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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT I, SCENE III
In this scene we finally meet Macbeth. Macbeth encounters the witches, who tempt him with the idea of becoming king.
We learn more about the nature of the witches. They talk among themselves about the nasty things they have been doing. One has been passing the time killing swine (pigs), another has been plotting revenge on a sailor's wife who refused to give her a chestnut. Listening to them, we get the impression that a lot of bad things that happen to people and are called bad luck are actually caused by these hags.
Now we have heard that Macbeth is brave and worthy, but we also know that these evil creatures want to meet with him. We are ready to meet Macbeth himself, and in he comes with Banquo.
Look at the first thing he says: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" (line 37). That sounds like what the witches said in Scene i! Is Shakespeare suggesting that Macbeth is not what he seems to be-a brave and loyal thane? You do not know yet, but you begin to wonder.
The witches predict what the future holds for Macbeth and Banquo. Macbeth,
who is Thane of Glamis, will be Thane of Cawdor. That comes as a surprise
to Macbeth, but not to us, of course. They also say he will be king one
day. They tell Banquo he will be father to a line of kings, though he
will never be one himself.
We can learn something about Macbeth by studying the different ways he and Banquo respond to these predictions. Banquo asks Macbeth, "why do you start, and seem to fear / Things that do sound so fair?" (lines 51-52). Why indeed? Has he already been plotting to become king? Does he feel the witches have read his mind, and guessed how much he wants the crown? Or has his mind flashed ahead, wondering how this could possibly happen? Whatever, his reaction is that of a guilty man. Banquo, on the other hand, makes fun of the witches. He is curious about what they have to say, but that is all.
Ross and Angus arrive and tell Macbeth that he is now Thane of Cawdor. The witches told the truth! Look once again at the difference between Macbeth's response and Banquo's. Banquo is skeptical:
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. Act I, Scene iii, lines 123-26
He seems to be saying, "This could be a trick." Fair words can mean foul things.
Macbeth is already obsessed with the idea of being king. He knows Duncan would have to die first, and even though he says that the idea of murder "doth unfix my hair" (line 135), he's started to think about it. From this point on, Macbeth is clearly hiding things. When Banquo comments that Macbeth is lost in thought, Macbeth lies to his friend, saying he was thinking about something else.
ACT I, SCENE IV
Duncan learns that the traitor Cawdor has been executed. It is important to note that he repented and asked for Duncan's forgiveness before he died. Through his honorable death, he seems to have made up for his sinful life.
Macbeth, Banquo, Ross, and Angus enter. In the exchange that follows, you can see Macbeth's desire to become king, even if the others can't.
The King greets Macbeth with genuine love and gratitude. In the presence of all the thanes, however, he names his son Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland. That means that Malcolm will inherit the throne when Duncan dies.
Macbeth responds to that announcement in an "aside," which means that he speaks his thoughts directly to the audience and it is understood that the other characters don't hear what he is saying. In his aside, Macbeth grumbles that Malcolm is now in his way. You begin to realize nothing will stop him.
Notice the imagery of light and darkness in lines 15-52: "Stars, hide your fires; / Let not light see my black and deep desires." Throughout the play, light symbolizes good, and dark stands for evil. Macbeth has just taken one giant step toward evil.