Act 1, Scene 3: the first prophecy


The scene introduces us to Macbeth

In Act 1, Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, we meet the three witches again. Their presence as well as that of thunder is a clear indication of danger

In the first part of the scene, the witches update each other on what they have been doing. In the second part of the scene, Macbeth and his fellow general Banquo arrive and each receive a prophecy from the witches. Macbeth will gain two new titles: thane of Cawdor and king. Banquo will be the father of future kings but not become king himself. The scene ends with Macbeth learning that he has now been named thane of Cawdor, which seems to indicate that his prophecy is in the process of coming true.

This scene is the first time we actually meet Macbeth. We have heard of him in Scenes 1 and 2, and Scene 2 was full of praise for Macbeth’s bravery and loyalty. However, we now get to see a darker and more ambitious side of him. After the prophecy, he launches into a number of asides, revealing his thoughts and feelings to us. The first one is: “Glamis, and thane of Cawdor! / The greatest is behind.” (1.3.123-124). These lines tell us that Macbeth is superstitious as he immediately believes the witches (unlike Banquo), and that he is excited at the idea of becoming king.

We do not only see Macbeth’s ambition, though. This scene also shows that Macbeth does have a sense of morality which tells him that killing a king - regicide - is wrong. He describes this act as “that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs / Against the use of nature” (1.3.144-147). This indicates that he is aware of the potential consequences if he decides to act on the predictions. 

Macbeth and Banquo react differently to the prophecies

When studying Macbeth’s character, a comparison with Banquo reveals interesting differences between the two men. They are both soldiers and war...

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