Act I, scenes i–iv
Summary: Act I, scene i
Thunder and lightning crash above a Scottish moor. Three haggard old women, the witches, appear out of the
storm. In eerie, chanting tones, they make plans to meet again upon the heath, after the battle, to confront
. As quickly as they arrive, they disappear.
Summary: Act I, scene ii
At a military camp near his palace at Forres,
of Scotland asks a wounded captain for news about
the Scots’ battle with the Irish invaders, who are led by the rebel Macdonald. The captain, who was wounded
helping Duncan’s son
escape capture by the Irish, replies that the Scottish generals Macbeth and
fought with great courage and violence. The captain then describes for Duncan how Macbeth slew the
traitorous Macdonald. As the captain is carried off to have his wounds attended to, the thane of
, a Scottish
nobleman, enters and tells the king that the traitorous thane of Cawdor has been defeated and the army of
Norway repelled. Duncan decrees that the thane of Cawdor be put to death and that Macbeth, the hero of the
victorious army, be given Cawdor’s title. Ross leaves to deliver the news to Macbeth.
Summary: Act I, scene iii
On the heath near the battlefield, thunder rolls and the three witches appear. One says that she has just come
from “[k]illing swine” and another describes the revenge she has planned upon a sailor whose wife refused to
share her chestnuts. Suddenly a drum beats, and the third witch cries that Macbeth is coming. Macbeth and
Banquo, on their way to the king’s court at Forres, come upon the witches and shrink in horror at the sight of the
old women. Banquo asks whether they are mortal, noting that they don’t seem to be “inhabitants o’ th’ earth”
(I.iii.39). He also wonders whether they are really women, since they seem to have beards like men. The witches
hail Macbeth as thane of Glamis (his original title) and as thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is baffled by this second
title, as he has not yet heard of King Duncan’s decision. The witches also declare that Macbeth will be king one
day. Stunned and intrigued, Macbeth presses the witches for more information, but they have turned their
attention to Banquo, speaking in yet more riddles. They call Banquo “lesser than Macbeth, and greater,” and
“not so happy, yet much happier”; then they tell him that he will never be king but that his children will sit upon
the throne (I.iii.63–65). Macbeth implores the witches to explain what they meant by calling him thane of
Cawdor, but they vanish into thin air.
In disbelief, Macbeth and Banquo discuss the strange encounter. Macbeth fixates on the details of the prophecy.
“Your children shall be kings,” he says to his friend, to which Banquo responds: “You shall be king” (I.iii.84).