Act 4, Scene 1 Notes from Macbeth

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Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1

The three witches stand around a cauldron bubbling in a cavern with thunder in the background. They chant together as they concoct a potion or a brew. Hecate appears with them and tells them that their efforts shall be rewarded before she disappears again.

Macbeth comes to the cavern and demands answers to his questions about the future. The witches call upon their potion to answer his thoughts and questions. The witches tell Macbeth to watch and speak not because the questions in his mind are known. Their master will answer Macbeth with apparitions.

Thunder sounds and a vision of an armed head rises and tells Macbeth to beware of Macduff, the Thane of Fife. The vision disappears. Macbeth tries to ask another question of that vision, but one of the witches warns the king that these visions will not be commanded.

Thunder sounds and a second vision appears--a bloody child. The vision tells him, "Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn / The power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." Act 4, Scene 1, lines 79-81

Macbeth reasons that if none shall kill him, he should not fear Macduff. But just to be sure, and so that he might rest easy, Macbeth vows to kill Macduff anyway.

Thunder sounds a third time and a third and final vision appears. It is a child crowned that holds a tree in his hand. This final vision tells the king that "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him." Act 4, Scene 1, lines 92-4

Macbeth feels invincible at these tidings because no one can bid the forest to uproot. But Macbeth has another question that he insists the witches must answer. He wants to know if Banquo's line will ever hold the throne. Although the witches tell him to be satisfied with what he already knows, Macbeth insists they answer his last question. So they show him a line of eight kings. The last king has a glass in his hand, and Banquo's ghost follows the eighth king. Macbeth sees that all of these kings are of Banquo's line as the ghost smiles at him and points at the kings of his lineage. In the glass that the eighth holds are many more kings from Banquo's line. After answering his question, the witches, joined by Hecate, dance around and then vanish.

Topic Tracking: Foreshadowing 8

Macbeth calls Lennox into the cave to ask if he saw the weird sisters leaving, and Lennox did not. But while Macbeth was meeting with the witches, several riders came to give him word that Macduff had fled to England. At this news Macbeth says, "The flighty purpose never is o'ertook / Unless the deed go with it: from this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be / The firstlings of my hand." Act 4, Scene 1, lines 145-8 With this Macbeth decides to go to Fife, Macduff's home, and murder Macduff's wife and children while he is away in England rallying forces against Macbeth.

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