Your goal today is to understand the basics of the plot and the prophesies that will shape it. Remember what we said about inverted syntax (think Yoda); remember, too, that you don’t have to understand every word and phrase. Today, think “big picture.”
If you recall, the first scene starts with our 3 witches. They don’t tell us much, but they do tell us that they intend to find Macbeth. But why?
Remember that this play takes place in Scotland, a nation at war. King Duncan, an old and just ruler, receives reports from two battles:
- first, a wounded captain tells the King that Macbeth and Banquo, two of his loyal thanes (lords), led the king’s forces against the Irish. In the battle, Macbeth killed Macdonwald, a traitor. (pay attention to how Macbeth actually killed him)
- Ross, a nobleman, arrives. He tells the King about the battle against the traitor Cawdor (two traitors in the first Act?) and the Norwegians.
- this scene is important for three reasons: it establishes the violent nature of this world, it tells us about Macbeth’s prowess on the battlefield, and it sets us up for the prophesies to come. Pay attention to the last lines of the scene, ladies and gents.
The last scene established that this world full of violence and treachery; this scene establishes that it is full of dark magic. Our goal for this scene is to understand how the witches’ half-truths and prophesy take hold of Macbeth.
Before we begin, I want you to complete a very quick writing task (5 minutes). Imagine that you are walking down the street in downtown Toronto, a young student looking for work (hey…times are tough). You are approached by a strange old woman who might be insane. After muttering to herself for a while, she fixed her eyes on you. Cackling gleefully, she says:
Strange days indeed, my dear, strange days indeed,
When the likes of you are in desperate need.
Around the next corner you will find,
Wealth that will give you peace of mind.
But continue on the road most dark,
Brave the monsters that will chill your heart,
And you will claim the greatest treasure
Finding happiness in the greatest measure.
You turn the corner, look down, and find something truly remarkable: a stack of $100 bills sitting in the snow. You take, it of course; after all, hadn’t the old woman told you that you will find great wealth?
As you look up, however, you notice something else: a long, dark alley straight out of a horror movie. On a normal day, you wouldn`t dream of walking down this path; however, given what the old lady told you, do you consider it today?
- let’s spend a moment or two talking about iambic pentameter. Do you remember this line from Romeo and Juliet?:
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
- Now, let’s read the witches’ lines together. How is the structure of their lines different from iambic pentameter?
- finally, let’s consider the rest of the scene.