Explanatory notes below for Act 1, Scene 1
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)
Shakespeare's dramatic genius is especially to be noted in the art with which he manages his beginnings. The first scene of
Macbeth strikes the keynote of the play. The desert place, the
wild storm, the appearance of the witches, "the wayward rhythm" of their songs, all help to prepare us for a drama in which a human
soul succumbs to the supernatural suggestions of evil and ranges
itself along with the witches on the devil's side.
We hear of a battle that is even now being fought, we hear of the trysting-place of the witches at the conclusion of the fray, and last of all we hear the name of the man they are planning to meet. No sooner
has the name "Macbeth" been uttered than the calls of the attendant spirits are heard and the witches hurry off. The action of
the scene is over with the naming of the man against whose soul
these ministers of darkness are plotting.
1. The dialogue of the witches is a sort of chant. It is thrown into a verse form, trochaic tetrameter, which Shakespeare rarely
uses except for supernatural beings, witches, fairies, or the like. In order to bring out the rhyme the last syllable is dropped from the
end of each line. In line 2 the rhythm is reversed and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. In line 8 the stressed
syllable in the third foot is omitted. This forces us to pause in the middle of the line and so secures additional emphasis for the closing word, "Macbeth."
We may imagine the Third Witch pausing for a moment while her sisters gather round her and then
shrieking out the name of the hero in an ecstasy of devilish joy.
12, 13. The couplet with which the witches take their departure
is a confession of their creed. All that is good, "fair," to others is
evil, "foul," to them, and vice versa. This applies to both the
physical and the moral world; they revel in the "fog and filthy
air," and in every sort of mischief and evil-doing from killing
swine to entrapping human souls.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co., 1904. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth_1_1.html >.
Did You Know? ... In Shakespeare's primary source for Macbeth, Holinshed's Chronicles, the Weird Sisters are "goddesses of destinee", but they are far more sinister in Shakespeare's version. Read on...