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

ACT I SCENE III A heath near Forres. 
 Thunder. Enter the three Witches. 
First Witch Where hast thou been, sister? 
Second Witch Killing swine. 
Third Witch Sister, where thou? 
First Witch A sailor's wife had chestnuts in her lap,
 And munch'd, and munch'd, and munch'd:--  5
 'Give me,' quoth I: 
 'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries. 
 Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the Tiger: 
 But in a sieve I'll thither sail,
 And, like a rat without a tail,  10
 I'll do, I'll do, and I'll do. 
Second Witch I'll give thee a wind. 
First Witch Thou'rt kind. 
Third Witch And I another.
First Witch I myself have all the other,  15
 And the very ports they blow, 
 All the quarters that they know 
 I' the shipman's card. 
 I will drain him dry as hay:
 Sleep shall neither night nor day  20
 Hang upon his pent-house lid; 
 He shall live a man forbid: 
 Weary se'n nights nine times nine 
 Shall he dwindle, peak and pine:
 Though his bark cannot be lost,  25
 Yet it shall be tempest-tost. 
 Look what I have. 
Second Witch Show me, show me. 
First Witch Here I have a pilot's thumb,
 Wreck'd as homeward he did come.  30
 Drum within. 
Third Witch A drum, a drum! 
 Macbeth doth come. 
ALL The weird sisters, hand in hand, 
 Posters of the sea and land,
 Thus do go about, about:  35
 Thrice to thine and thrice to mine 
 And thrice again, to make up nine. 
 Peace! the charm's wound up. 
MACBETH So foul and fair a day I have not seen.
BANQUO How far is't call'd to Forres? What are these  40
 So wither'd and so wild in their attire,

 That look not like the inhabitants o' the earth, 
 And yet are on't? Live you? or are you aught 
 That man may question? You seem to understand me,
 By each at once her choppy finger laying  45
 Upon her skinny lips: you should be women, 
 And yet your beards forbid me to interpret 
 That you are so. 
MACBETH Speak, if you can: what are you?
First Witch All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!  50
Second Witch All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! 
Third Witch All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter! 
BANQUO Good sir, why do you start; and seem to fear 
 Things that do sound so fair? I' the name of truth,
 Are ye fantastical, or that indeed  55
 Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner 
 You greet with present grace and great prediction 
 Of noble having and of royal hope, 
 That he seems rapt withal: to me you speak not.
 If you can look into the seeds of time,  60
 And say which grain will grow and which will not, 
 Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear 
 Your favours nor your hate. 
First Witch Hail!
Second Witch Hail!  65
Third Witch Hail! 
First Witch Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. 
Second Witch Not so happy, yet much happier. 
Third Witch Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:
 So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!  70
First Witch Banquo and Macbeth, all hail! 
MACBETH Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more: 
 By Sinel's death I know I am thane of Glamis; 
 But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
 A prosperous gentleman; and to be king  75
 Stands not within the prospect of belief, 
 No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence 
 You owe this strange intelligence? or why 
 Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
 With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.  80
 Witches vanish. 
BANQUO The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, 
 And these are of them. Whither are they vanish'd? 
MACBETH Into the air; and what seem'd corporal melted 
 As breath into the wind. Would they had stay'd!
BANQUO Were such things here as we do speak about?  85
 Or have we eaten on the insane root 
 That takes the reason prisoner? 
MACBETH Your children shall be kings. 
BANQUO You shall be king.
MACBETH And thane of Cawdor too: went it not so? 
BANQUO To the selfsame tune and words. Who's here? 
 Enter ROSS and ANGUS. 
ROSS The king hath happily received, Macbeth, 
 The news of thy success; and when he reads 
 Thy personal venture in the rebels' fight,
 His wonders and his praises do contend  95
 Which should be thine or his: silenced with that, 
 In viewing o'er the rest o' the selfsame day, 
 He finds thee in the stout Norweyan ranks, 
 Nothing afeard of what thyself didst make,
 Strange images of death. As thick as tale 
 Came post with post; and every one did bear 
 Thy praises in his kingdom's great defence, 
 And pour'd them down before him. 
ANGUS We are sent
 To give thee from our royal master thanks;  105
 Only to herald thee into his sight, 
 Not pay thee. 
ROSS And, for an earnest of a greater honour, 
 He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor:
 In which addition, hail, most worthy thane! 
 For it is thine. 
BANQUO What, can the devil speak true? 
MACBETH The thane of Cawdor lives: why do you dress me 
 In borrow'd robes?
ANGUS Who was the thane lives yet;  115
 But under heavy judgment bears that life 
 Which he deserves to lose. Whether he was combined 
 With those of Norway, or did line the rebel 
 With hidden help and vantage, or that with both
 He labour'd in his country's wrack, I know not; 
 But treasons capital, confess'd and proved, 
 Have overthrown him. 
 Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: 
 The greatest is behind. 
 To ROSS and ANGUS. 
 Thanks for your pains.
 To BANQUO.  125
 Do you not hope your children shall be kings, 
 When those that gave the thane of Cawdor to me 
 Promised no less to them? 
BANQUO That trusted home 
 Might yet enkindle you unto the crown,
 Besides the thane of Cawdor. But 'tis strange: 
 And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, 
 The instruments of darkness tell us truths, 
 Win us with honest trifles, to betray's 
 In deepest consequence.
 Cousins, a word, I pray you.  135
 Two truths are told, 
 As happy prologues to the swelling act 
 Of the imperial theme. -- I thank you, gentlemen. 
 This supernatural soliciting 
 Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill, 
 Why hath it given me earnest of success,
 Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor:  140
 If good, why do I yield to that suggestion 
 Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair 
 And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, 
 Against the use of nature? Present fears
 Are less than horrible imaginings: 
 My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, 
 Shakes so my single state of man that function 
 Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is 
 But what is not.
BANQUO Look, how our partner's rapt.  150
 If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, 
 Without my stir. 
BANQUO New honors come upon him, 
 Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould 
 But with the aid of use.
MACBETH Aside.  155
 Come what come may, 
 Time and the hour runs through the roughest day. 
BANQUO Worthy Macbeth, we stay upon your leisure. 
MACBETH Give me your favour: my dull brain was wrought 
 With things forgotten. Kind gentlemen, your pains 
 Are register'd where every day I turn
 The leaf to read them. Let us toward the king.  160
 Think upon what hath chanced, and, at more time, 
 The interim having weigh'd it, let us speak 
 Our free hearts each to other. 
BANQUO Very gladly.
MACBETH Till then, enough. Come, friends. 

