Macbeth Act 1 Scenes 1 to 7 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

A full breakdown of all the action of Macbeth Act 1. This Macbeth study note includes plot overview, analysis and important quotes to focus on.

Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 1 - Scene 1

The Three Witches meet during a rainstorm.   In eerie, chanting tones, they make plans to meet again after the battle to confront Macbeth.   As quickly as they appeared, they soon disappear again.   Analysis: The bleakness of this scene is a dramatic representation both of the physical landscape in which the play is set, and the mere wilderness of man's existence.   The imagery of thunder and lightning create an eerie and magical setting for the beginning of the play.    The short, rhyming verse from the witches imitates the casting of a spell.    The lines "When the battle's lost and won" and "Fair is foul and foul is fair" are contradictory statements by the witches to create a sense of mystery that will continue throughout the play.    Important Quotes: "When the hurly-burly’s done, When the battle’s lost and won."   "Fair is foul and foul is fair" 

Page 2

Act 1 - Scene 2

The scene opens during a war. Scotland is currently facing Ireland and Norway in battles.   A wounded captain gives King Duncan news that the leader of the Irish rebels, Macdonwald, has been killed by Macbeth and Banquo.    As the captain leaves, the Thane of Ross enters, telling the king that the Thane of Cawdor, who had betrayed them, has been captured and the Norwegian army held back.   King Duncan declares that the title of Thane of Cawdor will be passed on to Macbeth for his bravery and accomplishments. The Thane of Ross leaves to deliver this news.   Analysis: Macbeth is introduced as a brave warrior in this scene. This becomes important when we start to see his downfall later in the play. Lines such as "Valour's minion" and "Bellona's bridegroom" emphasise Macbeth's heroism.    Macbeth's actions are exaggerated in this scene, this allows the audience to see his violent nature from the beginning of the story. Macbeth doesn't just kill Macdonwald, he "unseam'd him from the nave to the chops, / And fix'd his head upon our battlements". This line also foreshadows Macbeth's death at the end of the play.   The captain compares Macbeth and Banquo to eagles and lions in battle. The crest of Scotland is marked with a lion. This can be seen as a symbol of Macbeth's loyalty and foreshadowing for his rise to being king.   Important Quotes: "For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name— Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody execution"  - Captain   "Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chops, And fix'd his head upon our battlements." - Captain   "No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death, And with his former title greet Macbeth."  - King Duncan

Page 3

Act 1 - Scene 3

The Three Witches appear after a clap of thunder.   Macbeth and Banquo enter on their way to see the king, shocked to see the witches.   The witches make three prophecies to Macbeth and Banquo. They predict that Macbeth will be named Thane of Cawdor and will later be King of Scotland. They then turn to Banquo, saying that he will be happier than Macbeth and while he will not be king himself, his descendants will.   Before questions can be asked, the witches vanish.   Ross and Angus enter to bring news from the king. Ross tells Macbeth that the king has made him thane of Cawdor, as the former Thane is to be executed for treason, this confirms one of the prophecies of the witches.   Macbeth is excited at this news but Banquo soon warns that sometimes one truth is told in prophecies to tempt people into danger. Macbeth doesn't listen to his words, wondering how he will get the crown instead.   Analysis: The story given by one of the witches about a sailor loosing sleep and becoming weak can be compared to Macbeth in later scenes. When he murders Duncan, he announces that he has "murder'd sleep".  The metaphor of the storm at sea can be used to describe the confusion of Macbeth later in the play.   Macbeth's first words ("So foul and fair a day I have not seen") ironically recall the Witches' "foul is fair" in the first scene.   There is ambiguity in the prophecy of the witches. They announce both fact (that Macbeth is Thane of Glamis) and prediction (that Macbeth will be king), this contrast between what is uncertain and what is certain is central to the atmosphere of the play.   Shakespeare combines Macbeth's and Banquo's confusion at the Witches' vanishing with their disbelief at what has been predicted. The mentioning of "the insane root that takes the reason prisoner" suggests the working of a powerful drug, suggesting that they had been dreaming.      Important Quotes: "Lesser than Macbeth and greater. Not so happy, yet much happier. Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none."  - The Three Witches   "And 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."  - Banquo      This supernatural soliciting Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, Why hath it given me earnest of success, Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor." - Macbeth

Page 4

Act 1 - Scene 4

Malcolm gives Duncan news of the original Thane of Cawdor's execution. He says that he died nobly, confessing freely and repenting of his crimes.   Macbeth and Banquo enter, receiving praise and thanks from King Duncan.    To Macbeth's surprise, Duncan announces that his successor as king, whenever that may be, will be his son Malcolm.   Analysis: Despite this scene being short, it allows the audience to see the relationship between Duncan and Macbeth. Duncan welcomes Macbeth as his "worthiest cousin", saying that he owes him more than can be given.   When discussing the reaction of the Thane of Cawdor at his execution, Duncan reminds Malcom "There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face". The end of these lines is marked by the entrance of Macbeth, forewarning his actions in the coming scenes.   The line "I have begun to plant thee, and will labour / To make thee full of growing"  by Duncan echoes the witches' lines in previous scenes; "look into the seeds of time / And say which one will grow, and which will not".   The plant-related imagery contrasts with the imagery of stars towards the end of the scene.   Important Quotes: "There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face" - King Duncan   "Stars! Hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires" - Macbeth

