In the play Macbeth by William Skakespeare, why do the Witches say they will meet "When the battle's lost and won?"
Could they be saying this because, in a battle or a war, there is usually someone who wins and someone who loses? Could they be talking about Macbeth and Duncan?
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I love this question! Let's look at the complete line in context. This line is part of conversation that opens the play, so there is no preceding text or scene to use as any sort of reference point.
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?
When the hurlybury's done.
When the battle's lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun.
Where the place?
Upon the heath.
There to meet with Macbeth.
They are definitely planning to meet with Macbeth. So, it is probably a safe bet to imagine that this line refers in some way to that meeting and what they are meeting him for.
If the Witches can, in fact, see into the future, then they know already what will befall Macbeth in the course of the play. The death of the Thane of Cawdor in the very battle scene that they are standing over in Act I, scene i, is the instigating action that will set in motion all the events of the play. It is similar to a victory in battle for Macbeth. He will be made the next Thane of Cawdor, which is quite an honor.
But this same victory or "battle won," could be seen simultaneously as a "lost" battle, since it is being made Thane of Cawdor which leads Macbeth to make all the self-destructive decisions (beginning with murdering King Duncan) that comprise the majority of his action in the play.
The Witches play a huge role in the idea of Macbeth's decisions as battles "lost and won," because it is their predictions, both that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor and become King, that spurs Macbeth's ambition.
So, though the Witches are standing amidst the literal debris of a battle as they speak this text about a battle "lost and won," it seems a pretty good bet that they are referring to Macbeth and his future course of action.
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