Macbeth By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 1

Summary

In a desolate place blasted by thunderstorms, Three Witches meet to predict the future.

Analysis

Macbeth begins in "an open place" — a place without any landmarks or buildings — with the appearance of the three "weird sisters," as they later call themselves. The Old English word "wyrd," or "weird" means "Fate," which is exactly the origin of these Witches: They are the Fates of classical mythology, one of whom spun the thread of a person's life, one of whom measured it, and one of whom cut it. The bleakness of the scene is a dramatic representation both of the wild Scottish landscape in which the play is set and the more universal wilderness of man's existence.

The Three Witches' speech is written in short rhyming verse that imitates the casting of a spell. The women's language is also full of the imagery of witchcraft and of chaotic weather: thunder, lightning, rain, fog, and "filthy air." The lines "When the battle's lost and won" and "Fair is foul and foul is fair" are the most significant in the scene. On the one hand, these contradictory statements are the kind of riddles we would expect from witches; on the other, the lines suggest a paradox that runs throughout the play: Life frequently presents a confused picture of events in which discerning truth from falsehood is difficult.

Glossary

Graymalkin, Paddock (8) grey cat, toad; both "familiars" or witches' assistants

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