What are the predictions made by the second and third apparitions in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 4, Scene 1, Macbeth goes back to the Weird Sisters and demands clarification of their former predictions. Shakespeare makes their response more dramatic by having them conjure three apparitions who answer Macbeth's questions about the future without his formulating them in words. The First Apparition simply tells him to beware Macduff.

The Second Apparition, described as "a Bloody Child," tells him:

Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

It is an ominous sign, which Macbeth overlooks, that the apparition giving him this reassurance is the very image of a baby torn from his mother's womb by a primitive caesarean operation. The Bloody Child is telling him one thing but foretelling Macbeth's future by its mutilated appearance. Macbeth is ultimately killed by Macduff, who tells him:

Despair thy charm,
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb
Untimely ripped.

The Third Apparition, described as "a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand," tells Macbeth:

Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are.
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.

Here again, the apparition tells him one thing and shows him another. The "Child crowned" symbolizes the heirs of Banquo who will inherit the Scottish throne, as was previously foretold by the three witches. The fact that this child appears "with a tree in his hand" symbolizes the branches of the trees in Birnam Wood which Malcolm will order his soldiers to cut down and carry before them, so that his army will appear to be "a moving grove," as the messenger describes the sight to Macbeth in Act 5, Scene 5.

Just before his death on the battlefield, Macbeth expresses his realization of the truth which has eluded him up to this critical hour. He says:

And be these juggling fiends no more believed
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.