William Shakespeare | Analysis of Macbeth: Act I

Introducing the play with the Witches in the first scene creates an evil tone and mysterious setting; something sinister is about to happen. Witches were traditionally thought of in Elizabethan times as evil and connected to devil’s work. The supernatural was feared and respected. The Witches statement, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, clearly depicts that the events in the play will be evil and destructive. The thunderstorm and filthy air reinforce the evil prediction of the Witches and clearly indicates to the audience that a conflict between man and nature/good and evil exists within the world of the play. Scene 1 creates the atmosphere of evil that will continue throughout the play.

Duncan is portrayed as a concerned and interested ruler. The Captain reports the events in the battle and he characterize Macbeth as a worthy and loyal subject to Duncan. The King is filled with gratitude and respect for Macbeth and the Captain. Duncan’s compassion, however, is limited to his loyal subjects, as he orders the Thane of Cawdor’s execution immediately upon hearing of him being a traitor.

Macbeth’s actions in battle, by contrast, are barbaric and aggressive. He not only killed the enemy, but he cut him from his navel to his mouth, and cut off the victim’s head and placed it on the “battlements.” This scene reveals the historical data needed for the introduction of the conflicts Macbeth creates and faces in his struggle for power. At this point Macbeth is viewed as a noble, loyal subject fighting battles victoriously for the King and Scotland. However, his actions on the battlefield reveal him to be a ruthless killer.

The Witches begin Scene 3 exhibiting the powers they possess; however, they are limited in these powers. They can create situations that will cause destruction (such as the storm), but they lack the power to actually sink the sailor’s ship. The audience can infer that Macbeth will create his own havoc because the prophecy made by the Witches comes true. The Witches guide Macbeth’s fate through their statements. Macbeth states, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” echoing the Witches’ lines in the first scene of the play. This repetition links Macbeth to the Witches. The audience makes a logical connection that Macbeth will be linked to the evil conflict in the world of the play.

Macbeth and Banquo meet the Witches on the field, and the Witches greet Macbeth with three titles. As noted through Banquo’s dialogue, Macbeth is clearly startled. Banquo is equally interested in what the future will hold for him He learns that his sons will be kings, but for him—nothing.

When Duncan’s men give Macbeth the news that he is to be the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth considers what the Witches have said and becomes concerned about their evil nature. He states his desire to be King, but he ponders over the cost. Banquo questions the evil nature of the Witches’ and warns Macbeth to look closer at the Witches predictions before he acts on them.

Duncan feels he may have acted in haste in ordering the death of the first Thane of Cawdor. This demonstrates the king’s compassionate character and conscience. Macbeth greets his cousin Duncan with respect and friendship knowing full well he is plotting to take control. When Duncan announces that his son Malcolm will succeed him as king, Macbeth outwardly supports Duncan’s decision. However, he is disappointed and knows he must eliminate Duncan and his son Malcolm to become king. Macbeth now struggles with this conflict and ponders what fate may bring.

Out of love for her husband, Lady Macbeth hardens her heart in order to aid him in murdering Duncan Unlike Macbeth, she pushes aside her conscience when she makes her decision: “Nor heaven peep through the blanket of dark / To cry “Hold, hold!” She also uses the love they share to lend courage when Macbeth falters. Macbeth’s success, and therefore her own fate, lies in Macbeth carrying out his homicidal plot.

When Duncan arrives at Inverness his gentle and loving nature is reinforced. He is again seen as a caring King interested in his subjects. This creates empathy for the innocent Duncan, and the image of Macbeth as a loyal trustworthy friend to Duncan begins to change. Macbeth reveals that he has a conscience as he questions his motives for killing Duncan. However, Lady Macbeth questions his manhood, calls him a coward, and coaxes Macbeth to follow through with the plan. She knows Macbeth’s weak points and uses them to bolster his conviction. Her desire for Macbeth to be king overcomes her basic human compassion and greed seduces her morality. Macbeth becomes victim to his selfish desire for power.