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Free Study Guide-Macbeth by William Shakespeare-Booknotes Summary
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Act III, Scene 5

Summary

This scene takes place once again on a heath with thunder in the background. The three witches of earlier scenes enter and meet their queen, Hecate (the goddess of witchcraft) who appears to be angry. She explains, in rhyming couplets, that her wrath is due to the witches' failure to consult with her:

.................How did you dare To trade and traffic with Macbeth In riddles and affairs of death; And I, the mistress of your charms, The close contriver of all harms, Was never called to bear my part, Or show the glory of our art?

And, which is worse, all you have done Hath been but for a wayward son, Spiteful and wrathful, who (as others do) Loves for his own end, not for you.

In continuing verse, Hecate instructs the witches to meet her tomorrow morning at the pit of Acheron (the gates of Hell) where Macbeth will join them to learn his future. She instructs them to bring their cauldrons and be ready to conjure up their magic spells that will "draw him on to his confusion." Then Hecate suggests that Macbeth will continue to "spurn fate, scorn death." Things do not look good for the King of Scotland!

Notes

There is considerable controversy about this scene in the play, and no definitive answer about its authorship. Some scholars believe it was not part of the original drama, but was inserted at some later date by some playwright other than Shakespeare. The scene itself would support that belief. Shakespeare was a master of verse, and by any stretch of the imagination, these rhyming couplets do no reach a high poetic plateau; but perhaps the triteness of the verse is intentional. After all, Hecate, the queen of witches and evil, is the speaker. High poetry would seem inappropriate issuing forth from her wicked mouth.


The scene, however, does not seem to fit properly into the play. It has none of the mystery, somberness, or dramatic impact of the previous two witch scenes. In addition, very little new information is gained in the scene. If the play is read without including this scene, no plot information is missed, for the audience learns at the beginning of the next act where Macbeth actually meets the witches and what he hears directly from them. The characters of the three witches are not further developed in the scene; it is only Hecate who is introduced and shown, as to be expected, as a demanding, harsh, and evil witch queen.

If Shakespeare indeed was the originator of the scene, its purpose would be two-fold: 1) to tightly bind the structure of the play by having this scene, at mid point in the drama, be a clear flashback to the first and second witch scenes in the play, both of which occur early in Act I; and 2) to give some relief to the very rapid building of the plot, which reached a high point in the previous banquet scene. Shakespeare was capable of having originally written this scene, but it seems unlikely that in one of his shortest, most intense dramas, he would have created a supernatural scene with so little dramatic impact.

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