Act 1, Scene 3: the prophecy

In Scene 3 of Act 1 in Shakespeare's Macbeth, we are back with the witches that we met in Scene 1. Again, we have the presence of witches and thunder - signs of danger. This is explained in detail in our detailed analysis of Act 1, Scene 1. In the first part of Scene 3, the witches update each other on what they have been doing. One of them plans to revenge herself on the sailor husband of a woman who would not give her some of her delicious chestnuts.

In the second part of the scene, Macbeth and his fellow general Banquo arrive and each receive a prophecy from the witches. Macbeth will gain two new titles: thane of Cawdor and king. Banquo will be the father of future kings but not become king himself. The scene ends with Macbeth learning that he has now been named thane of Cawdor.

The primary function of this scene is to reveal the prophecy which will become the catalyst for Macbeth’s ambition and all his future actions in the play. A secondary function is to deepen our understanding of Macbeth’s character. This scene is the first time we meet him; until now, we have only heard other characters speak about him.

Up until this point, Macbeth has been a loyal thane (nobleman) of King Duncan and a well-respected, brave warrior. However, we now get the impression that he has previously thought about becoming king. After the prophecy he launches into a number of asides where he reveals his thoughts and feelings to us. The first one is: “Glamis, and thane of Cawdor!/ The greatest is behind.” (1.3.123-124). These two short lines tell us two important facts about Macb...

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