William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' Act 1 Scene 1 Analysis using Mr Bruff Video

  • Created by: Hemdev
  • Created on: 09-11-17 21:31

'Macbeth' Act 1 Scene 1

William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' Act 1 Scene 1 Analysis

By Hemdev

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  • First time the audience gets to see the witches in the play
  • Invited into a mysterious world inhabited by creatures which as of yet we are unsure whether they’re for good or evil
  • Shakespeare uses the witches as a way of pulling the audience in
  • We arrive at the end of whatever has been going on
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First line we hear is: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

  • In Jacobean times the witches would have been a huge draw for audiences because there was a big interest and belief in witchcraft and supernatural activity
  • Witches’ meeting is complete, finished and whatever they were up to we can only guess
  • Shakespeare’s very clever in the way he’s constructed this moment in the play because it prompts curiosity about who the witches are and what role they are going to take in the further scenes and acts of Macbeth

It helps to set the scene and this is a dark world where there’s confusion and everything isn’t quite as it seems

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  • The recurring theme in this whole play is the difference between appearance and reality
  • The scene opens with thunder and lightning and continues with the witches talking about hurly-burly in a battle that is lost and won
  • This sense of things being not what they seem or appearances vs reality is actually very important for the rest of the play
  • Most important points in this text are based on this contrast between appearance and reality
  • The scene closes as we and the audience are really none the wiser about what is happening
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The last line is: ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and the filthy air’

  • Seems to reinforce the idea that this is a frightening mysterious world where the supernatural holds some power
  • The fact that Shakespeare structures the play so as to show this to the audience first is quite significant, clearly he wants to establish that the supernatural and this very dark atmosphere will have a strong kind of firm, you know, importance in the play.
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Form and Structure_1

When the witches speak in scene 1 they speak in rhyme fair’/’air’: known as rhyming couplets where you’ve got 2 lines that rhyme with each other and then the next 2 lines rhymes with each other, etc.

Shakespeare was a master of language and what he did was he chose different styles of language to signify the importance or the rank of the person speaking. E.g. noble characters: Iambic Pentameter: where you have 5 stressed and 5 unstressed syllables in a line.

  • ‘And fixed his head upon our battlements
  • The bold bits are where you put the emphasis when you’re reading
  • When reading like this, you can see the kind of energy
  • The stress is the technical term but the kind of power the emphasis is on every other syllable.
  • This gives a sort of singsong quality to the lines
  • If you replace the words with sound it would be like: de dum de dum de dum de dum de dum, this is blank verses
  • Shakespeare uses blank verse a lot, it simply means the words don’t have to rhyme but it must be written in iambic pentameter.
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Form and Structure_2

This is different to the witches because their lines rhyme and they speak in a slightly different way

Shakespeare does this in all of his plays and it’s really important because the sort of characters like witches that don’t use iambic pentameter

The witches use of rhyming couplets gives a very sinister act to the play, like a nursery rhyme but much darker and full of evil

Difficult to appreciate the effect of these which is now in the 21st century but to us, we might think rhyming spells is kind of silly and childish but not at all in Shakespeare’s time where witchcraft was held much more seriously.

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Form and Structure_3

The way witched talk is known as Trochaic Tetrameter

  • Trochaic is opposite of iambic so where the iambic contains 2 syllables with the first one unstressed and second one stressed. A trochaic is the other way around, stressed followed by an unstressed.
    • E.g. 'Fair is foul and foul is fair'
      • The bold are the words that are stressed
      • Stressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed, unstressed, stressed
    • Tetrameter means there are four pairs of these trochaic and the trochaic tetrameter added to the rhyming couplets makes for an entertaining scene and a clear break on Shakespeare’s part between the witches and the other characters in the play
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