What are the witches' prophecies in Macbeth?

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In act 1, scene 3 of Macbeth, the witches make several prophecies to Macbeth, and one to Banquo. They tell Macbeth he will be Thane of Cawdor, and "king hereafter." They tell Banquo that he will "get kings, though thou be none." In act 4, scene 1, the witches' "masters" tell Macbeth to beware the Thane of Fife; that "none of woman born / shall harm Macbeth," and that Macbeth won't die until "Great Birnam Wood" comes "to high Dunsinane hill."

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There are two key scenes in Macbeth in which the three witches offer prophecies. In the first of these scenes, act 1, scene 3, they actually have a prophecy to offer to Macbeth's friend Banquo, too.

Macbeth's interest in the witches is piqued because they hail him as...

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Thane of Glamis, a title that he has recently received. Next, they hail him as Thane of Cawdor and tell him that he will be "king hereafter." Macbeth is intrigued and wants to know more; he cannot understand why he would be made Thane of Cawdor. At the end of this interview, when a messenger comes from the king to tell Macbeth that he is indeed to be Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is shocked. This proof of the witches' veracity makes him sure that he will be king too, as they said.

To Banquo, the witches say that he will "get kings, though thou be none." This means that Banquo himself will not be king, but he will beget, or give birth to, kings. Macbeth hears this, so he knows that it is prophesied that Banquo's issue will be kings. This conflicts slightly with the idea of Macbeth becoming king, so Macbeth will later decide to try and do something to correct this prophecy.

Later, in act 4, scene 1, Macbeth encounters the witches again and demands more information from them. They suggest that their "masters" might be best placed to help Macbeth on this occasion. Their prophecies are, as the audience later discovers, true, but not true in the way that Macbeth interprets them.

First, Macbeth is told to beware the Thane of Fife. Next, he is told that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth," which makes him believe that he has nothing to fear from Macduff. Finally, he is told that he will never be vanquished until "Great Birnam Wood" comes to "high Dunsinane Hill." Because this seems a literal impossibility, Macbeth interprets this prophecy to mean that he will never be defeated.

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When Macbeth and Banquo encounter the three witches in Act 1, Scene 3, they prophecy that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and that he will later become king. (They hail him as Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor, but he is already Thane of Glamis). Then Banquo asks them to prophecy his own future, and they say that he will be father to a whole line of kings although he will never be king himself. Macbeth soon learns in the same scene that the current Thane of Cawdor is facing execution for treason and that King Duncan has appointed Macbeth Thane of Cawdor in his place. This makes a strong impression on him. Much later in Act 4, Scene 1, Macbeth encounters the witches again and receives further advice, not from the witches themselves but from a series of Apparitions.

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What are the six prophesies in Macbeth?

There are three prophecies in act 1, scene 3 and three more in act 4, scene 1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth which apply to Macbeth and which appear in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, Shakespeare's primary source for Macbeth, as well as his source for many other of his historical plays.

Strictly speaking, the first two pronouncements that the witches make to Macbeth in act 1, scene 3—"All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!" and "All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!"—aren't prophecies at all. Macbeth has been thane of Glamis since he was fifteen years old, and he was named thane of Cawdor by Duncan one scene earlier in the play. The third pronouncement, "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!" is truly prophetic and prophesizes that Macbeth will be king, and it foreshadows the fact that Macbeth will soon be in the "hereafter" after only a short time on the throne.

There are also three prophecies in act 1, scene 3 which apply to Banquo, Macbeth's friend and comrade-in-arms which also appear in Holinshed's Chronicles, although not in the same words they appear in the Chronicles, as Macbeth's prophecies do.

Yes (saith the first of them) we promise greater benefits unto thee, than unto him, for he shall reign in deed, but with an unlucky end: neither shall he leave any issue behind him to succeed in his place, where contrarily thou in deed shalt not reign at all, but of thee those shall be borne which shall govern the Scottish kingdom by long order of continual descent. (Chronicles, p. 268)

Shakespeare fashions this passage into three prophecies for Banquo, the first two of which, like Macbeth's, aren't really prophecies but simply enigmatic ironies.

FIRST WITCH. Lesser than Macbeth, and greater.

SECOND WITCH. Not so happy, yet much happier.

Banquo is murdered on the order of Macbeth, and although Banquo might have been greater in spirit and character than Macbeth, he can hardly be considered happier in regard to the fact that he was murdered, except that he likely went to heaven, whereas Macbeth probably went elsewhere.

The third prophecy, "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none," although a true prophecy, is also a false prophecy, since no descendant of Banquo becomes king in Macbeth—or at any time thereafter—rather, Duncan's son, Malcolm, becomes king at the death of Macbeth.

Shakespeare uses the second part of the Chronicles passage later in the play, in act 4, scene 1, "the apparition scene," when four apparitions appear to Macbeth and give him three warnings, two of which Macbeth wrongly (very wrongly) believes are prophetic of his greatness.

Macbeth essentially ignores the warning of the first apparition, "Beware Macduff," saying that he already knew that. Macbeth assumes that the warnings of the second and third apparitions, "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth" and "Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him," simply confirm his invincibility.

There is one more prophecy by an apparition in act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth which applies to both Macbeth and Banquo. Shakespeare takes the latter part of the passage in the Chronicles and uses it to please and honor King James I, who ascended to the throne of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and who was the patron of Shakespeare's acting company, the King's Men, formerly the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

King James I believed that he was descended from Banquo, and Shakespeare indulges the King's mistaken belief—it's likely that Banquo never existed—by making a direct if subtle reference in the scene to King James I himself (George Walton Williams, "Macbeth": King James's Play).

The "twofold balls and treble scepters" (act 4, scene 1, line 134) that the eighth and last king carries in line of kings in the fourth apparition is a reference to the double coronation of James I in Scotland and in England, and the "treble sceptres" were those which James I was entitled to carry as the king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (Lilian Winstanley, Macbeth, King Lear and Contemporary History).

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What are the six prophesies in Macbeth?

When Macbeth meets with the witches in Act 4 Scene 1, the witches call up an apparition, an Armed Head, which tells Macbeth “Beware Macduff,” who ends up killing Macbeth. Then, a Bloody Child appears, that says “none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth,” which reassures him, because he doesn’t know Macduff had a Caesarean birth. A Crowned Child appears next, holding a tree in his hand, who tells him that he will not be “vanquished” until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him,” which turns out to be the way his enemies creep up on him, hidden in trees cut from Birnam Wood, at the final battle on Dunsinane Hill. The fourth apparition is a “row of eight kings,” the last holding a mirror, and then Banquo, smiling. The apparition says nothing, but the image foretells that Banquo will not be king but related to a king, clearly the subsequent king, of Scotland. These follow the 2 earlier prophesies made at the beginning in Act 1, Scene 3, when the witches predict Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor, then King of Scotland (54). However, they follow this up by telling Banquo, “thou shalt get kings, though thou be none,” meaning kings will be in his lineage, although he himself will not be king (70). All the predictions come true.

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