In Act 1, Scenes 1-3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, why is Macbeth so quick to take the witches’ predictions seriously? 

In Act 1, Scenes 1-3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth, why is Macbeth so quick to take the witches’ predictions seriously?


Asked on by akorkis

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perfectsilence | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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Macbeth is quick to take witches' predictions seriously for a number of reasons.  First, Macbeth is a very ambitious man.  Both he and Lady Macbeth mention this in the play.  He wants to get ahead in life.  

Another reason why he takes the predictions so seriously is because of the manner in which they are presented.  When the witches first appear to Macbeth, he is returning from the battle against Norway, Macdonwald, and the treacherous Thane of Cawdor.  Macbeth and Banquo were both captains in the battle, and fought valiantly to defeat their enemies.  They are exhausted, but riding on the adrenaline high of having saved their homeland.  In addition, the weather is strange, which Macbeth references at the start of Act 1, Scene 3.  This creates an eerie atmosphere.  Then suddenly the witches appear out of nowhere.  When they do, Banquo comments on their appearance, saying they "look not like th' inhabitants o' th' Earth / And yet are on 't" (42-43).  Even before the witches speak, they appear to be supernatural.  Then, the first thing they say is directed at Macbeth.  They hail him "Thane of Glamis [...] Thane of Cawdor," and say he "shalt be king hereafter!" (51-53).  To summarize: he's tired, he's riding high on the victory, the weather is strange, and he's taken by surprise by strange-looking creatures who refer to him by titles that his ambitious nature craves.  Further, he's already the Thane of Glamis and Cawdor.  He knows of Glamis; he isn't aware of Cawdor because word has not come from Duncan yet.  However, he has already been given the title, as of Act 1, Scene 2.  

When Ross arrives later in this act to tell Macbeth that he is now the Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is stunned because he believes that the witches are responsible for the honor.  In reality, his own valor in battle is responsible for the promotion.  This belief also contributes to his willingness to seriously consider the witches' predictions.  It seems possible that, if they were right about one thing, they may be right about another. 

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think it is common to take predictions seriously--e.g., horoscope predictions in the newspapers--if they suggest something we have already been thinking about doing. Macbeth has probably been toying with the notion of getting the throne by one means or another. He could have been thinking of leading a coup d'etat or of murdering Duncan. Evidently he has discussed these matters with his wife and she has been encouraging him to act. See all of Act 1, Scene 5. The witches frighten him because they seem to be reading his mind.

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