What is the significance of the opening scene of Macbeth?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the opening scene of the play, the Three Witches discuss where and when they will meet again. They decide to meet in an open field after a certain battle takes place, where they plan on meeting Macbeth. In the last lines of the scene, the witches recite the saying, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair Hover through the fog and filthy air" (Shakespeare, 1.1.12-13). The opening scene not only sets the tone of the play but also characterizes the witches and introduces a recurring motif. The audience immediately realizes that the Three Witches have a capacity for evil and will possibly manipulate Macbeth following an unspecified battle. Their statement that "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" indicates that appearances will be deceiving throughout the play. This motif will be repeated and remind the audience that characters, situations, and prophecies are often misleading. Also, the stormy weather creates an ominous, foreboding atmosphere, which again associates the witches with evil deeds. By the end of the opening scene, the audience is conditioned to expect the unexpected and to view the witches with suspicion.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening scene of Macbeth helps to set the tone for the rest of the play. The witches, meeting amidst a gathering storm, announce their intention to find Macbeth after the battle. They do not say what their intention is, but it is clear that they mean evil, and the gloomy atmosphere, with "fog and filthy air," only adds to the sense of impending doom. As they depart, they sing a rhyme, "fair is foul, and foul is fair," that foretells the play's focus on deception and appearances, as well as on evil itself. It is a short scene, but it tells the audience much about what is to come.

kc4u | Student

The short and precise opening scene sets the tone for the play in a general and philosophical way. It is a universal evocation of the problem of evil in the moral universe of man.

1. The scene foregrounds the witches and thus the role of the supernatural in the play.

2. They are three in number; three is the mystical number.

3. They speak in Trochaic as opposed to the general Iambic rhythm of the play. There is a distinction drawn between the human and the supernatural even on the level of accentuation.

4. They speak in an ironic order and sequence, though they are agents of disorder and anarchy.

5. The scene builds up great suspense around the absent figure of Macbeth who seems to be the centre of their attention.

6. The setting of the scene, the heath along with the thunder and rain create the ideal aura.

7. The scene has great contemporary popular appeal given that witches were so popular figures of imagination in Elizabethan England.

8. The 'battle' motif introduces the moral conflicts of the play. It is a battle that can be both lost and won.

9. The words of the witches set up the important theme of equivocation. The element of redundancy in their speech, as their prophecy would reveal is lethal.

10. Most importantly the scene ends with the maxim of the play. We know what to expect now. The black and white binary of good and evil is deconstructed as the deadly chiasmic utterance projects the ambivalent mutuality of the fair and the foul, of which the tragedy of Macbeth is soon to become an example.

dnguha | Student

The play begins with the appearence of the witches, the instruments of darkness, as a symbolic dramatic setting for gloom, horror and guilt. They are the embodied agents who search for the evil instincts of man to agitate him. The architect of the dormant impact of the play is Macbeth, and the witches are the suppliers of raw materials.

The place where the witches meet is all wild and desolate and weather inclement. Such a place and such a time are most suitable for the mysterious and mischievous creatures that appear hardly earthly, roam on this earth. This place is connotation with the evil  instinct of humanity.

Macbeth is disturbed profoundly, emotionally tumult, mentally stirred. His dormant guilt tends to jaunt on the surface. But Banquo remains level-headed, stand mentally sound to the prophecies.

 In fact, the prophetic greetings of the witches include Macbeth's past, present and future.

 What was within comes without and Macbeth's dreadful desires to commit the deadly deeds on the sly gains momentum.

 Macbeth would hold the King as the father-figure, and Lady Macbeth has taken in her husband's perspective in herself.