In Macbeth, (in reference to Act I Scene III), what is the significance of the verb 'hail', when the witches address Macbeth?I understand that the verb is normally used for royalty, but why would...

In Macbeth, (in reference to Act I Scene III), what is the significance of the verb 'hail', when the witches address Macbeth?

I understand that the verb is normally used for royalty, but why would the witches use this verb when speaking to Macbeth?

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dstuva's profile pic

Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

In short, the witches in Act 1.3 of Macbeth use a term sometimes used for royalty because they are, themselves, in the process of proclaiming Macbeth royalty.

  • The first witch hails Macbeth as Thane of Glamis, which he already is.
  • The second witch hails Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, which he is not (as far as Macbeth knows).  This is a prediction.
  • The third witch hails Macbeth as king, which he is not.  This is also a prediction.

But there is an additional aspect to greeting Macbeth with the word, hail.  "Hail" suggests enthusiastic approval, as well as subservience.  The witches are attempting to woo Macbeth into taking them seriously and acting on their predictions.  They do not want to appear to be a threat to him. 

Macbeth and Banquo have just left a battlefield.  Some productions show Macbeth and Banquo drawing their swords or daggers when they first see the witches.  The witches must present themselves as sympathetic to Macbeth, and using "hail" helps to do this.

By the way, the witches greet Banquo in the same way when they predict that his heirs will be kings, but their strategies, including using the word, "hail," do not work on him as they do on Macbeth.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Since you understand that this verb is used for royalty, you have more than half of the answer already figured out for yourself.  If you speak to someone using a verb usually used for royalty, what are you implying about them?  You are implying they are royal.

By addressing Macbeth using this word, the witches are showing that they see Macbeth as royalty.  It is another way of showing their prophecy about his future. By saying "hail" to him, they emphasize what they are going to say about Macbeth becoming king.

coachingcorner's profile pic

coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

In the play "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare, the author has the witches use the word "hail" to greet Macbeth to emphasize or foreshadow what is about to transpire, and also as a way of showing us how suggestible Macbeth's character is. For example, to hail a non-monarch as a king already is to use flattery and other seductive techniques to appeal to that person's ego. Here, Macbeth is weak and the clever Machiavellian withces have found his Achilles heel. They will tempt him like Christ on the mountain with dreams of glory and greatness. Instead of demonstrating outrage and steadfast loyalty, Macbeth takes this idea quietly to heart and does not even divulge his secret thoughts or opinions on it to his friend.He doesnt just want to be a thane.

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