Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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One of the most interesting aspects of Macbeth (and of many of Shakespeare’s later plays) is the way in which textual details mirror and draw attention to the action on stage. There is an abundance, for example, of threefold elements in this short scene: the assonance in ‘we three meet’ is threefold; the weather is ‘thunder, lightning and rain’; there is a triple rhyme on ‘done’, ‘won’ and ‘sun’. Antithetical and paradoxical statements also abound, and these are a major feature throughout the early part of the play. The first example is ‘When the battle’s lost and won’. Most battles are ‘lost’ and ‘won’, depending on one’s point of view, but it seems an odd thing to say – implying that the witches are rather distanced from the affairs of mankind. Second Witch’s ‘hurlyburly’ sounds almost contemptuous, considering the amount of human blood that has just been shed to keep Duncan on the throne of Scotland.

8 ‘There to meet with Macbeth’ – The line is ominously shortened by two syllables.

9 ‘Greymalkin’ – ‘Malkin’ is a diminutive of ‘Mary’ and a traditional cat’s name, and ‘Greymalkin’ is, therefore, a grey cat. Witches’ familiars are spirits or demons, generally inhabiting an animal form, and which perform magical tasks at their behest. As such, a familiar does the witch’s bidding, and, logically, should be called by her – but, as animals, they still require feeding (traditionally from a witch’s supernumerary nipple) and this is probably the point of their insistent cries here.

9 ‘Paddock’ – a toad, and another familiar spirit.

11-12 ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair…’ – poised between a statement that good and evil have changed places in this hurly-burly world and a Satanic assertion that good is evil and evil good. The double inversion is typical of the style of Macbeth , and the strong alliteration on /f/ – continued in ‘fog and filthy air’ – emphasises the rhythm of the chant. The second line describes bad weather, but also implies that the air is polluted in some way. One of the most pervading superstitions about witches is that they can fly, and the word ‘Hover’ gives this ability a rather ghostly malevolence.

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Purchase full notes for £5.95 (aprox $9.28)

William Shakespeare