The First Scene of Macbeth
Length: 672 words (1.9 double-spaced pages)
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The first scene is very short, but full of impact. The thunder and lightning alone give it a dramatic opening, which grabs the interest of the audience, as it is representative of evil. These dramatic sound effects help to set the eerie and supernatural atmosphere that Shakespeare wanted to create along with the witches. Instead of seeing Macbeth, Shakespeare’s audience is faced with three weird-looking women. The witches introduce us to a dark, dangerous play, in which the theme of evil is central. The witches say little but we learn a lot about them.
The mood of the play is set here, although the action doesn’t start until the next scene. The presence of supernatural forces in the opening of ‘Macbeth’ provides for much of the play’s dramatic tension and the mounting suspense. ‘When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or rain?’ This is the opening line. It immediately draws the audience and captures their imagination, as the supernatural world fascinated people in Elizabethan England. At the time the play was first performed and at the time that Shakespeare was writing it, witchcraft was a great enemy, people became captivated by these peculiar, suspicious witches. Witch – hunts took place and many people were convicted of being witches and were executed. The witches fit in with the stereotypical perception of witches of that time, including use of familiars like Graymalkin and Paddock.
The use of the paranormal occurs at the beginning, with three witches explaining that they will meet Macbeth. ‘When the battle’s lost and won.’ The audience have yet to find out what the battle is, however they know that the battle is won by one side and lost by another. Macbeth’s fate is that he will win the battle, but will lose the battle for his soul. We have come in at the end of the witches meeting, just as they are arranging their next appointment before their familiar spirits call them into the fog and filthy air.
From the beginning we can tell that the witches can foretell the future, and are creating some unpleasant magic, which is to involve Macbeth. This creates suspense for the audience, wandering what is going to happen next. The fact that the witches want to meet Macbeth should raise some suspicion in the audience. The witches first mention Macbeth in the eighth line, when they explain that they will meet Macbeth upon the heath.
This shows the audience that the witches must know of Macbeth and leaves them assuming that Macbeth will be greatly influenced and affected by these three witches throughout the play.
Perhaps the most chilling part of the opening, is when the witches overturn the values in which we believe: ‘ Fair is foul, and foul is fair’, this basically seems like a warning that things are not what they appear to be, as if they are referring to people, explaining that not everybody should be trusted. This adds to our fear about what will happen to Macbeth.
In Macbeth the witch’s lines are extremely short and cryptic, this adds and indicates tension and excitement. The whole section is written in rhyme, with short seven or eight syllable lines, which are suggestive of a chant. The fact that Shakespeare uses very short lines and varies the rhythm in a number of ways helps to interest the audience. It is obvious to them that the witches are chanting a magical spell throughout their brief encounter. This creates a bleak and mystical atmosphere, together with suspicion as to why they are using their magical powers.
The language reflects on the fact that Macbeth is a dark play about evil, death, murder and ambition. The witch’s language manages to reveal their personalities as sinister, mysterious and untrustworthy. Although the first scene is exceptionally short, it manages to tell the audience that the witches will meet again, ‘When the hurlyburly’s done’, after the battle, on a heath, and there they will confront Macbeth. I enjoyed this scene because it was very unusual and mysterious.