What does Macbeth expect to hear from the witches?

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winston-smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the beginning William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth the titular character Macbeth and his companion Banquo come across three witches. When they first see the witches Macbeth expects a straight for expectations from the witches but as they talk to him and as the play progresses Macbeth will seek and expect the answer to this important question of how the witches know the future. 

In Act I, Scene III Macbeth, upon seeing the witches says, “Speak, if you can. What are you?” he expects a simple straightforward answer to his question. The witches however do not respond to this question but instead give welcome to Macbeth with three different titles. The first is his current title of thane of Glamis, the second thane of Cawdor and lastly king. He is puzzled by their responses. It is this interaction that leads to the expectation that Macbeth will have for the witches in his later interactions with the witches. Macbeth say,

“Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more. By Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis; But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,(75) A prosperous gentleman; and to be King Stands not within the prospect of belief, No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence You owe this strange intelligence, or why Upon this blasted heath you stop our way(80) With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.”

Here Macbeth is demanding to know by what means these witches know the future.

 In Act IV Scene I Macbeth again has a meeting with the witches in an attempt to know how they forsaw his future and how they know what will happen. Macbeth says,

“I conjure you, by that which you profess, Howe'er you come to know it, answer me”

Macbeth’s sole expectation of the witches is understanding in straight forward manner how they know his fate.