How do you interpret Macbeth's reaction to the witches' proclamation in Macbeth?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The witches tell Macbeth that he is going to be promoted to Thane of Cawdor, and king.  Banquo is surprised that Macbeth does not seem to welcome this news.

The three Weird Sisters make a prophecy that Macbeth, now Thane of Glamis, will become Thane of Cawdor and then king.  His friend and fellow soldier Banquo witnesses this prophecy.

Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear

Things that do sound so fair? (Act 1, Scene 3, enotes extext pdf. p. 18).

It does not seem as if Macbeth is startled by the witches.  Banquo is troubled by them too, since they look like women but they have beards so they’re not very attractive.  Macbeth has stated that the day is “foul and fair,” a repetition of the witches’ initial statement in scene 1 that “fair is foul, and foul is fair” (p. 8).  Macbeth seems to foresee the bounty and destruction that will befall him throughout the play. 

Macbeth’s reaction to the witches demonstrates that he is skeptical of them, and fears them, but does not necessarily disbelieve them.  Banquo, on the other hand, wonders if the witches are real or if they are “eaten on the insane root/ That takes the reason prisoner” (p. 14).  This foreshadows the trouble that these prophecies will cause for Macbeth.  They are not really good things, and in the end he loses everything.


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