Macbeth: Act 1 Scene 3 - Summary

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Macbeth Act 1 Scene 3 - Notes

Macbeth Act 1 Scene 3 - Quotes & Explanations:

First Witch
I’ll drain him dry as hay.
Sleep shall neither night nor day


Why it’s important

This quote (and the conversation in which it is delivered shows the power of the witches. So far, we’ve seen the witches in a spooky atmosphere (Act 1 Scene 1), and we’ve also seen them predict Macbeth’s promotion to Thane of Cawdor. However, we haven’t really seen any true display of power for them, leaving us room to doubt their control over, or relationship to fate.

However, in this conversation that opens Act I Scene IV, we see that the witches clearly have immense power - apparently, a sailor’s wife was munching on some chestnuts and the first witch said “Give me," but the woman resisted. Clearly the first witch didn’t approve of having chestnuts withheld from her so she, with the other two witches are hatching a plot to ruin this poor sailor. They talk about how they’re going to rob him of sleep by making his ship rock back and forth in a storm.

Symbolism, themes, and motifs related to this quote

As mentioned before, this is a mature play with mature content. We’ve seen evidence of violence, blood, and corruption - but in this quote, we’re getting a look at the sex-related themes that’ll come up repeatedly throughout the play.

It’s no coincidence that the witches asked the sailor’s wife for her “chestnuts" or her husband’s baby-making tools, and it’s also no mistake that the first witch now plans to “drain him dry." However, these lines go further than just speaking to sexuality - they may also refer to impotence, or the inability to have children, which is another theme that will be discussed throughout the play

So foul and fair a day I have not seen.


Why it’s important

This contradictory quote redelivers what the witches said in Act 1 Scene 1 - it cues the audience to the uncertainty of life, and brings about feelings of insecurity. At the same time, since the line is delivered by Macbeth, who has been described as a fairly noble and decent character by both the Captain and the Thane of Ross in Act 1 Scene 2, it makes us question whether Macbeth’s positive reputation are really warranted. Remember, if what is fair is foul, then perhaps Macbeth is foul? Finally, the quote serves to connect Macbeth’s character to the witches. So far, Macbeth hasn’t had an interaction with the witches, but the fact that his first line is borrowed from the witches suggests some supernatural/unnatural connection. It makes us question whether or not the witches are truly connected to fate and what role Macbeth will take in relation to the witches.

Symbolism, themes, and motifs related to this quote

This quote relates to the theme of fate vs. free will.

Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear
Things that do sound so fair?


Why it’s important

Spoken by Banquo, this line works to show the contrast between Macbeth and Banquo in their response to the witches’ prophecies for Macbeth. Immediately after the witches proclaim Macbeth Thane of Glamis, Cawdor and King, Banquo asks why his friend seems to be scared - after all it’s good news, isn’t it? But their reactions show a difference of character. As we learn later in the scene, Macbeth’s fear comes from his idea that he may have to do some nasty things in order to gain the title of King, while Banquo doesn’t think (as far as we can tell) that any action will need to be taken in order to fulfill his own prophecies.

Symbolism, themes, and motifs related to this quote

Destiny vs. ChoiceThis quote makes us question whether Macbeth’s actions in the scenes to come will be based on his own thoughts, ambitions, and decisions, or whether he’s hopelessly controlled by fate and the witches.

Perception vs. RealityAgain, the use of “fair” here brings us back to the witches’ contradictory statement, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair;”

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.


Why it’s important

This quote is significant because it’s the first time we see Macbeth contemplate murdering King Duncan in order to fulfill his prophecy. Clearly this “horrid image” is not something Macbeth is eager to entertain at first.

Symbolism, themes, and motifs related to this quote

Destiny vs. Choice We can question, again, whether Macbeth’s actions in the scenes to come are based on destiny or choice. Is the murder of Duncan something that Macbeth is likely to do, since he’s already contemplating it? Where does his urge to murder the king come from? Sure, he’s no amateur killer, but slaying villains and committing regicide are two different things.

Natural vs Unnatural In Shakespeare’s day, “unnatural” didn’t just mean strange - it meant the breaking of a pre-ordained order of things. While science helps to explain many facets of behavior and organizational behavior today, it wasn’t always like that - during Shakespeare’s time, it was more common for the English audience to accept a pre-defined “natural” order of things. Social hierarchy was based more on religious signs than the merit of truth, so something like regicide (killing a King) was seen as unnatural, chaotic, and unacceptable.

Bonus quote:

Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mold
But with the aid of use.


