Macbeth was written by William Shakespeare, born in 1564 during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth. He grew up in a small town in the heart of London called Stratford-upon-Avon. His father, John Shakespeare, was a Glover and also worked in the wool industry. His mother Mary Arden was the daughter of Robert Arden who was a farmer in Wilmcote.
Young William Shakespeare attended Stafford Grammar at the age of 7 till 14, and got married to a woman, Anne Hathaway, who was 7 years older than him and also 3 months pregnant.
When he got fed up of his life he moved to London to find do something interesting. There he became an actor and performed his plays at his Black friar Theatre and then the Globe Theatre. As his acting became better and better so did his play-writing. His plays were famous, worldwide for his histories, comedies and tragedies. During his career he managed to write 37 top class plays.
Macbeth was written in the time of King James I, the heir of the throne to England’s previous queen, Queen Elizabeth. King James I was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth. And he was only given the throne as the only brother of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Edward, son of Jane Seymour, unfortunately died of an illness when he was very young.
The following is a short summary of the major events which occurred in this great tragedy by William Shakespeare:
The story takes place in Scotland the homeland of King James I. When it was ruled by King Duncan. Macbeth is a brave and well-known military leader at the beginning of the play. He is the Thane of an area called Glamis. Three witches predict that he will become Cawdor and then King. Macbeth’s friend, Banquo, is with him when the witches predict this, and they tell him that his descendants will become kings. Macbeth’s wife persuades him to make the predictions come true by murdering King Duncan.
King Duncan decides to honour Macbeth for his recent skill and bravery in the latest war, by rewarding him with the title of Thane of Cawdor. Just as the witches had predicted. The King goes to stay with Macbeth and whilst he is there, Macbeth murders him. He tries to blame the King’s guards for the murder, but King Duncan’s sons, Malcolm and Donnalbain, don’t believe him and suspect Macbeth. They run away to England and Ireland, in case Macbeth should kill them as well. Macbeth then declares himself King of Scotland.
Time passes and the public becomes very suspicious of Macbeth. Macbeth is very scared of Banquo, because the witches had predicted that Banquo’s sons will inherit the throne one day. He therefore arranges for Banquo and his son Fleance to be killed, but Fleance manages to escape. Banquo’s ghost returns to haunt Macbeth.
Macbeth then goes back to visit the witches again. They show him visions of the future and warn him to beware of Macduff, another nobleman. To beware of Malcolm and to beware when he sees Birnam Wood walking up Dunsinane Hill. They finally show Banquo’s descendants wearing the crown. Macbeth goes away from them and orders that Macduff’s wife and children are murdered. He learns that Macduff had gone to England where he had joined forces with Malcolm and got an army together to fight Macbeth.
Macbeth’s wife had gone mad with guilt and has committed suicide. His men start to desert him and his castle is captured by the English army who had cut down branches from trees in Birnam Wood, and used then as camouflage in their approach towards Dunsinane Hill. Eventually Macbeth and Macduff fight, and Macduff wins. Malcolm, King Duncan’s eldest son and the rightful heir to the throne is crowned King of Scotland.
Macbeth’s mind is in confusion for much of the play. He can’t decide whether to kill the King at first or not, but his ambition and the persuasion of his wife push him to commit the murder. His guilt shows through when he alone sees the ghost of Banquo, nobody else sees it.
My task is to explain what Shakespeare tells the audience from scenes 1-3 in Act One, about what is going to happen in the rest of the play?
Act One scene 1 is based on three witches appearing to be casting spells.
King James I was apparently a very superstitious man and appeared to have been terrified of witches because he believed that a group of them had raised a storm to try and drown him, and then had made a wax image of him to make him sicken and die.
In those days innocent women were burnt to death because they were believed to have been witches.
The devil was seen in the form of a flying monster who spoke to the witches. The following are all powers witches ‘then’ were believed to have:
o They speak with the Devil, and with his help they can communicate with the dead, the most popular of them can see into the future.
o They can make people fall ill by using spells and potions, and can kill people at a distance.
o They use animals such as cats as disguises for the evil spirits who serve them.
o They can fly through the air, and can make themselves invisible at will.
o And they can cause bad weather and storms, affecting ships at sea and spoiling the crops.
In this short scene the witches are casting spells in a desolate place. Talking in riddles, which already show the audience that these women are weird. It questions the audience right at the beginning of what is going to happen. Already we hear the witches talking about the main character, Macbeth, but yet we don’t meet him till later on. The audience would expect Macbeth to be associated with evil as the witches are heard planning on meeting him after the battle. So the audience have already been given a hint that they haven’t seen the last of these strange creatures.
The first thing that catches the audiences’ eye when the play starts are the stage directions. The stage directions describe the scene as a dark, gloomy, desolate place with thunder and lightening nearby. It already gives the audience the impression it is going to be a terrifying play.
What add to the terrifying scenery are the fist characters of the play that we are shown. We are shown three withered old women, talking in riddles and rhymes. This is very disturbing because like described later in the play they don’t look like the inhabitants of the earth, but are still on it.
The fact that these old women start to cast spell gives the first impression of these women being witches. Once again the audience are reminded this is going to be a play with a lot of evil and violence in it.
The witches plan to meet Macbeth after a battle. So now the audience are expecting a battle. This creates an ominous feeling. The audience hear the name of the main character being repeated within the witches meaning that something is going to happen to him as well as associating him with evil. We are given hints that he is going to be tempted by the witches. So by the end of this scene Macbeth hasn’t entered the play, but the audience have already got a negative feeling towards him as he’s linked to evil.
