In Shakespeare?s Macbeth there are two instances in which Macbeth comes into contact with the three witches. These two instances are located in Act 1 Scene 3 and in Act 4 Scene 1. In both scenes Macbeth is informed about his future. However, these two scenes are greatly different from each other in many ways.
When Macbeth first meets the witches in Act 1 Scene 3 he doubts that the witches are ?of this earth? and doubts that they are capable of basic abilities such as speech, evidenced by the question, ?Speak, if you can, what are you?? In the second confrontation with the witches, Macbeth believes that the witches are real and thinks them to almost be superior. He shows this by attributing the witches with awesome powers when he says to the witches, ?Though you untie the winds and let them fight against the churches?, meaning that he believes the witches are capable of manipulation of these natural phenomenon. In addition, he asks Lennox if he had seen the witches leave, showing his belief that the witches are, in fact, real entities that exist in his world.
In addition, when Macbeth first meets the witches, he does not believe the prophecies given to him by the witches. This is best said as, ?and to be king stands not within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor?. This exemplifies Macbeth?s disbelief in the prophecies that he is to become the Thane of Cawdor and the King of Scotland. In the second meeting, however, Macbeth devoutly believes in the predictions of the witches, as the first set has come true. This is evident as Macbeth seeks the witches? prophecies and also says, ?I conjure you, by that which you profess, howe?er you come to know it, answer me??, showing that he believes the witches regardless of how they know the future.
The predictions themselves have great differences. In the first meeting, the witches tell Macbeth three things that will be his rise to power. The three prophecies that forecast Macbeth?s rise are, ?Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!?, ? Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!? , ?All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king here after!? In the second meeting with the witches, however, Macbeth receives three predictions that will lead to his downfall and ultimately his demise. These three prophecies are shown to Macbeth, rather than told to him. These three apparitions tell Macbeth to ?Beware Macduff!? , ?Laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.?, and that, ?Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnham Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him?. All three of these predictions are malevolent in nature despite their fa?ade of being good.
Also, Macbeth interprets these predictions differently. In the first confrontation with the witches Macbeth receives good news about being Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland, and yet is apprehensive. This is evident when, in reference to the predictions, Macbeth says in an aside, ?why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature?? and also when he says, ?My thought, whose murder is but fantastical, shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise?. This indicates that the predictions have shocked and frightened Macbeth greatly. In contrast, when Macbeth receives his second set of predictions about his demise he is optimistic about his future. This is displayed when Macbeth, in reference to the prophecy that none born of woman shall harm him, says, ?Then live Macduff: what need I fear of thee?? and also, in reference to the prophecy that Macbeth has nothing to fear until Birnham Wood relocates to Dunsinane Hill, says, ?Sweet bodements, good!?and our high-placed Macbeth shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath to time and mortal custom.? These predictions are of Macbeth?s destruction, yet he interprets them as good news.
Another contrast between the two scenes is the news that Macbeth receives after each meeting with the witches, both of which partially fulfill the witches recent prophecies. In Act 1 Scene 3, just as the witches leave, Ross and Angus deliver the good news that ?He(Duncan) bade me from him, call thee(Macbeth) Thane of Cawdor?, proving what the witches just told Macbeth. In Act 4 Scene 1, however, Lennox arrives after the witches leave with the news that ?Macduff is fled to England?, obviously to assist Malcolm to overthrow Macbeth.
Another great contrast between the two meetings is the way Macbeth the predictions and their consequences. After the first meeting with the witches Macbeth states, several times, that he must, ?Think upon what hath chanced, and at more time, speak his free heart? Macbeth is very analytical in killing Duncan. He has thoroughly thought out the murder and weighed its? consequences. This is not the case after the second meeting. Upon learning that Macduff is in England, Macbeth tells Lennox that, ?The very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand?. This indicates that Macbeth will no longer weigh actions and their consequences. With this method of thinking Macbeth instantly orders Macduff?s family killed.
Macbeth, after both scenes, plays a vital role in both his sets of predictions, but in two very different manners. After the first meeting with the witches Macbeth kills Duncan in a certain manner which Macbeth will not be suspected in the murder. This is said by Lady Macbeth when she says, in reference to Macbeth?s skepticism of the plan of framing the grooms, that, ?who dares receive it other, as we shall make our grief?s and clamor roar upon his death?? This indicates that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will act as though they are appalled by this horrible deed. After the second meeting with the witches Macbeth, instead of framing someone or hiring an assailant has his men kill Macduff?s family, and does not provide safeguards in order to keep the murder a secret. This is shown when Macduff, in reference to the news that his family was at rest when last checked upon, asks Ross, ?The tyrant (Macbeth) has not bothered at their peace?? Macduff later demonstrates he knows that Macbeth has killed his family when he says to Malcolm, ?He has no children?, in reference to Macbeth.
Though Macbeth?s meetings with the witches in Act 1 Scene 3 and again in Act 4 Scene 1 are similar, there are several key differences between them. In contrasting the two confrontations and their aftermath, one can see a great change in Macbeth?s thoughts, actions, and objectives. The three witches are key characters in the play as they not only foretell Macbeth?s rise and downfall but also are direct causes of this. Macbeth would not have even aspired to become king if the witches had not intervened in his life. Had Macbeth not killed Duncan, the whole play would be radically different. In a tragedy, a tragic hero needs to rise and fall by definition. In Macbeth, the two meetings with the witches are direct causes of both Macbeth?s rise and his destruction.