Macbeth, Essential Revision Notes
Summary Act 1
Thunder and lightning crash above a Scottish moor. Three haggard old women, the Witches, appear out of the storm. In eerie tones, chanting in riddles, they discuss their plans to meet again upon the heath, after the battle, to confront Macbeth. They disappear as quickly as they arrived. The Witches then call out to Graymalkin and Paddock, who are the Witches’ “familiars,” or spirits (usually animals like cats) that serve them. All three then repeat a chorus that sets the tone for the play: “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” whereupon they set back to their supernatural business, disappearing as quickly as they entered (A1.S1.L12).
At a military camp near his palace at Forres, King Duncan of Scotland enters along with his two sons (Malcolm and Donalbain), a Scottish nobleman (Lennox) and Attendants. Duncan asks a wounded Captain for news about the Scots’ battle with the invaders from the “Western Isles” (Ireland), who are led by the rebel Macdonwald. The captain, who was wounded helping Duncan’s son, Malcolm, escape capture by the Irish, replies that the Scottish generals Macbeth and Banquo fought through the “swarm” of enemy soldiers with great courage and violence. The Captain then describes for Duncan how Macbeth slew the traitorous Macdonwald. The Captain continues his tale, telling how, after Macbeth spilled Macdonwald’s blood, the battle flared up once more when the “Norwegian Lord” brought fresh men on to the field. But even this, he says, could not daunt Macbeth and Banquo, who both redoubled their efforts. As the Captain is carried off to have his wounds attended to, the Thane of Ross (a Scottish nobleman) enters, having just returned from Fife, and tells the king that the traitorous Thane of Cawdor has been defeated and the army of Norway repelled. Duncan decrees that the Thane of Cawdor be put to death and that Macbeth, the hero of the victorious army, be given Cawdor’s title of Thane. Ross leaves to deliver the news to Macbeth.