Macbeth Act 1, Scene 3: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:02 Recap of 'Macbeth' Act…
  • 0:27 The Witches Meet Again
  • 1:35 The Witches Hail…
  • 2:48 Macbeth Demans an Explanation
  • 3:54 Macbeth Receives Confirmation
  • 5:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

This lesson will begin with a brief summary of Macbeth Act 1, Scene 2. It will then move on to a summary of Act 1, Scene 3, where the three witches foresee Macbeth's and Banquo's futures.

Recap of Macbeth Act 1, Scene 2

In Act 1, Scene 2 of Macbeth, a wounded and bleeding officer brought news of Macbeth's bravery in defeating the Irish rebels to King Duncan. A bit later, the Thane of Ross confirmed Macbeth's heroics in the following battle against the Norwegian invaders, also bringing news of Cawdor's treachery. King Duncan then rewarded Macbeth by making him the Thane of Cawdor.

The Witches Meet Again

Act 1, Scene 3 of Macbeth begins with the three witches appearing in a heath, an open unused piece of land, near the battlefield. Thunder rolls. They ask each other what they had been doing. One witch says she has been killing pigs. Another talks about how she plans to take revenge on a woman who refused to share chestnuts with her.

Suddenly, a drumbeat is heard, and the witches see Macbeth and Banquo. The two men are on their way to King Duncan's castle in Forres, after the winning battles. Macbeth and Banquo come across the witches, and are horrified at the sight of them.

Banquo is the first to address the witches: ''What are these So wither'd, and so wild in their attire, That look not like the inhabitant o' the earth, And yet are on't? Live you?'' Banquo wonders if the witches are from another planet, or even real, because they look very old and wear crazy clothes.

He is not even sure if they're women: ''you should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so.'' Banquo is almost sure he is looking at women. But the witches' beards, as well as their unusual appearances, make him wonder if they really are women.

The Witches Hail Macbeth & Banquo

Before Banquo can go on, Macbeth addresses the witches: ''Speak, if you can: what are you?'' Macbeth puts an end to the confusion and simply asks the three witches to speak up if they are able.

The three witches do speak, in order. The first witch addresses him, ''All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!'' followed by the second witch, ''All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!'' And then the third witch, ''All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!'' Macbeth is startled by the witches' greetings.

The three witches then hail Banquo, again in order, but in a vaguer manner. The first witch says, ''Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.'' The second witch follows with, ''Not so happy, yet much happier.'' And the third witch concludes, ''Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none: So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo.''

Even though Banquo finds the first and second witches' greetings to be cryptic, or unclear in meaning and confusing, he understands the third witch's greeting. She has told Banquo that although he will never be king, his children will be kings. Still, the greetings overall confuse both Macbeth and Banquo.

Macbeth Demands an Explanation

In an attempt to better understand things, Macbeth addresses the witches: ''By Sinel's death I know I am thane of Glamis; But how of Cawdor? The thane of Cawdor lives, A prosperous gentleman.'' Macbeth is already the Thane of Glamis. But he has not yet been informed of the Thane of Cawdor's betrayal and his new title.

However, Macbeth finds becoming king even more implausible: ''and to be king stands not within the prospect of belief, No more than to be Cawdor.'' Macbeth simply cannot believe the witches' prophecies, their predictions about the future.

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