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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Notes

This scene is very important to the play in many ways. The reader is introduced to Macbeth in person for the first time-- in the very appropriate setting of a barren wasteland peopled by supernatural characters involved in casting evil spells. The witches, in their wickedness, predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland and, thus, sow the seed of greed in Macbeth that leads to his own ruin. At first Macbeth dismisses the witches' words as impossible gibberish, until Ross and Angus arrive and tell him that he has been named Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan as a reward for his valor in battle. This leads Macbeth to believe he will also become king, as the witches predict, and his mind immediately has thoughts of murder, a portent of what is to come in the play.

There are other foreshadowings in the scene. The sailor's wife causes her husband's downfall, much as Lady Macbeth will cause her husband's downfall. The sailor will be "tempest-tost" and deprived of sleep, just as the reader finds Macbeth later in the play. The scene also does much to advance a key theme in the play - the confusion between appearance and reality: what seems to be is not always so. The witches themselves seem real enough and then vanish into thin air. Their predictions for Macbeth seem impossible and then he finds he really is the Thane of Cawdor.

Macbeth's imagination, driven by his ambition, makes what is not possible seem like a real possibility as he pictures himself murdering the king and seizing the throne. When Banquo explains Macbeth's preoccupation during the scene, he says that the Thane's "new garments" (referring to his becoming the Thane of Cawdor) do not fit well. In reality, the idea that has preoccupied Macbeth is how to put on even greater garments - a crown and royal robes.

A sense of chaos also pervades the scene from the witches' dancing and chanting at the beginning to Macbeth's mind wandering to murder and mayhem near the end of the scene. This sense of chaos and doom sets the mood of the entire play with Scotland ripped apart by war and treachery and Macbeth and his wife ripped into frenzy by greed and guilt. The scene ends with Macbeth fooling himself into believing that he will let fate take its course rather than the reality of his shaping his own future and demise.

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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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