Spoken by Banquo, this quote using clothing as a metaphor connects with Macbeth’s earlier question to Ross, when he asks “The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me / In borrowed robes?” (i.iii.114-115). We might see the metaphor of clothing to be representative of a title, position, or rank, such as Thane of Cawdor, but we can also see it as representing the act of killing for Macbeth. Spoiler alert, yeah, Macbeth kills Duncan and once he does he kills a whole lot of other people too. The fact that Banquo basically says “you’ll get used to it” can be seen as foreshadowing of future Macbeth’s murderous rampage.

Contextual Info: Macbeth’s first prophecy

  • In this scene, we see Macbeth and Banquo get some good news from the witches/wyrd sisters - A horrific chain of events is set in motion when Ross and Angus(?) come to tell Macbeth that the first part of his prophecy has come true

Plot Summary:

  • The scene starts off focused on the three witches - they’re talking to each other about some recent disturbance they’ve caused or will cause
  • From their conversation, we gain some evidence that these witches are pretty powerful, being able to perform many supernatural feats and the like
  • Considering that these witches may very well represent fate/destiny, and judging from their (apparent) power, we get the sense that if they’re to intervene in a human’s life they could very well bring power or great misery to a person’s life - we begin to wonder whether Macbeth, who was called in the witches’ discussion from Act 1 Scene 1, is going to be set up for success or failure in the future
  • Just as we’re introduced to the power of the witches, Macbeth and Banquo are thrown into their mix
  • It’s important to note that Macbeth’s first line is
  • Macbeth
    So fair and foul a day I have not seen

  • Upon encountering the witches, the men are obviously intrigued, if not a little apprehensive - Banquo seems to pay more attention to how weird these beings actually are, taking note of their beards and overall strange appearance
  • Macbeth asks the witches to speak, and they respond by hailing him as thane of glamis, thane of cawdor, and future king (quote)
  • Banquo asks for his prophecy, perhaps hoping for some equally good news, but his update isn’t quite so straight forward
  • (quote) - lesser and greater than macbeth, not too happy, but happier than macbeth, sons will be kings, etc.
  • Macbeth says that becoming Thane of Cawdor will be difficult, and begins to question the validity of the witches’ claims
  • Macbeth demands to know where the witches got their information, but instead of answering him, they simply disappear into thin air
  • As Macbeth and Banquo are discussing their prophecies, Ross and Angus enter the scene to tell Macbeth that he’s been named Thane of Cawdor
  • This spurs the Macbeth to dive deep into thought regarding the prophecies he’s just heard - since one has already come true, it’s almost a sure thing that he’ll become King, no?
  • In an aside where Macbeth shows us the inner workings of his mind, we get to see that Macbeth is already working out how he’ll become King, and he reveals that he fears what he might have to do in order to obtain Kingship
  • Macbeth
    If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
    And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
    Against the use of nature? Present fears
    Are less than horrible imaginings.

  • After this aside, Macbeth and the group set off to meet the King

Are the line numbers different in your book? Here’s why:

There are many different versions of Shakespeare’s works throughout the world, and different versions sometimes interpret dialogue line numbers differently. At Nerdstudy, we follow the Folger version of Shakespeare’s works, which may be different from the version you are using. Always make sure that you refer to your instructor’s recommendations about which version of the play you’re using in class and whether they will grade you based on accuracy of line numbers for essays, tests, and assignments. Folger Digital Texts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.

What does Banquo think about Macbeth's reaction to his prophecy?

Macbeth seems sad
Macbeth seems shocked
Macbeth seems angry
Macbeth seems afraid
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Why did Ross and Angus come into this scene?

To congratulate Macbeth for his promotion to Thane of Cawdor
To aid Macbeth into new robes which symbolize his new position as Thane of Cawdor
To bring news of Macbeth's recent promotion to Thane of Cawdor
To "herald" Macbeth to Duncan's place, and to address Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor
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What do the witches prophesied?

Banquo will be king and Macbeth's children will be kings.
Macbeth will be king and Banquo's children will be kings.
Macbeth will takeover England
Banquo will takeover England
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How was Banquo compared to Macbeth by the witches?

He will be greater and lesser
He will be lesser and greater
He will be greater and greater
He will be lesser and lesser
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What gruesome item does one of the witches keep as a charm?

A pilots thumb
A toe
A rotting toad
An eye of newt
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How does Macbeth feel about Banquo?

He does not trust Banquo
He loves Banquo with all his heart
He fears that Banquo will betray him
He fears that Banquo and Banquo's sons will cut short his prophesied reign
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