched souls” waits for King Edward so they may be cured (4.3.142). When the doctor leaves, Malcolm explains to Macduff that King Edward has a miraculous power to cure disease.
Ross enters. He has just arrived from Scotland, and tells Macduff that his wife and children are well. He urges Malcolm to return to his country, listing the woes that have befallen Scotland since Macbeth took the crown. Malcolm says that he will return with ten thousand soldiers lent him by the English king. Then, breaking down, Ross confesses to Macduff that Macbeth has murdered his wife and children. Macduff is crushed with grief. Malcolm urges him to turn his grief to anger, and Macduff assures him that he will inflict revenge upon Macbeth.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 3 →
Analysis: Act 4, scenes 1–3
The witches are vaguely absurd figures, with their rhymes and beards and capering, but they are also clearly sinister, possessing a great deal of power over events. Are they simply independent agents playing mischievously and cruelly with human events? Or are the “weird sisters” agents of fate, betokening the inevitable? The word weird descends etymologically from the Anglo-Saxon word wyrd, which means “fate” or “doom,” and the three witches bear a striking resemblance to the Fates, female characters in both Norse and Greek mythology. Perhaps their prophecies are constructed to wreak havoc in the minds of the hearers, so that they become self-fulfilling. It is doubtful, for instance, that Macbeth would have killed Duncan if not for his meeting with the witches. On the other hand, the sisters’ prophecies may be accurate readings of the future. After all, when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane at the play’s end, the soldiers bearing the branches have not heard of the prophecy.
Whatever the nature of the witches’ prophecies, their sheer inscrutability is as important as any reading of their motivations and natures. The witches stand outside the limits of human comprehension. They seem to represent the part of human beings in which ambition and sin originate—an incomprehensible and unconscious part of the human psyche. In this sense, they almost seem to belong to a Christian framework, as supernatural embodiments of the Christian concept of original sin. Indeed, many critics have argued that Macbeth, a remarkably simple story of temptation, fall, and retribution, is the most explicitly Christian of Shakespeare’s great tragedies. If so, however, it is a dark Christianity, one more concerned with the bloody consequences of sin than with grace or divine love. Perhaps it would be better to say that Macbeth is the most orderly and just of the tragedies, insofar as evil deeds lead first to psychological torment and then to destruction. The nihilism of King Lear, in which the very idea of divine justice seems laughable, is absent in Macbeth—divine justice, whether Christian or not, is a palpable force hounding Macbeth toward his inevitable end.