Page 5

Act 1 - Scene 5

The scene starts with Lady Macbeth reading a letter from Macbeth, recounting his meeting with the witches.   Lady Macbeth says that she knows Macbeth is ambitious, but fears he is too full of “th’ milk of human kindness” to make himself king. She resolves to make Macbeth take the steps necessary to make himself the king.   A servant enters with news that King Duncan will be staying with them for the night. Lady Macbeth plans to murder Duncan while he is in the castle so that Macbeth becomes king.   Macbeth enters and Lady Macbeth reveals her plan. They both agree to discuss the matter further.   Analysis: The letter from Macbeth repeats the prophecy from the witches but does not mention Banquo at all, perhaps out of fear.   Lady Macbeth is introduced as Macbeth's "dearest partner of greatness", this sets up her role as not only his partner in future scenes, but the one who pushes and controls him.   Lady Macbeth is one of the strongest female characters to be introduced into a Shakespeare play. The fact that she is alone on stage means that we can hear her innermost thoughts, which are filled with the imagery of death and destruction. Her soliloquy is particularly dark, calling on spirits to deprive her of her femininity, to thicken her blood, and to stop her ability to weep, turning her bitter. From here, Lady Macbeth reverses the traditional gender roles of this time period, becoming a "man of action" character.    In this scene, the audience are introduced to how Lady Macbeth views her husband. It is clear that she wants him to succeed and knows he will be great, but he lacks the ambition needed to become great. She says there is only one solution to this problem, she must "pour my spirits in thine ear."   Lady Macbeth's speech to her husband at the end of the scene is filled with metaphors of concealment. The line "Look like th' innocent flower, / But be the serpent under ’t" references the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible and reflects the evil within Lady Macbeth.   Important Quotes: "Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way" - Lady Macbeth   "Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear And chastise with the valor of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round, Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem To have thee crowned withal." - Lady Macbeth   "Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood. Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers, Wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature’s mischief."  - Lady Macbeth  

Page 6

Act 1 - Scene 6

King Duncan enters the castle, joined by Malcolm, Donalbain, Banquo, Lennox, Macduff, Ross, and Angus.   They are welcomed to the castle by Lady Macbeth, with Duncan praising her hospitality.    She replies that it is her duty to be hospitable since she and Macbeth owe so much to their king. Duncan then asks to be taken inside to Macbeth, whom he professes to love dearly.   Analysis: The arrival of the king is surrounded by a great amount of irony. He comments on how beautiful the scenery of the castle is, noting that the air is sweeter. The appearance of the martlet creates the effect that the castle is a paradise. Of course, the audience know that Lady Macbeth plans to kill Duncan.   Lady Macbeth acts as a chameleon in this scene. She returns to her role of the lady of the house, welcoming the guest and acting as a hostess, while hiding her true intentions.   Important Quotes: "This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses." - King Duncan

Page 7

Act 1 - Scene 7

The scene opens with a soliloquy from Macbeth, pondering the assassination of Duncan.    He thinks about his reasons for murdering the king, but is nagged by self-doubt arising from his fear of retribution both in heaven and on earth and by his likely loss of reputation.   Lady Macbeth enters, dismissing his fears and taunting him. She calls him a coward and questions his masculinity. She promises that if they are bold, the plan will definitely be successful.   Then she tells him her plan: while Duncan sleeps, she will give his maids wine to make them drunk, and then she and Macbeth can slip in and murder Duncan. They will then smear the blood of Duncan on the sleeping maids so the blame will turn to them.   Macbeth is astonished at her brilliant plan and hopes that she will "bring forth men-children only"  so they can be like her.   Analysis: Macbeth's soliloquy at the beginning of the scene highlights his confusion and insecurities about the plan. He is unsure about the effect of his actions on the afterlife and his reputation.   The vivid imagery of Lady Macbeth trampling her own child adds to the tension in this scene and shows the audience how dark-minded she is. She creates this imagery in an effort to manipulate Macbeth into killing Duncan.   The relationship shown between Macbeth and his wife in this scene is rather uneven. Lady Macbeth pushes Macbeth to murder Duncan by manipulating him and mocking his weaknesses. Like in Scene 5, she alters existing gender roles, this time by questioning his masculinity. His fear in this scene contrasts her self-proclaimed masculinity.   In Macbeth's actions, that which is gold, the king himself, will be killed and Macbeth's golden reputation will be reduced to worthlessness.   Important Quotes: "If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well  It were done quickly . . . . . . He’s here in double trust:  First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,  Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,  Who should against his murderer shut the door,  Not bear the knife myself" - Macbeth   "When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man" - Lady Macbeth   "I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this." - Lady Macbeth