Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 4

Scene 1

Summary: In a dark cave the Weird Sisters are chanting vile incantations around a bubbling cauldron. Macbeth enters and demands that they give him more prophecy. They agree and show him three visions. The first is a floating armored head that warns him about Macduff. The second is a bloody child that tells him no harm will come to him from any man born of woman. Finally the third is of a young child with a crown who holds a piece of yew wood and the witches state that he will be King until Birnam Wood a local forest comes at him. Not fully satisfied with what he sees he demands to know who will be future kings. The witches agree and show him a series of apparitions representing future kings of Scotland that all bear resemblance to Banquo. When they finish the witches begin to dance around the cauldron and disappear into thin air.macbeth-and-the-witches

At the mouth of the cave Thane Lennox greets Macbeth with the news that Macduff has left for England and is in rebellion. Macbeth orders an attack on his castle and that his family should be put to death.

Commentary:  I really like this scene for both the imagery and the language. Probably the most supernatural scene so far, with the witches chanting and throwing bizarre ingredients into the bubbling cauldron, summoning apparitions, and vanishing on the wind. This scene also has some awesome lines. For example the famous “Double double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” is the repeated refrain chanted by the witches. This play is obviously the origin of the whole witches brewing eye of newt in a giant cauldron. They list all the crazy stuff that goes into it, now a staple of Halloween imagery.  Another great line, “Something wicked this way comes.” Spoken by the witches as Macbeth approaches the cave. Or one of my favorites, “How now, you secret midnight hags!”

At this point in the play we see Macbeth not only broken mentally but fully embracing evil. In Act I he stumbles across the witches who offer the prophecy in passing tempting him towards darkness. Here Macbeth has fully embraced the evil of the Sisters, seeking them out and demanding more from them. After they disappear he doesn’t even seem fazed by the supernatural black magic on display, instead he focuses on Macduff, ordering death to his family.

Scene 2

Macbeth_illustration12_midSummary: Thane Ross is with Lady Macduff and her son at their castle. She’s mad that her husband has run away to England and left them behind and considers him a traitor. Ross tries to convince her that he isn’t a traitor and that what he is doing is noble. After Ross leaves a messenger arrives and warns her to get out because she is in danger, but before she takes off murderers arrive and kill her and her son.

Commentary: This scene is very similar to the scene where Banquo is murdered. Side characters talk, murderers appear, and killing commences.

Scene 3

Summary: In England Malcolm(Duncan’s son that ran away) and Macduff meet at the English Kings court. They have a long conversation where Malcolm checks to see if Macduff is loyal to him or an agent of Macbeth. Ross arrives with bad news informing Macduff about the destruction of his castle and murder of his wife and children. Malcolm tells Macduff that he should channel his rage into fighting Macbeth and that the English King is giving them thousands of men to go fight.

Commentary:  A somewhat tedious scene bogged down by a long discussion on the evils of tyranny and what a good king should be. I’m guessing this is a bit of commentary aimed at the present that falls a bit flat four hundred years later.

In Act 1 when we come across Macbeth and the witches he is an innocent man, a victorious hero, who anguishes at the thoughts that the witches give him. But by Act 4 he has become a monster not thinking twice about ordering the murder of women and children.  Act 4 is basically illustrating Macbeth at his most depraved.


6 thoughts on “Reading Shakespeare: Macbeth Act 4


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