What is Macbeth's attitude towards the witches in the beginning of act 4?

Expert Answers
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In act 4, Macbeth visits the three witches in order to attain more information regarding his future and legacy. When Macbeth enters the scene, he is in an aggressive mood and addresses the witches as "midnight hags." Macbeth is authoritative and hostile when he initially speaks to the witches. Macbeth proceeds to demand that the witches tell him what he wants to know. He does not ask permission or decorously address the three witches but instead commands them to show him about his future. He also makes it clear to the witches that he does not care about their methods and simply needs to know more information. Macbeth is also portrayed as a desperate man for the way he aggressively demands that the witches tell him about his future. Macbeth not only fears for his life but also is worried that others will usurp his power and ruin his legacy. Macbeth's attitude towards the witches in act 4 contrasts greatly with how he initially approaches them in act 1.

lit24 | Student

In the beginning of Act IV sc.1 Macbeth addresses the witches arrogantly and commands them to tell him what mysterious activities they are engaged in:

"How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is't you do?.............answer me
To what I ask you."

In Act I sc.3, however, when he first meets the witches his attitude towards them is one of shock and surprise at seeing such weird creatures and asks them:

"Speak, if you can: what are you?"

kc4u | Student

In the opening scene, the witches proposed to meet Macbeth on the heath & so they met him in act1 sc.3. In act4 sc.1, it is Macbeth who goes to the witches' cavern to seek further information & support. When the witches first met Macbeth, it was their urge to lay the trap. Now irrevocably caught in the trap, Macbeth feels the urge to meet the witches.

Macbeth addresses the witches now in a tone of sarcastic proximity:

" How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!

What is 't you do? "

By now, Macbeth has come a long way in his bloody career & there is no question of going back. When the witches first met him & made their proclamations, he was surprised & confused. But now he is more seasoned and more desperate; he has come himself to seek the 'supernatural soliciting' which, he knows, is evil. Macbeth now sounds more commanding & more determined. He is 'bent to know,/By the worst means the worst'. Working as an agent of evil, Macbeth seems to have gained a sense of mastery over the messengers of Hecate:

" I conjure you, by that which you profess,

Howe'er you come to know it, answer me:

Though you untie the winds and let them fight

Against the churches; though the yesty waves

Confound and swallow navigation up;

Though bladed corn be lodg'd and trees blown


Though castles topple on their warders' heads:

Though palaces and pyramids do slope

Their heads to their foundations; though the


Of Nature's germens tumble all together,

Even till destruction sicken; answer me

To what I ask you."