Literature Study GuidesMacbethAct 1 Scene 3 Summary

Macbeth | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Macbeth | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

The witches meet, as arranged, on a heath, where they encounter Macbeth and Banquo as they make their way home from the battle against Norway. Banquo notices them first and wonders if they are really women; he thinks they have beards. The witches hail (salute) Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and "King hereafter." Their greeting to Banquo is far less clear. Comparing him to Macbeth, they say he is both lesser and greater, less happy and happier. In addition, they declare that his descendants will be kings. Macbeth asks how they have come by this information and why they have stopped the men with these fanciful prophesies. Rather than answer, the witches vanish. After the witches disappear, Macbeth and Banquo make jokes about what they said and question their own sanity.

Banquo and Macbeth then talk about the witches' predictions. Ross and Angus arrive to congratulate Macbeth on his victory over Norway and declare him the new Thane of Cawdor. Because the Thane of Cawdor is still alive, Macbeth protests, but Ross and Angus declare Cawdor a traitor who, through treason, has forfeited his title and probably his life. Banquo and Macbeth talk privately about how this first prediction has come true and wonder if the others will as well. Macbeth accepts his new title and thanks Ross and Angus.

Analysis

When they meet the witches for the first time, Macbeth and Banquo seem repulsed by them. They don't fit the two men's expectations of what women should look like, which makes the men suspicious. Furthermore, both men seem to dismiss the predictions they make. Macbeth protests that the Thane of Cawdor still lives, meaning Macbeth himself cannot become Thane of Cawdor. Furthermore, the prospect of Macbeth's becoming king seems completely ludicrous.

Only after Ross and Angus deliver the message that Duncan has declared Macbeth the new Thane of Cawdor do Macbeth and Banquo begin to put stock in the witches' words. Macbeth's ambition begins to take root, and perhaps it was this quality that drew the witches to him. They have declared Banquo will be greater and happier than Macbeth in the long run, which is true. Banquo will die before his time, but he will die with honor and the respect of his peers and leave a legacy behind, while Macbeth will die in disgrace with no heirs. Banquo lacks the ruthless ambition that will soon emerge in Macbeth, so he does not take action to try to make the prophecies come true. Thus, his destiny unfolds naturally. In contrast, once Macbeth accepts the prophecies as truth, he allows them to influence his every decision. His destiny unfolds as predicted, but with terrible consequences.

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