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Discussion on the effectiveness of the opening three scenes of Macbeth

The play Macbeth is set in Scotland during the 11th century in the Elizabethan period. The play is about a man called Macbeth who has predictions of Thane of Cawdor and king given to him by three unearthly witches. His predictions come true with the help of murder, and in the end his gets found out and killed. The play is associated with the super natural as there are three witches that predict the future of Macbeth and Banquo. Also Macbeths sees an apparition of the dagger that he is going to murder the king with he also later sees the king’s and Banquo’s ghost. People were highly superstitious during the Elizabethan period. Unexplainable events were generally believed to be the work of witches.

Introduction to the Witches

There are 3 witches, three because there is one to spin the thread of life, one to measure to thread of life and one to cut the thread of life. The number three is also associated with power and this reinforced them when they chant together. Witches were also believed to have spirits or demons, which helped with their evil wrongdoings. These were usually, birds or animals e.g.: cats or toads. The witches talk in rhyme and riddles “fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the filthy air” this shows that they are supernatural and that they cast spells. They also possess unnatural abilities as they can ‘hover’.

The witches are facially disfigured and represented as strange unusual, spiteful and evil beings. ‘That not look like the inhabitants of the earth’ this quote shows that they are un-human weird women, almost alien to the suspicious lives of the Elizabethan people.. “So withered and wild in their attire” this shows that they are unusually dressed and are strange.

The witches are spiteful and evil as they tell of their wrongdoings. They call a woman a ‘rump fed ronyon’ this shows that they are evil and don’t care about anyone else’s feelings. They are described by Macbeth ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen.’ this quote immediately connects with the first scenes where the witches are talking in riddles.

Scene One

The play starts with thunder and lightning, which creates a tense atmosphere, also a sense of power and the supernatural is created, which is later shown in the play. The setting is bleak and isolated on the moorland. The weather is cold, damp and miserable this sets a melancholy mood. The atmosphere is unusual and disorientated like the witches as they are they only inhabitants of this large stretch of barren landscape, this also shows that the witches are strange and outsiders.

The witches are planning to meet the unsuspecting Macbeth and tell him of his triumphant future. They talk in rhyme and riddles of how they will tell him; this would make an Elizabethan audience feel intrigued and curious to watch the rest of the spellbinding play as they were extremely superstitious. The vocabulary that the three evil witches use is a mixture of distorted rhyme and riddles e.g.: “fair is foul and foul is fair” which shows that they are casing spells and have a supernatural force, the quote also means that all is not what it seems to be. The use of rhyme and riddles creates a bewitching atmosphere full of tension and expectation and makes it clear that they are witches. They also never spoke in prose like the other characters in the story.

The witches are represented as strange, ugly, unearthly beings with strange distorted voices in the Polanski film; they are weather beaten, haggard looking women who live in a dark cave. The witches dig a hole in the sand and bury a hand, a dagger and a noose in it, this symbolises the events which are later to happen in the play and creates a sense of inhuman activity and shows that they are witches.

Scene Two

Act 1 scene 2 is a dramatic contrast to the opening scene as the setting is a more populated place, a camp near the forest and they are not isolated, as the witches were. There are alot of dead bodies and most of the characters are regal, or soldiers. The sound of the ‘alarum within’ reinforces the sense of royalty.

Macbeth is complimented for his bravery by the other characters “for brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name” this quote shows that they honour him and look up to him as he killed the enemy Macdonald.

The honour of the traitor who will be killed is given to Macbeth ‘Thane of Cawdor’ in honour of his bravery. This is predicting the future of Macbeth’s success and honour given. Macbeth seems a loyal, brave and good soldier so far, and many compliment his bravery. Also he is the cousin of the king. It is interesting how the witches are also referred to as ‘The weird sisters’. ‘Weird’ meant fate in old English.

Scene Three

Act 1 scene 3 is dramatically different from the previous scene as the witches appear suddenly in a ‘clap of thunder’ at the beginning of the scene, thunder seems to be on a league with the witches as it is present wherever they go. We go to the witches for their meeting with Macbeth which was predicted in act 1 scene 1 upon the heath. This scene has both witches and men which highlights the difference between them and how much the witches are outsiders. The language the witches use shows that they are spiteful, evil and don’t care what anyone else thinks of them. The start off the scene telling of all the horrible things they have done to men. They call a sailors wife a “rump-fed ronyon” this shows their spiteful and nastiness. “I’ll give thee a wind” this quote highlights the power and supernaturalism of the witches as they can control the weather.

Macbeth’s first words in the play are “so foul and fair a day I have not seen.” This immediately connects him to the witches as they say that riddle as well. The witches are described by Macbeth and Banquo as “so withered and wild in their attire” this quote shows that they are dressed unusually and look wild. “Imperfect speakers” this quote states the fact that they talk in riddle and rhyme. “Whither are they vanish’d?”, “into the air” these quotes reinforces the power, magical element and supernaturalism of the three witches.

The predictions given to Macbeth from the witches are that he will become thane of Cawdor and then king. The predictions given to Banquo are that his sons will be kings, “lesser than Macbeth but greater” the witches speak in riddles again. Macbeth is more curious than banquo at the witch’s predictions, but they both laugh it off; but Macbeth is curious and says ‘stay you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.’, this line hints of his greed. When Ross brings the news that Macbeth is to become ‘Thane of Cawdor’ straight after the witches have predicted it, it gives a dramatic effect as the predictions came true and leaves a sense of expectation for the other prediction that Macbeth is to become king, this reinforces the power of the witches. We therefore know that the film will be about Macbeth, the central protagonist, becoming king.

Conclusions Drawn

In my opinion the first three scenes of Macbeth are effective as each scene contrasts with the one before with the isolation and strangeness of the witches against the busy death and destruction of the second scene. The language of the witches is intriguing and mysterious. I want to keep reading after the first few scenes as I want to see if the predictions come true and what happens to the characters.


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