Act IV – Scene.i
Shakespeare takes us back to the blasted heath where
the three witches surround the cauldron into which they throw various ingredients.
“Fillet of fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing:
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”
With confidence, Macbeth greets the weird sisters ordering them to give him
more details concerning his future.
The witches conjure up an apparition of a disembodied head, which clearly
belonged to a warrior.
It warns Macbeth that Duncan’s son, Malcolm, will seek a bloody revenge. A second apparition appears in the form of a child covered in blood, and it speaks to Macbeth saying that he cannot be killed by any man “of woman born”. A further apparition appears, again in the form of a child wearing a crown. The child tells Macbeth that he will be invincible in battle until Birnam Wood moves towards Dunsinane. This fills Macbeth with new confidence, as these happenings appear impossible. He then asks whether Banquo’s heirs will reign in Scotland. The witches summon up a vision showing the future Kings of Scotland being led by Banquo. This enrages Macbeth.
Macbeth is determined to wreak revenge on the family of Macduff who has fled
Shakespeare again reminds us of the world that Macbeth
now inhabits. He is no longer the hero of Scotland, but is subject to the evil fate that now grips his country. His purpose in confronting the witches is to establish his destiny.
He concentrates more on the first three apparitions, which appear to confirm
his existence and he ignores the final one, which gives a clear indication that there is no place for Macbeth’s line in the Scotland of the future.
The scene can be divided into three parts.
Firstly, we have the witches casting spells and throwing bizarre ingredients into their cauldron. Secondly, we go on to the specters that provide Macbeth with a glimpse of his and Scotland’s future. Thirdly, we have an indication that Macbeth continues to plot and scheme in order to secure his political position.
He makes the critical mistake of only interpreting the good parts of the
vision, and he fails to understand that fate is inevitable, however he decides to act.
This meeting with the witches is different from his first encounter with
them. He was in awe of their power when he first met them, but now he is King, he demands answers from them. He thinks he is in control of the situation.
Shakespeare makes it clear to the audience that these visions are real,
unlike the dagger and Banquo’s ghost, which were figments of Macbeth’s imagination, “heat-oppress’d brain”.
Macbeth also demonstrates arrogance by engaging in comic discourse with the
second apparition, which says “Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth”, and he responds by saying “Had I three ears, I’d hear thee”.
Another interesting point is Shakespeare’s use of children in the last three
Normally children are regarded as innocents, but here they are involved in images of death, which are dramatic, terrifying and bloody. The choice of these images is carefully made so as to annoy Macbeth, who has no offspring.
Macbeth does grasp the point of the last apparition, which indicates that
Scotland will be entirely Macbeth-free.
Misguidedly, Macbeth cannot believe his good fortune, for he must think that
he will live to a good age, and so he asks the witches again to confirm the truth of the visions, and they respond “Aye sir, all this is so”.