What is the most famous line from Macbeth?

The most famous line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth may be from the first scene of act 4, in which the three witches say, "By the pricking of my thumbs, / Something wicked this way comes" (44–45). This line ominously foreshadows Macbeth’s entrance and has become a popular literary reference used by later authors and filmmakers to forebode evil.

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Although Macbethis filled with numerous well-known and oft-quoted lines, perhaps the most famous one is spoken by the witches in act 4, scene 1:

By the pricking of my thumbs,Something wicked this way comes (44–45)

The Three Witches are concocting a stew in a cauldron; the gruesome ingredients...

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Although Macbeth is filled with numerous well-known and oft-quoted lines, perhaps the most famous one is spoken by the witches in act 4, scene 1:

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes (44–45)

The Three Witches are concocting a stew in a cauldron; the gruesome ingredients include a toad, a newt’s eye, a frog’s toe, a dog’s tongue, a bat’s fur, an adder’s forked tongue, a lizard’s leg, an owl’s wing, and more. From the tingling feeling in her thumb, the second witch senses the approach of an evil presence. Sure enough, Macbeth knocks and enters, demanding advice from the witches. By this time in the play, he has murdered and betrayed those around him in his monomaniacal attempt to wield and retain power the king of Scotland.

The second half of this line is often used by speakers and writers to convey foreboding that something bad or “wicked” is coming, bringing with it negative feelings and actions. “Something wicked this way comes” has been referred repeatedly in popular culture, such as the following:

  • The title of Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel (and its 1983 film adaptation) about two teenage boys’ nightmarish experience when a traveling carnival comes to town.
  • The title of episode six in the second season of television series Ugly Betty, where main characters bump into each other at a performance of the Broadway musical Wicked.
  • The song sung by Frog Choir at Hogwart’s Welcoming Feast in the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The ominous warning of “something wicked this way comes” has become a source of humor as well and is often used to offer comical commentary on actions that ultimately are not scary, but simply dreaded. Examples include the following:

  • Television comedy Married...with Children’s episode titled “Something Larry This Way Comes.”
  • Satirical show South Park’s episode “Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes.”
  • Late-night talk show Conan O’Brien’s episode “Something Smelly That Way Went.”

Other famous and oft-quoted lines from Macbeth include the following:

"Out, damned spot! out, I say!" (act 5, scene 1)

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." (act 1, scene 1)
"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." (act 4, scene 1)
"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing." (act 5, scene 5)
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