The second witch in Macbeth says, "When the hurly burly's done, when the battle is lost and won." Explain what is won and lost with reference to context.Answer should cover apparent battle and...

The second witch in Macbeth says, "When the hurly burly's done, when the battle is lost and won." Explain what is won and lost with reference to context.

Answer should cover apparent battle and deeper meaning of battle.

Expert Answers
teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As noted above, the literal battle that the witches discuss is the war between Scotland and Norway.  Duncan's army has been dispatched to fight against the Norweyan army, and later the audience finds out that Banquo and Macbeth have played major roles in the battle.  The witches always speak in paradoxes, and the above quotation is an example of one:  "When the battle is lost and won."  On a first reading, it seems impossible for a battle to be both lost and won, but perspective proves the statement to be true:  one side of the battle will win, while the other will lose.  In this case, Scotland came out of the battle victorious over Norway.  And the witches do meet once the battle is over when they are confronted by Macbeth and Banquo who are on their way home from the war.

Figuratively speaking, the hurly-burly refers to the moral battles that will continue to wage throughout the course of the play.  The witches meet again when Macbeth goes to see them to get more answers about the safety of his place as King.  At this point, it seems that Duncan has "lost" while Macbeth has "won," but the sides of good and evil are not so clear.

marpeare | Student

Literal meaning of the battle referred to in the play is the battle waged against Duncan by the King of Norway. Duncan army seems to lose in the beginning because of the betrayal of  the Thane of Cawdor i.e. as his enemy gains power. But he wins finally because of the courageous feet of Macbeth and Banquo- "battle's lost and won"

allynah | Student

Throughout the play,the witches-referred to as "Weird Sisters" by many of the characters-lurk like dark thoughts and unconcious temptations to evil.Hurly burly shows choas in atmosphere-some kind of natural calmity or disorder