Act 1, Scene 1

The very first scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth may seem like an extremely short scene where nothing really happens. We meet three witches accompanied by their magical animals, and we hear the witches briefly discuss when to gather next. We learn that they plan to meet with someone called Macbeth once a battle is over. This scene is short and brisk - just like the play as a whole.

However, the opening scene has an important function in the play. A sense of danger runs through this scene, and as audience or readers, we are supposed to realise that this is a world where things are already about to go wrong. Our Background information section explains how the Elizabethans believed that everything in the universe was ordered in a strict hierarchy called the Chain of Being. Upsetting this hierarchy would upset the entire world order. In Scene 1, there are indications that this state of order has already been disturbed. This is shown to us via three elements.

First, the stage directions tell us that there is thunder and lightning. As your teacher has probably told you, the setting is almost always important because it tends to symbolise what is going on in the story. This is also the case in Macbeth. The fact that we have violent weather is a sign that this world is in a state of chaos. The witches refer to the weather directly, for instance when they “hover through the fog and filthy air.” (1.1.13).

Second, the witches themselves are a sign of chaos. Th...

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