Macbeth was written sometime between 1603 and 1606 with King James in mind. The play compliments James by making his ancestor, Banquo, a hero in the play. Historically, Banquo was an accomplice in the murder of Duncan. The play also explores the issue of kingship and loyalty, which was of great importance to James. The opening scenes of the play in Macbeth are important, as they have to capture the audience’s attention.
Shakespeare achieves this by introducing them to the main characters of the play, the main aspects of the plot and also by including effective sound effects, which create a captivating atmosphere. The play opens with a meeting of three witches up on a heath with the emphasis of lightning, thunder and darkness. Shakespeare instantly creates a mood of terror and unearthly evil. The audience is immediately plunged into the midst of things and captures their attention by introducing them to the main themes, evil and good, in an effective way. The witches are highly ambiguous creatures that create a sense of mystery. As the witches do not invite Macbeth to or even suggest the idea of killing Duncan, I feel that they are only symbolic of evil and temptation, and that Macbeth is free to resist them.
“ Fair is foul and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air”In this final couplet of the witches it is shown that they are truly evil by going against gods natural order and this suggests to the audience that, through out the play, the way things may not seem the way they really are. In Shakespeare’s day there was widespread belief in the supernatural world and the existence of witches, so this opening scene would have shocked and even frightened the audience. In the following scene we switch from the shadowy world of the witches to the contrasting world of battle and action. Once again the audience is thrown into the middle of the action, a primitive and bloody battle, which is very common in Shakespeare’s plays. King Duncan’s first words in the play are: “what bloody man is that?” The image of spilled blood appears a lot in the play and it is ironic that Duncan should mention it first. The captain, who is the “bloody man”, informed King Duncan that the loyalty and bravery of Macbeth and Banquo has defeated the invading army and the traitor Thane of Cawdor.
Duncan declares that the traitor is to be executed and Macbeth is to receive his title and estates as a reward. The captain and Ross’s descriptions of the proceedings emphasise Macbeth’s heroic part in them. This is shown in the personifications- “disdaining fortune”, “valours minion”, and “Bellona’s bridegroom”. Macbeth’s savagery is praised here because it has preserved the rightful king.
But later on Macbeth’s savage character is condemned evil. It was usual in the eleventh century for the king to lead his army into battle himself, yet Duncan did not do this. This leads me to believe that Duncan is a coward for not taking part in the battle although Shakespeare conceives him as too old, not lacking vigor. Kings were believed to be god’s agents.
So if a crime was committed against the king, it was a crime against god. This scene also explores the theme of deception, portraying Macbeth to the audience in contrast to what he becomes later on in the play. By now it is clear that the play is about the struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil: light and dark. In scene three we meet Macbeth and Banquo for the first time when they meet the witches. Once again the witches are accompanied by thunder and lightning, producing a dark and evil atmosphere.
The audience, are once again placed into a contrasting situation, much different from that of the previous scene of the heroic battlefield. Macbeth enters and his first words are “ so foul and fair a day”, meaning that the battle has been foul but their victory has been splendid. These words echo those of the witches in the first scene, and suggest to the audience that maybe the witches have power over Macbeth or his character is very similar to that of the witches. The witches inform Macbeth of his future and tell him that he is to become thane of Cawdor and also king of Scotland. The audience already knows that he is to become Thane of Cawdor, so when the witches say that he is to become king, this makes you start questioning how. The witches also inform Banquo that his offspring will be king.
The witches then abruptly vanish within thin air. After the witches leave, Macbeth and Banquo briefly discuss the meeting with the witches,“Or have we eaten on the insane root”,This line suggests that Banquo is suspicious of the witches and does not trust them as much as Macbeth. Banquo also thinks that they are evil,“What! Can the devil speak true?”Macbeth does not think the same and Banquo is forced to warn Macbeth about ‘the instruments of darkness’. It is also in this scene that Macbeth says his first major soliloquy.
This is where Macbeth gives a speech to give the audience an insight in to his inner thoughts. It begins with ‘Two truths are told’, which shows that Macbeth is starting to believe in the witches too quickly. Macbeth mentions ‘murder’ in his soliloquy, yet the witches mentioned nothing about murdering anyone showing how ambitious Macbeth his to become king, but decides to leave it to fate whether or not he becomes king. Throughout this scene Macbeth has intervals of silence, and speaks differently to distinct people.
After he received the news from Ross and Angus about becoming Thane of Cawdor, his speeches are of three different types: aside, to Banquo, and to everyone and his thought dominates his speeches to Banquo. We are introduced to the imagery of clothes in line 108, ‘borrowed robes’, and line 145, ‘strange garments’. This is important, as the clothing is a very strong and powerful image of concealment and disguise, suggesting that Macbeth hides behind his clothes of kingship. The character of the person inside may not match the outside appearance; the clothes may not fit the wearer. Shakespeare has used the ‘imperfect speakers’, the witches, to unfold the events which occur in ‘Macbeth’.
They play an important part in the beginning of the play to gain the audiences interest and along with the sound effects, Shakespeare has managed to create an enticing and fascinating first three scenes. Shakespeare has used powerful imagery to represent events, emotions and themes, and involves the audience with the characters by letting them know their inner thoughts and feelings.