At the beginning of the second scene the King asks a bloody captain of his who has also been fighting in the battle about how the battle is going. Shakespeare makes the captain his narrator explaining to the audience as well as the King what is happening in the battle. Note that we are not shown the battle, but are just given symbols like blood which suggest there is a battle going on. The captain tells the audience that the battle could have gone either way. Here the captain is being sarcastic as he later describes that the war was all one way, highly praising the bravery of Macbeth. In this scene Shakespeare establishes the idea of treason, treachery and rebellions all in the idea of the former Thane of Cawdor, plotting against the King.
Macbeth is highly praised in the highest terms. It is almost as if he had single handily saved the King and won the battle. Although here the audience are seeing a good side of Macbeth, they will still be fresh of what they saw in the first scene. Here we also put our own belief in the witches because they said that there would be a battle and they had also made arrangements to meet Macbeth after the battle. Maybe that’s what the audience would be anxious about.
In his praise by the captain Macbeth is described to the audience not only as a great leader and a heroic warrior, but also as a brave, ruthless warrior who is loyal to his King as he is killing many of the opposition’s men single handily.
The captain jokes around a lot, making sarcastic remarks about how little Macbeth was scared of the fresh onslaught of the rebels. He says Macbeth was as scared of the opposition the way an eagle would be of a sparrow.
The idea of treason and treachery is reinforced by the fact that the Thane of Cawdor has been disloyal of his King and discarded as a traitor.
“No more the Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest.”
Showing the audience that the King had obviously trusted the Thane of Cawdor. It also shows the audience that the King isn’t a good judge of character, which would cost him his life midway through the play. Another good example of this will be much clearer later on in the play, as the audience would realise how much a mistake the King made praising Macbeth.
The former Thane of Cawdor is to be executed and Macbeth, already the Thane of Glamis is to be rewarded with his title.
“What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won,” are the exact words spoken by the King. The audience are now probably anxious to see if he’s made a mistake. If you look carefully the King’s words sound just as the witches’ words did, which makes the audience feel uneasy to see the witches in control of the play.
At the beginning of the third scene, Shakespeare once again sets a supernatural tone to the play. We are with the witches again who talk about all the evil things they are doing. The audience knows that despite the praise heaped on Macbeth in prior to this, it is still pretty much predictable that the witches are going to meet him sooner rather than later.
“A drum, a drum; Macbeth doth come.”
Sounds as though the witches are casting another spell. But this time are calling Macbeth to them. As if his whole life is being controlled by the witches.
After the battle the audience are given there first image of Macbeth and straight away there predictions of the witches controlling him was backed up but this quote:
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen.”
These are similar wording to what the witches used in the first scene.
Banquo and Macbeth carry on with their journey through torrential rain. Well that is until they approached the witches.
The witches greet Macbeth as:
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Glamis.”
This he already knew he was. So it doesn’t surprise him.
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor.”
Up until now Macbeth has already been granted Thane of Cawdor, but does not yet know of this. And plus the Thane of Cawdor still lives.
“All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter.
What is quite noticeable in the film is that Macbeth is quite stunned with the greetings and is either in shock or thinking about the prospects if the witches are telling the truth. And Banquo is who speaks out in disgust thinking this a joke.
Banquo is astonished at the fact that Macbeth doesn’t look pleased by hearing these fantastic proposals.
Macbeth’s lips remain cemented and it was Banquo who continued to speak. He asked the witches about his future.
The witches replied in their usual riddle form:
“Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.”
“Not so happy, yet much happier.”
“Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.”
“So all hail Macbeth and Banquo.”
This creates confusion within the audience and really makes them think hard about the character. Even though this is Macbeth’s first encounter with the witches, they know that he’d meet them again because it was the witches that got him Thane of Cawdor. And the thing is that at this point of the story we know something about him that he doesn’t know yet and that’s him being Thane of Cawdor. As soon as he finds out we will know that he is going to be King, but what the audience don’t know is how or at what cost.
In this third scene of Act one, we see more and more off Macbeth’s character. At first we saw him as a loyal, brave warrior who is under the influence of evil. But now we see a more feminine side to him a side where he’s very gullible and not the ‘lion’ we thought he was. What the witches said really got to Macbeth and he was panicking, trying to find out more from them, but they just vanished into thin air.
The story becomes very interesting when the captain, Ross, accompanied by another soldier enter the scene. We know that Macbeth is already troubled by what he heard from the witches, but still thinks they’re insane. And Banquo had already described them as creatures that didn’t look like the inhabitants of the earth.
Ross and Angus both tell Macbeth how pleased the King is with him and the King would like to meet him. But before then he has given us the honour of naming you Thane of Cawdor. Banquo straight away replies:
“What, can the devil speak true?”
Banquo is the first to realise that the first prediction of the witches have come true. Banquo is worried and tries to put some sense into Macbeth that anything associated with evil is wrong. He tries to convince him that it’s just coincidental. But Macbeth has none of it and now looking forward to the third prediction.
This scene has already shown us of Macbeth’s and Banquo’s friendship, but has also hinted to the audience that it isn’t going to last much longer. The audience can pretty much guess that Macbeth is associated by evil and is being controlled by the witches. So as things are going anyone who gets in his way is also getting in the way of the witches.
Although this play is pretty much predictable as you go along, but one important which misses the naked eye is the mistake Macbeth makes. This is the crucial factor of his and Banquo’s friendship. He hints that he keeps thinking of himself being King. And the fact that as two have already come true means it’s not a bad thing. But what scares him is that he keeps on getting the thought of killing King Duncan.
Shakespeare has used supernatural presence in all the first three scenes of Act one. Maybe to interest a particular person in the audience. He first performed this play in front of King James I. And like I’ve mentioned before the King James was interested in witches. But Shakespeare had to make sure he represented them as evil, or it could have been off with his head as a supporter of witches.