The Significance of the Opening Scene of Macbeth in the Thematic Development of the Play

Significance of the Opening Scene of Macbeth

Macbeth Opening Scene Analysis

The opening scene of Macbeth is one of the most striking plunges in medias res in Shakespeare. The scene begins with the witches who symbolize the powers of evil, externalizations of the corruption that exists within human nature. This suggests the major theme of the play – the evil in human nature and the consequent disruption of human nature and Nature.

It is a short scene of twelve lines. It strikes the keynote of the play – the order-disorder theme-corruption and disruption. It is a griping scene introducing us to a world of moral and physical anarchy. The witches are personified forces of disorder and conflict. They meet in thunder and lightning in a desert place only to make their appointment to meet Macbeth on the heath. They speak enigmatically. There is a vague report of a battle and a future meeting.

Amazement and mystery pervade the scene. They begin with a question: “when shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning and rain”. Nature in its destructive aspects accompanies them. They hover through the fog and filthy air. A cat mews from somewhere and a toad calls. We see neither of them, but we hear them as also the response to them of the withered women.

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The scene, though brief sets the supernatural atmosphere of the play which is central to the dramatic action. The Macbeth world is the world of moral anarchy. “Good things of day begin to droop and drowse” and “night’s black agents to their preys do rouse”. The play unfolds this world. It opens significantly in the atmosphere of moral and physical darkness and disorder. The ambiguity of the language is used by the witches – “when the battle’s lost and won”. Fair is foul, and foul is lair contribute to the mystery and terror of the play. The last two lines

Fair is foul, foul is fair” suggest the underlying forces of the play. The witches turn all moral values topsy-turvy and Macbeth has turned all moral values upside down. The Macbeth world is a nightmare world and “the weird sisters are nightmare actualised” (Wilson Knight). The rhyming couplets give the effect of an incantation, the thunder and lightning convey the confusion of the heavens, and echo the noise of battle. “Foul and fair” are the first words spoken by Macbeth (1, iii, 38); the echo establishes an unconscious contact with the witches, and is dramatically effective, anticipating the blurring of good and evil in Macbeth’s mind.

The critics have questioned the authenticity of the scene (because the witches use Trochaic tetra metre which is not Shakespeare’s usual metre -a fantastic suggestion). The witches use the natural medium of the abnormal creatures. It is a fragment of witches, Sabbath of the kind that Goethe describes in Faust. Rightly has Bradley remarked: “There is probably no parallel to it.”

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