How would you describe Macbeth's state of mind in Act I, Scenes 1,3,and 4?Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Scene 1 of Macbeth establishes time rather than place as a major motif.  For, Macbeth, too, acts according to time.  In Scene 2, for instance, Macbeth is described as an opportunist by the Captain who lauds Macbeth's bravery at seizing the moment and "disdaining fortune" by slaying the "merciless" Macdonwald.  In Scene 3, Macbeth is unaware that King Duncan has already made him Thane of Cawdor, and, after listening to the three witches, he deliberates whether he should wait and let fate take its course or take the leap from being Thane of Cawdor to "King hereafter" (1.3.52-53):

If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,

Without my stir. (1.3.155-156) 

  And, yet, Macbeth has misgivings after Banquo warns him that the witches may be telling half-truths.  Added to this, Macbeth has twinges of conscience and a sense of foreboding:

This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smother'd in surmise,and nothing is
But what is not.   (1.3.141-153) 

 For Macbeth there is a blurring of the lines between good and bad.  The predictions begin with truth:  Macbeth is Thane of Cawdor, yet the goodness of this truth is mitigated by the thoughts of murdering Duncan that enter Macbeth's heart.  Still, rather than examining his own conscience thoroughly, Macbeth wishes to place the blame upon chance as he says those lines mentioned previously,

If chance will have me King, why, chance my crown me,

Without my stir.  (1.3.155-156)

In actuality, Macbeth capitalizes upon opportunity, using the predictions of the three sisters to rationalize his own cupidity as he thinks,

Come what come may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day. (1.3.161-162)

Thus, Macbeth, who ponders the good and bad of things, manipulates time to his own advantage, using the witches predictions to justify his thoughts of murdering Duncan so that he can be "King herafter."