Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1 – Summary & Analysis

Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 1 – Summary & Analysis

The play begins in a heath in Scotland, where the infamous three witches (The Weird Sisters) suddenly appear. Amidst a conversation that is characterized largely by paradox they plan to meet at the same spot ‘when the battle’s lost and won’ and when ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, so as to confront Macbeth. The witches then disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Analysis:

While many will focus upon other parts of the play for analysis and gloss over the play’s first scene due to its shortness, the introduction deserves suitable analysis as the beginning of any piece gives indication of what is to follow. The first scene of Macbeth serves an important purpose; it presents the world as a place where nothing is at it seems, or as it should be. The witches’ contradictory manner of speaking foreshadows later events in the play, such as Macbeth’s deception and forged calm manner when he is considering regicide, while their beards present a world where things are not as they should be, such as a place where a servant is plotting to kill the king. The witches’ phrase ‘fair foul and foul is fair’ is significant for another reason aside from its contradictory state, as shall be shown later.

In addition, the play’s first scene can be seen to present the witches as the leading players in the drama. They are the first characters we meet, which knowing Shakespeare is not coincidence; indeed they influence the major events of the play such as awakening Macbeth to his desire to be king, and their appearing first can be seen to represent their pivotal role in the drama. The weather is also noteworthy; whenever the witches are present there is thunder and lightning and here a storm is present, which symbolizes a disturbance from calmness. This once more suggests the witches as highly important to the events of the play as they are associated with change, and thus the catalysts for much of what happens. Furthermore, the mention of ‘fog and filthy air’ presents the witches as unwilling to present the truth in a straightforward manner, and represents the deception that is rife throughout the play.

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About the Author

John Ryan

John has a Masters in Modern English Literature and is the founder of RyJoLC, an educational consultancy based in Dublin that provides English language and curriculum resources to educational institutions worldwide.
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