6th March 2018

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, Malcolm, Captain, Lenox and Rosse.

Location: A camp near Forres.

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

Events: The wounded soldier tells Duncan about Macbeth’s amazing courage and victory in killing Macdonwald, a Scot who had sided with the Norwegians. He tells of how Macbeth then 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”).

“What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.” – Duncan, talking about how Macbeth has been given the title of Thane of Cawdor. 

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 dance around and one of them tells a big story about a pilot’s thumb and stuff. Macbeth and Banquo enter, see the witches, and Banquo says “What are these So withered and so wild in their attire, That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ Earth, And yet are on ’t?” The three witches say “All hail, Macbeth!”, followed by 3 things. 1) They say “Hail, to thee Thane of Glamis (which he already knew he was). 2) They say “Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor. At the time, Macbeth thinks this is crazy because he believes 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. The fourth and final point causes a bit of tension between Macbeth and Banquo, because the witches also say to Banquo “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none. So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo!” This means they saying Banquo’s kids will be kings after Macbeth, and this sets up conflict that could be returned to in the rest of the play. Macbeth says “hold up, the Thane of Cawdor is still alive, so how can I have that title? And for me to be the king is ridiculous!”. He demands the witches to speak, but they vanish. Rosse and Angus enter, and Rosse tells Macbeth that the King is very pleased with him and he has been given the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is shocked, and Banquo says “Can the devil speak true?”. Macbeth realises that because the first point was true, and the second point turned out to be true but he didn’t know it at the time, the third point from the witches maybe will also be true. The others leave. Macbeth begins to think about murdering Duncan, which scares him.

Quotes: “Were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten on the insane root That takes the reason prisoner?” – Banquo, about the witches and if they actually exist or have they taken drugs, basically. 

“The thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me In borrowed robes?” – Macbeth, after Rosse tells him of his new title. Angus replies to this saying that the thane is yes, alive, but sentenced to death because of his evil actions in the battle. 

“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.

“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.)

“Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” – Macbeth. No matter what happens, time will continue. 

Scene 4

Characters: Duncan, Lennox, Malcolm, Donalbain, 

Location: A room in the King’s palace.

Time: After the “meeting” with the witches.

Events: Malcolm tells Duncan that the previous Thane of Cawdor has been successfully executed, after fully confessing of his crimes. 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, who now stands in his way to the throne. 

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 her/Macbeth’s castle

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 have already crowned him king (she says that). The Messenger then tells Lady Macbeth that King Duncan 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 (speech is below). Macbeth arrives, and tells him to make sure he looks innocent and friendly and hides his murderous thoughts, so that no one will suspect that they’ll kill Duncan. 

Quote(s): Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it. “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. METAPHOR – 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 will inflict, 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. 
“Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear, and chastise with the valor of my tongue all that impedes thee from the golden round, which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crowned withal.” – Lady Macbeth. That I would pour my spirits in your ear and convince you out of every thought that stops you from getting to the crown, which fate and metaphysical aid (beyond physical aka spiritual) seems to have crowned you with already. 
 – “Look like th’ innocent flower, // But be the serpent under ’t.” – Lady 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.” – Duncan.This castle is in a pleasant place. The air is sweet and nice and appeals to my refined senses.

This is ironic because he’s saying how lovely and nice the castle is, but he is gonna die later in the day and he doesn’t know it. Example of dramatic irony because 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 is having second (or third or fourth) thoughts about killing Duncan and tells Lady Macbeth that they will not do it.  Lady Macbeth enters and he tells her that they’re not going to murder the King. She calls him a coward and rants on about how he promised to do it and even she, a mere woman, keeps her promises (very gruesome part about killing babies here). Macbeth says “If we should fail?” and she says all this stuff about how “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 guards”. 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 pretty much say “what could possibly stop us?”

Quote(s): I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.” – Macbeth about killing Duncan. I have no motivation to get my intent moving, but only vaulting ambition, which leaps over itself and falls on the other side. 

The only thing motivating him is ambition, which trips people up and causes them to stumble if that is the only motivation they have. This shows how ambition on its own can be dangerous. 

“Prithee, peace: I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.” – Macbeth. I dare to do all that a man may do, but who does more is not a man at all. 

“False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” – Macbeth at the very end of Act 1 Scene 7. Basically, pretend you’re innocent when you’re actually guilty.

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