Is Macbeth (in Shakespeare's Macbeth) both attracted and repelled by the witches' prophecy in the aside in Act One Scene three, lines 130-137?Act One scene three, lines 130-137 This supernatural...

Is Macbeth (in Shakespeare's Macbeth) both attracted and repelled by the witches' prophecy in the aside in Act One Scene three, lines 130-137?

Act One scene three, lines 130-137

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?

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, in Act One, scene three, lines 130-137, Macbeth is at war with himself. He is trying to decide whether the witches have spoken the truth about him becoming king. His struggle stems first from this paradoxical statement:

Cannot be ill, cannot be good.

This reflects his confusion. The witches met Macbeth and Banquo on the heath as they returned from battle, before they know the outcome of the battle—especially the fate of the Thane of Cawdor. The second witch prophesizes for Macbeth:

SECOND WITCH:

All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of

Cawdor! (51-52)

Macbeth responds with confusion—about being Cawdor and being king:

MACBETH:

I know I am Thane of Glamis;

But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,

A prosperous gentleman; and to be King

Stands not within the prospect of belief,

No more than to be Cawdor. (74-78)

Both Macbeth and Banquo are puzzled by what the witches have said to them. However, almost immediately after the weird sisters vanish, Ross and Angus meet Macbeth and Banquo with news; Ross tells Macbeth that the King has commanded that he greet Macbeth with his a new title. Macbeth is perplexed:

MACBETH:

The Thane of Cawdor lives. Why do you dress me

In borrow'd robes? (114-115)

They say Cawdor is a traitor, and in losing the battle he has lost all he owns (and his life); and everything that was Cawdor's has been given to Macbeth. This confounds Macbeth. He must first feel grateful to the King for his reward to Macbeth; but it also introduces the idea that if the witches told the truth about Cawdor, couldn't they also be telling the truth about Macbeth one day being king?

Macbeth has seen the witch's prophecy about Cawdor coming true. It stands to reason that the rest might be true as well, but this is very upsetting to Macbeth. He would love to be king, but it means that Duncan must die in order for this to happen, and that (at first) does not sit well with Macbeth. Being Cawdor is a good thing—it seems the witch spoke honestly (but Elizabethans believed the Devil or his "servants" could not tell the truth). Being king should be a good thing, too, but Macbeth doesn't feel good about it. And it is here that he grows fearful; the idea of Duncan dying makes Macbeth's hair stand on edge, perhaps making his scalp crawl; it makes his heart pound heavily in his chest in an unnatural way.

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?

His conscience is speaking to him. I believe that this is one of the few times Macbeth will honestly look at his life, the opportunity that lies before him, and react as an honorable man. He struggles with what must happen in order for him to become king. Later he will struggle feebly against committing the deed, but by then has already admitted that his "vaulting ambition" makes him take what he wants, but not what God has ordained—that Duncan be King.

For Macbeth, this entire situation does attract and repel him. He starts out as an honorable man, who loves Duncan—his King, his cousin and his friend. However, his ambition weakens his moral substance—as does the manipulation by the witches who only want to (as the Elizabethans believed) win him to his eternal damnation, as well as Lady Macbeth's nagging. What she wants is not for her husband's good, but for herself: she wants to be queen.

Losing sight of his ethics leads to Macbeth's demise.

Sources:
cooz's profile pic

cooz | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

shakespeare's tragic heros such as macbeth are not completely pious but they are not utterly villian so this uncomplete villianness makes him hesitate

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