In this article I shall discuss on some important questions on Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth.
Significance of the opening scene
The opening scene in a play is dramatically important in establishing an atmosphere for the main action of the play. In the dramas of the Elizabethan age, playwrights gave much importance to the opening scene. Shakespeare’s opening scenes usually serves the purpose of exposition. But in Macbeth the explanation of the situation is deferred to scene ii.
The opening scene of Macbeth is a short scene of twelve lines. It introduces the readers to the theme of evil. The play opens with thunder and rain and three strange apparitions on a desolate heath. They are speaking in cryptic enigmatic language. Then they flitted away through the fog and untidy air. They flew away with mysterious concluding remark about anything fair is foul and foul is fair.
The first scene is an epitome of the entire atmosphere of the play. From the starting there are amazement and mystery in the play. A sense of uncanny terror of gloom and murk combines with them. It is lit up by lurid light. The fog of the scene is broken by an occasional flash of lightning. And that is a nutshell in the play itself.
Role of the witches in Macbeth
Towards the end of the opening scene the comment of the witches is significant. They commented, anything that is fair or good is foul or bad and foul or bad is fair or good. The same is echoed in Macbeth’s opening remark in the play that he had not seen a day which was foul as well as fair. This strange coincidence establishes a connection between Macbeth and the witches even before they meet. In their first meeting, the witches address him as the Thane of Glamis, Cawdore and the king of Scotland. Almost immediately after this, a messenger from Duncan confers the title of Thane of Cawdore to him. This removes all doubts in Macbeth’s mind. He hopefully looked forward to the fulfillment of the final prediction. The prediction of becoming the king of Scotland. He himself confesses that he has started seeing horrid visions which obviously was murdering Duncan.
THE THOUGHT OF MURDER
We can say the thought of murder occurred to Macbeth because of his innate ambition for kingship. Hence there was no hint from them. Banquo proves that the witches can trouble an innocent soul with cursed thought and disturbing dreams. However, they can’t have a final hold over it on their own. Since Macbeth’s mind was tainted with ambition, their poisonous seeds took roots in his soul. Hence, this proves the witches only stimulated Macbeth’s secret ambition for kingship. But the person who actually influenced him to commit the murder was his wife, Lady Macbeth.
THE MURDER OF BANQUO
The witches prophesied a line of kingship to the children of Banquo. Macbeth after becoming the king recalled the prophecy of the witches. He at once decided to remove Banquo and his son, Fleance permanently from the earth. Accordingly he hired murderers to execute his plan. Again we see the witches are not responsible for his act.
THE FIRST APPARITION
The first apparition whom the witches called up warns him to beware of Macduff. Macbeth was already apprehensive about Macduff who was openly showing defiance. The apparition only intensifies this suspicion of his. He hired murderers who murdered the wife and children of Macduff. Mucduff, had already fled to London.
SECOND AND THIRD APPARITION
The second and the third apparition only provide information that nobody whom a woman gives birth can defeat him. Moreover, Macbeth will not be defeated until the forest of Birnam moves to Dunsinane. The witches only wanted to deceive Macbeth with their confusing prophecies. But it was Macbeth himself who established a false sense of security from these predictions. Hence, we cannot blame the witches for this. The fault of such meaningless sense of security lies in Macbeth’s character. This fault in his character makes Macbeth’s tragedy as foreseen by the witches complete. The witches in the play symbolize evil forces. They are exciting, progressively effective, and meaningful.
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE WITCHES
The witches are a convenient dramatic symbol for the force of evil in the world. Hence, they are cast in the traditional mould. They are contrary to nature. Although they are women they have beards like men. Thus they represent creation in a state of chaos. A man like Banquo can resist their appeal, thus showing that man has in him the grace of God as well. It is Macbeth’s tragedy that he is blind to the deceptive nature of evil. He realizes it too late that no one should believe these deceptive evil creatures. The confuse people with their double sense talk.
APPEARANCE VERSUS REALITY IN MACBETH
The witches with the help of their deceptive evil forces reinforce the theme of appearance versus reality. Their motto is good (fair) is bad (foul) and bad (foul) is good (fair). This motto indicates the confusion and uncertainty in the appearance of evil. Equivocation which is the central theme of the play obviously operates through the witches. These witches are the most striking voices of unnaturalness and disorder. But ultimately the witches do not deceive Macbeth. His ill-founded reliance on his own interpretation of what the witches say deceives him.