William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Act 1 Scene 1

Amid a violent thunderstorm, three witches meet in a desolate Scottish heath. They make plans to meet Macbeth in the moor after his battle, so they can tell him their prophecy.


Macbeth begins in an empty, uncultivated tract of land, where there is no evidence of human life. This bleak scene, ravaged by a storm, creates a daunting mood. Suddenly, three self-proclaimed “weird sisters” appear. Their title derives from the traditional interpretation of the English word “wyrd” (or “weird”), meaning “fate.” The witches, therefore, represent fate and allude to traditional mythology wherein some gifted individuals possessed powers to predict the course of an individual’s life.

The witches speak in rhymes, chanting as though they are casting a spell. Imagery also dominates their language, reinforcing the harrowing physical environment around them. The filthy air, thunder, and lightning act as a daunting omen of an uncertain future. Moreover, the witches make a couple paradoxical statements that come to characterize Scotland under Macbeth’s reign. They mention “the battle is lost and won” and “fair is foul and foul is fair.” This initial paradoxical streak appears throughout the play.

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