What do the witches predict in Act I, Scene 3 for Macbeth? For Banquo?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Act I, Scene 3, on a heath near Forres, three witches enter. Their nature appears menacing. Each one hails Macbeth with a different title.

The third witch greets Macbeth as the Thane of Glamis, the second calls him Thane of Cawdor, and the third greets him as one who will be king. Then, in greeting Banquo, the witches seem to utter contradictory predictions: he will be less than Macbeth and also greater, not as fortunate, but more fortunate, and though he will not be a king, he will beget kings.

After the witches depart, Macbeth and Banquo marvel at what has been said to them. Macbeth knows himself to be the Thane of Glamis, as he has inherited this title from his father. But he does not understand how he will have the other titles, nor does Banquo understand how he will be father to kings. Later, Banquo cautions Macbeth, who ponders the predictions:

...oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.... (1.3.125-128)

This introduction of the world of the spirits and Macbeth's belief in their predictions leads him into a realm of the phantasmagoric, a succession of shifting things seen and unseen. The witches' trickery leads him to ambitiously rebel against his place in nature and desire much more.

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The witches predict a few things in Act 1, Scene 3. First, they predict that Macbeth will be both the Thane of Cawdor and the king (they also tell him he'll be the Thane of Glamis, but Macbeth already knows this to be true, so it's not much of a revelation). Additionally, the witches note that Banquo will not be king himself, but will father sons who will be kings. In short, though Banquo is not destined to be a king like Macbeth, he is in some ways destined to be greater than Macbeth, as he'll be the father of a dynasty. 

These prophetic claims point to an interesting paradox in the play. Though Macbeth becomes king, he is reviled by his subjects and ultimately meets an untimely demise. On the other hand, while Banquo is murdered, he ironically gains a firmer grip on the throne, as his family is destined to hold royal power far longer than Macbeth.

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