When told he is Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth says, "Two truths are told as happy prologues to the swelling act of the imperial theme." What does "imperial theme" mean?

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The "imperial theme" is the theme of the three greetings enunciated by the witches. Their first two greetings are solely intended to lead up to the final greeting of "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter." The first two greetings are true.

The First Witch says:

All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!

The Second Witch says:

All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!

This has come true, but Macbeth is not yet aware of it. It is more effective that he should not be aware of it at that moment because it makes the witches seem to have psychic powers.

The Third Witch says:

All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!

It is not until after the witches vanish and Macbeth and Banquo encounter Ross and Angus that Macbeth learns he has been appointed Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan as a reward for his great military services. Evidently the title of Thane of Cawdor is more prestigious than that of Thane of Glamis, so the two first greetings can be said to be part of the "swelling act" culminating in the ultimate title of King of Scotland. The three greetings all constitute the "imperial theme" because they are intended to lead up to the prediction that Macbeth will hold the imperial power of King. He says to himself:

Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act
Of the imperial theme.     (Act I, Scene 3)

Since this play is called The Tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare tried to preserve some audience sympathy for his protagonist in spite of Macbeth's truly foul deed in murdering his monarch. The witches seem intended to ameliorate a...

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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sampu88 | Student

the royal kingship promsied to him by the three witches.

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