Discussion Topic

Key Events in the First Three Acts of Macbeth


The key events in the first three acts of Macbeth include Macbeth's encounter with the witches, who prophesy his rise to power. He is then persuaded by Lady Macbeth to murder King Duncan, seizing the throne. In Act 3, Macbeth becomes increasingly paranoid, leading him to orchestrate the murder of Banquo to secure his position.

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What are the most important events in Macbeth from Act 1 to Act 3, Scene 3?

A brief summary of act 1-act 3, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Macbeth will hit the high points of the action, introduce the major characters, and provide a few brief quotations of key lines. Let's look at some of the points you might include in such a summary.

You should begin with the three witches' prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo; you should also note the immediacy with which their prophecy begins to be fulfilled. Then move on to Lady Macbeth's reaction to these prophecies and the plan she forms to trigger the fulfillment of the prophecies ultimate end: the death of the king and usurpation of the throne. You might even quote Lady Macbeth to emphasize her determination.

Discuss the interactions between Macbeth and Duncan before the murder plot, and contrast them with what happens after Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to murder the king. Mention Macbeth's feelings of guilt both before and after the act, as well as Lady Macbeth's tactics of persuasion. Describe how Macbeth murders Duncan and becomes king. Then talk about how this is not yet satisfactory to him.

The prophecy that Banquo's descendants will become king rankles in Macbeth; he decides he must have Banquo and his son, Fleance, killed as well. Banquo's murder and Fleance's flight end the section. If you have room, you might mention the scenes with Macduff (who is suspicious), Malcolm, and Donalbain as they react to Duncan's death.

You might include lines from the various asides and soliloquies of Macbeth as he struggles with his indecision and guilt.

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What are the most important events in Macbeth from Act 1 to Act 3, Scene 3?

In summary, Macbeth is about a man gone crazy with ambition. He becomes so power hungry and blind to his personal relationships that he dismisses his wife’s death as an inconvenience and arranges the murder of those close to him, namely Duncan and Banquo. The play opens with the famous scene of three witches prophesizing the future, chanting

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

By this they mean that what appears to be fair and harmonious can be foul and deceitful below the surface. We see this in Macbeth’s interactions with Duncan, the king (or thane) of Cawdor. Macbeth is loyal to Duncan’s face, while conspiring with his wife to plot Duncan’s murder behind his back.

The witches prophesize that Macbeth will work to achieve his ambitions of assuming Duncan's throne, but he will bring twice the trouble upon himself because of his double crossing ways.

Double, double toil and trouble

Act III opens with Banquo telling Macbeth that he has achieved his dreams. He has it all, Banquo says, just as the witches (or, as Banquo calls them, “the weird women”) prophesized. He tells Macbeth:

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and, I fear,
Thou play'dst most foully for't: yet it was said
It should not stand in thy posterity,

He cautions Macbeth that his actions to obtain these successes were foul. He was deceitful, duplicitous and murderous. In order to obtain the crown, he murdered the loyal and rewarding Duncan. Act 3, Scene III has three men described as “Murderers” enter the stage. One asks who called them together. The response is Macbeth, who apparently is commissioning another murder. In this scene, Macbeth arranges the murder of his former close friend and advisor Banquo. No one is safe from Macbeth’s unscrupulous actions. Seeing the murderers approach, Banquo comments that,

It will be rain to-night

Banquo foreshadows that Macbeth’s reign of terror will rain death down on him. In the next moment, Banquo, one of Macbeth’s oldest friends, is killed at Macbeth's bidding. Before he dies, he denounces this act, tells his son, Fleance, to flee and seek revenge for this murderous act, saying:

O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!
Thou mayst revenge. O slave!

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What are the top ten events in Act 3 of Macbeth?

Act 3 of Macbeth is a pivotal part of the play. To summarize, Macbeth plots horrific murders completely on his own, without any hesitation, without any remorse, and without any help from his wife. The top ten events in chronological order would be these:

1. When alone, Banquo voices his suspicion that Macbeth killed Duncan. He then rides out for the afternoon, promising Macbeth to return for the great feast at the castle that evening.

2. Macbeth hires three murderers to kill Banquo and Banquo’s young son, Fleance. The killers slit Banquo’s throat and stab him in the head 20 times, but Fleance escapes.

3. Macbeth is upset Fleance lives, since the witches predicted Banquo’s children would be kings. Macbeth wanted to prevent that by killing Fleance, Banquo’s only son.

4. Macbeth sees Banquo’s bloody ghost at the great feast with dozens of noblemen present. No one else can see the specter, so Macbeth appears to be going crazy. Lady Macbeth makes excuses for Macbeth, saying,

“Sit, worthy friends: my lord is often thus,
And hath been from his youth: pray you, keep seat;
The fit is momentary; upon a thought
He will again be well.”

5. The ghost leaves; Macbeth apologizes to the guests and attempts to continue with the feast normally. But Banquo’s ghost returns and Macbeth again begins shouting at it. Lady Macbeth quickly dismisses the guests.

6. Macbeth vows to visit the witches again.

7. Hecate, the queen of the witches, reprimands the Three Weird Sisters because they did not consult her before they met with Macbeth.  She insists that they prepare an even more evil set of prophecies in order to mislead Macbeth the next time he comes to visit them.

8. From a conversation between Lennox and another lord, we learn that Malcolm, the son of King Duncan, has fled to England to get help. He is gathering an army to attack Scotland and Macbeth.

9. Lennox makes it clear that most noblemen in Scotland see Macbeth as a tyrant and believe he killed Duncan and Banquo.

10. Macduff has gone to England to support Malcolm. Macbeth has denounced him.

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