William Shakespeare
Contributed by Sharon Fleming
Act 4 Scene 1

Macbeth returns to the three witches, and he demands they present him with prophecies about his future. The first apparition is a warrior’s head, which warns Macbeth about impending Macduff’s retaliatory attack. The second apparition appears in the form of a child with a bloody body. The child tells Macbeth that his death shall come from a man who is not “of woman born.” The third apparition comes in the form of as a child with a crown on his head. The child tells Macbeth that he will not lose the battle until such a time when the wood of Birnam moves to his territory to Dunsinane.

Macbeth reacts poorly to these prophecies. Then he asks, “Shall Banquo's issue ever reign in this kingdom?” To this question, the witches present a ghostly procession of future kings, led by Banquo. Upon hearing this, Macbeth becomes furious. Macbeth then reveals his plan to murder Macduff’s family.


Once again, the scene presents a Macbeth’s frantic desire to change the course of his destiny. He visits the witches so that he may hear about what the future holds. Like the play’s first scene, Macbeth receives three prophecies. This time, none of the prophecies appease him. In response, he refuses to believe them, but they will all come to fruition. Just as he failed to acknowledge fate in the witches’ first three prophecies, he continues to disregard it with their new predictions.

As Macbeth enters the gates to the witches’ residence, he exudes confidence. His knocking on the door reminds the audience of the way Macduff knocked on the door of Macbeth’s castle. As he “conjures” the witches to respond to his knocks, Macbeth does express fear. He demonstrates an astonishing ability to conceal his concerns. In his combative and demanding tone, Macbeth demands to receive answers whether they will come from air, water, or any supernatural aspect of the environment.

Yet, when he receives the information he desires, Macbeth rejects it. He says that all of them are unnatural and bordering on impossibility. When he is presented with the image of the children lining up for future leadership, Macbeth experiences intense pain. He does not have children, and therefore, seeing Banquo’s children ascending to the throne makes him feel hopeless. In this scene, Shakespeare effectively uses thunder, ghosts, and witches to represent Scotland’s turmoil. Macbeth’s reign has been calamitous, and it is doomed. As Macbeth appears to doubt the prophecy, the witches tell him, “Ay sir, all this is so.”  Fate will have its way, and there is nothing that Macbeth or anyone else can do to stop its progression.

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