MACBETH – Act 1 summary

Scene 1

Characters: The three witches.

Location: A deserted/open place. Thunder and lightning set the scene. 

Time: Unknown, but before the end of the battle.

Events: The witches are planning to meet Macbeth “upon the heath” after the battle has finished.

Quote: “Fair is foul and foul is fair” – paradox. Situations or things appear to be good/bad but in reality it’s the other way around. This quote is kind of like a summary of the play and the idea behind it.

Scene 2

Characters: Duncan (The King of Scotland), Malcolm (his eldest son), Captain (wounded in the battle – part of Duncan’s army), Lenox and Rosse (other Scottish noblemen).

Location: A camp near Forres.

Time: After the battle between the Scots and the Norwegians.

Events: The wounded soldier tells Duncan about how Macbeth (the King’s cousin and friend) killed Macdonwald (bad Scottish person who sided with the Norwegians). Then Macbeth fought off an attack from the Norwegians who were allied with the Scottish rebels. Scotland won the battle, and Duncan raves about how brave his cousin is. He then gives a new title to Macbeth, and he becomes the Thane (Lord) of Cawdor. Macbeth does not know this yet.

Quote: “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name), // Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel // Which smoked with bloody execution // like Valour’s minion, carved out his passage // Till he faced the slave; // Which he ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him // Till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops // And fixed his head upon our battlements.

  • This is spoken by the wounded soldier, and describes Macbeth killing many people including Macdonwald (whom he “unseams”).

Scene 3

Characters: The three witches, Macbeth, Banquo, Rosse, Angus 

Location: The heath which the witches referred to in Scene 1.

Time: After the battle.

Events: The witches tell Macbeth 3 things. 1) They say he is Thane of Glamis (which he already knew). 2) They say he is Thane of Cawdor. At the time, Macbeth thinks this is crazy because the Thane of Cawdor is still alive. However, Rosse arrives later on to tell him the news that he is, in fact, the Thane of Cawdor, so this prediction turned out to be true. 3) They say that he will someday become the King of Scotland. Macbeth thinks this prediction is ridiculous, but because the the first point was true and the second point turned out to be true, the third must also be true. The final point causes a bit of tension between Macbeth and Banquo, because the witches also predict that Banquo’s kids will be kings after Macbeth (meaning they will probably kill him at some point). This sets up conflict that could be returned to in the rest of the play.

Quotes: “If Chance have me king, why, Chance may crown me // Without my stir.” – Macbeth 143. Similar to Romeo and Juliet (fate). If fate wants me to be king, then maybe fate will make me king without me having to do anything. (without having to murder Duncan.)

“And oftentimes, to win us our harm, // The instruments of darkness tell us truths, // Win us with honest trifles, to betray us // in deepest consequence” – Banquo 125. Often to lead us to harm, evil things (the witches) win our trust by by being honest about unimportant things, in order to deceive us when it really matters. Banquo is basically warning Macbeth that the witches could be lying.

  • Macbeth is also quite unsettled by this prophecy.

Scene 4

Characters: Duncan, Lennox, Malcolm, Donalbain, 

Location: A room in the King’s palace.

Time: After the “meeting” with the witches.

Events: Duncan personally congratulates Macbeth and thanks him for his brave efforts in the battle. He also says how pleased he is of Banquo. He lets them know that he has named his son, Malcolm, as the prince of Cumberland, which means he is next in line for the throne. Macbeth is shocked and frightened by the murderous thoughts he has about Malcolm.

Quotes: The prince of Cumberland! That is a step // On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, // For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; // Let not light see my black and deep desires. // The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be //Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. – Macbeth, 50. The prince of Cumberland! That is a step that will either be my downfall or how I will get to the throne, because now it lies in my way of being King. Stars, hide your light so no one can see my bad thoughts and desires. I won’t let my eye see what my hand does, but in the end I will still do that horrible thing that I don’t want myself to do. 

  • This shows that Macbeth does know the difference between right and wrong and he hates himself for becoming like he has.

Scene 5

Characters: Lady Macbeth, Messenger, Macbeth

Location: At the castle or wherever Lady Macbeth lives

Time: During or after the “meeting” with Duncan.

Events: Macbeth sends a letter to his Lady saying about the witches and the wonderful news that he is Thane of Cawdor. He sends her this letter so she can rejoice with him. Lady Macbeth then has a rant about how Macbeth has the ambition and the desire but doesn’t have the evil streak that it takes to be the King.  She is frustrated and can’t wait for him to get home so she can talk him out of what’s stopping him getting the crown, because after all, fate and witchcraft want him there (she says that). The Messenger then tells L.M that the King is coming that night, and she freaks out because Macbeth didn’t tell her in time and she hasn’t had time to prepare. She then has a big speech where she screams a bit and calls on the witches to assist her with Duncan’s murder. She then tells Macbeth to make sure he looks innocent and friendly and hides his murderous thoughts, so that no one will suspect that they’ll kill Duncan. 


“The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry “Hold, hold!””
Come, you spirits that assist murderous thoughts, take away all my feminine qualities and fill my body with deadly cruelty! METAPHOR – her body is like a bottle or container for something, and cruelty is compared to a liquid like poison
Thicken my blood and clog up my veins so I won’t feel remorse. the heart is the body part we associate with feelings, so she is treating it like a bottle that can be blocked up so no feelings can get in. 
Come, thick night, and cover the world in the darkest smoke of hell, so that my knife doesn’t see the harm it inflicts on people, and so heaven can’t see through the darkness and say “No!”. The knife could also be compared to Lady Macbeth herself, saying “don’t let me see or be affected by the harm that I will inflict on people. Words in bold also linked to Romeo and Juliet. 
“Look like th’ innocent flower, // But be the serpent under ’t.” – L.M 56. Act like an innocent flower, but be like the snake that lies underneath the flower. As in, act innocent, but be ruthless and cunning (murdering Duncan). 

Scene 6

Characters: Duncan, Malcolm, Lennox, Donalbain, Banquo, Macduff, Rosse, Angus. However, only Duncan, Banquo and Lady Macbeth speak.

Location: Macbeth’s castle

Time: The same day as Lady Macbeth’s rant but later in the day.

Events: Duncan and Banquo arrive at the castle and Duncan says how nice it is (notes below). They barge into the castle and Duncan says what a blessing it is that he is here. He thanks her lots. Lady Macbeth gushes about how it was nothing and how it is her pleasure to host him.


“This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.”
 – This castle is in a pleasant place. The air is sweet and nice and appeals to my refined senses. Duncan start of Act 1 Scene 6
This is ironic because he’s gonna die later in the day but he doesn’t know it.  Example of dramatic irony coz we know something that the characters don’t.

Scene 7

Characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth

Location: A room in the castle

Time: Later in the same day. 

Events: Macbeth has a big speech in which he questions his intents about killing Duncan and decides not to do it. Lady Macbeth enters and he tells her that they’re not going to murder the King. She has a rant about how he promised to do it and even she, a mere woman, keeps her promises (very gruesome part). Macbeth says “If we should fail?” and she goes stuff that, we’ll get Duncan’s guards drunk so that he has no protection while he is sleeping.  Then we’ll murder him when he’s unguarded, then blame it on the servant guard people. Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth “Bring forth men-children only!” as in “you are so courageous you are surely only capable of producing male children!” They then agree they will seem so upset no one will think it was them. However, they never once say that they are actually going to do it, they just say “what could possibly stop us?”

Quote: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” – Macbeth at the very end of Act 1 Scene 7.

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