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Please see the bottom of the page and the highlighted text for full explanatory notes and paraphrases.

ACT I  SCENE I A desert place. 
[Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches]
First WitchWhen shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
Second WitchWhen the hurlyburly's done,
When the battle's lost and won.
Third WitchThat will be ere the set of sun.5
First WitchWhere the place?
Second WitchUpon the heath.
Third WitchThere to meet with Macbeth.
First WitchI come, graymalkin!
Second WitchPaddock calls.10
Third WitchAnon!
ALLFair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Next: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 2

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. < >.

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