Next: Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 4

Explanatory notes below for Act 1, Scene 3
From Macbeth. Ed. Thomas Marc Parrott. New York: American Book Co.
(Line numbers have been altered.)


With this scene the real action of the play begins. The first scene brought the witches before us; the second gave us a noble picture of Macbeth. Now the two parties, the tempters and the tempted, meet, and from their meeting and the witches' prophecy proceed directly all the remaining events of the story. The witches awaken in Macbeth the passion of ambition, which henceforth is the mainspring of his action. But we must not think that they in any way enchant Macbeth or compel him to do their evil will. After the meeting, as before, he is a free man, and can act or refrain from action as he sees fit. This is shown, in part at least, by the fact that Banquo, although also greeted by the witches with prophecies of future honour for his house, is not led on to any crime to make good the prophecy. There is something in Macbeth's own heart that receives and answers the greeting of the witches. This is Shakespeare's way of writing tragedy ; he makes the fate of his men and women depend upon their own characters, not upon chance or outside influences.

In the first thirty-seven lines of the scene, the witches recount to each other the evil deeds in which they have been engaged since their last meeting. It is worth noting that these deeds are petty and vulgar; but just as every good deed — even the giving of a cup of cold water, — is a blessed thing, so every evil deed — even the killing of swine — is a delight to the powers of evil. This conversation, moreover, serves to identify the "weird sisters" of the play with the familiar witches of Elizabethan superstition.

2. Killing swine. One of the commonest charges brought against supposed witches in Shakespeare's day was that they maliciously killed by pestilence, or the evil eye, the domestic animals of those they had a grudge against.

45, 46. By each ... lips. The witches lay their fingers on their lips to hush Banquo into silence. Their business is not with him, but with Macbeth; and they will not speak to Banquo until they have discharged their errand.

47. beards. Witches were generally thought of as bearded women.

49. All hail, Macbeth. The witches, like ghosts, will not speak until they are spoken to; but as soon as Macbeth questions them, they break out in their triple hail.

50. Glamis. an old castle in Scotland, still standing. The title "Thane of Glamis" was hereditary in Macbeth's family. See line [73] of this scene.

53. start. Macbeth starts because the witches' prophecy that he shall be king is an echo of his secret ambition. Indeed it would seem from his wife's words (i. 7. 48-52) that he had on some previous occasion gone so far as to plot the murder of Duncan.

57. present grace, "honour," "honourable distinction," referring to the title of Thane of Glamis, which Macbeth then enjoyed.

58. royal hope, the hope, or expectation, of royalty.

59. rapt, Macbeth is so struck with the greeting of the witches that he stands silent as in a trance, while Banquo speaks.

67-9. Lesser ... none. The ambiguity of the witches' address to Banquo is in marked contrast to the directness of their speeches to Macbeth. He is to be "lesser than Macbeth" in rank, and "greater," because he will never be the slave of guilt; not so "happy," i.e, "fortunate," because he will never be king, "happier" because he will never fall from his estate. The prediction that he shall "get," i.e, "beget," kings, is also vague, since it only asserts that some of his descendants shall be kings. According to tradition, the royal house of Stuart sprang from Banquo's son, Fleance. [Please click here for much more on this subject.]

81. Note the different way in which the sudden vanishing of the witches affects Banquo and Macbeth. The former is only surprised; the latter regrets that they did not remain to tell him more.

88, 89. Your children, etc, Macbeth cannot free his mind from the predictions of the witches, but he carefully avoids mentioning the most startling of them.

112. devil in this line is pronounced as a monosyllable like the Scotch "deil."

113, 114. dress me In borrowed robes, adorn me with honours that are not mine.

115. Who was the thane, he who formerly was the thane. Cawdor had already been deprived of his rank and possessions.

116. under heavy judgement, under sentence of death.

128. trusted home, completely trusted.

134. In deepest consequence, in matters of the greatest importance.

137. the swelling act, the performance developing in my mind.

140. I am in this line should be contracted in reading into "I'm" to preserve the meter.

142. unfix my hair, make my hair stand up in fright.

144. Against the use of nature, unnaturally.

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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Point to Ponder ..."Much of the dread, solemnity, and awe which is experienced in reading this play, from the intervention of the witches, is lost in its representation on the stage, owing to the injudicious custom of bringing them too forward on the scene; where, appearing little better than a group of old women, the effect intended by the poet is not only destroyed, but reversed." Nathan Drake. Read more...


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