Who sees the witches most often in the play Macbeth?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although their presence is felt throughout the play, the Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth appear in only four of the twenty-eight scenes in the play: act 1, scene 1; act 1, scene 3; act 3, scene 5; and act 4, scene 1.

The witches appear most often to each other and ...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Although their presence is felt throughout the play, the Witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth appear in only four of the twenty-eight scenes in the play: act 1, scene 1; act 1, scene 3; act 3, scene 5; and act 4, scene 1.

The witches appear most often to each other and with each other. They always appear together, and they always appear together before they appear to Macbeth.

Although the Witches occasionally talk about going off on their own, we never see any Witch alone in the play or apart from the others. Many directors add the Witches to scenes throughout the play in their adaptations—either individually or together—but they're rarely seen by other characters.

The Witches appear together in the first scene of the play, and there are no other characters present when they speak to each other (asking each other "When shall we three meet again" and saying things like "Fair is foul and foul is fair").

In act 1, scene 3, the Witches first appear together discussing their most recent exploits for 38 lines:

FIRST WITCH: Where hast thou been, sister?

SECOND WITCH: Killing swine. . . .

FIRST WITCH: Here I have a pilot's thumb,
Wreck'd as homeward he did come. (1.3.1–29)

Macbeth and Banquo then enter the scene, with Macbeth echoing the line from scene one—"So fair and foul a day I have not seen" (1.3.39)—and the Witches talk with Macbeth and Banquo and make prophecies about them for 43 additional lines.

At this point, the line count is as follows: Witches together, 92 lines; with Macbeth, 43 lines; with Banquo, 43 lines.

In act 3, scene 5, the Witches appear with Hecate for 37 lines while Hecate scolds them for using their skills without her supervision:

HECATE: How did you dare
To trade and traffic with Macbeth
In riddles and affairs of death;
And I, the mistress of your charms,
The close contriver of all harms,
Was never call'd to bear my part,
Or show the glory of our art? (3.5.3–9)

Now the line count is: Witches together, 129; with Hecate, 37 lines; with Macbeth, 43 lines; with Banquo, 43 lines.

In act 4, scene 1, the Witches appear together for the famous "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble" part of the scene (47 lines). Hecate joins the Witches for 9 lines to congratulate them on how well they're doing:

HECATE: O, well done! I commend your pains,
And everyone shall share i' the gains. (4.1.39–40)

Then Macbeth enters the "apparition" scene, for 98 apparition-filled lines:

SECOND WITCH. By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes. (4.1.44–45)

Final line count: Witches together, 274 lines; with Hecate, 144 lines; with Macbeth, 140 lines; with Banquo, 42 lines.

Thus, Hecate sees the Witches most often in the play, inching out Macbeth by 4 lines. The only other character to whom the Witches appear in Macbeth is Banquo, for 43 lines.

It could be argued that Macbeth spends more time with the Witches than Hecate does. There's also some controversy among Shakespeare scholars regarding whether Hecate actually appeared in Shakespeare's original version of the play or if Hecate was added later by someone else—possibly Thomas Middleton: there are stage directions for two songs in the Hecate scenes in Macbeth which are remarkably similar to stage directions for songs in Middleton's play Witch.

In any event, let's give the nod to Macbeth. Whether or not Macbeth spends the most lines or the most time with the Witches, Macbeth is without a doubt the character on whom the Witches have the greatest effect.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team