Macbeth Act I Key Quotes and Explanations

“when the hurlyburly’s done.” The three witches will meet again once the”hurly-burly” (battle, turmoil) is done.The witches specifically throughout the entire play use a number of paradoxes and contradictions to foreshadow the future events, this being the first, and referring to the loss of a battle from the perspective of one army but its victory from the perspective of another.Of course, the witches’ prophecies will play fast and loose with what might be called a “victory” when they see Macbeth and Banquo.
“ere the set of sun.” The battle mentioned by the Second Witch will finish before sunset.There is also a motif in the play of items that appear to be concluded but are not, for instance, Banquo’s return. Here, the third sister adds a slightly arrhythmic third line to a previously completed couplet.
“fair is foul, and foul is fair.” predicts that things that are good will become bad and things that are bad will become good—and suggests these opposites are interrelated.The witches are referring, among other things, to themselves. They look ugly, but the predictions they eventually give to Macbeth seem awfully attractive to him. Their prophecy also resonates with Macbeth’s character (a virtuous hero turned…well, keep reading) and with the unbalanced fair/foul weather and natural phenomena that occur throughout Macbeth.Also, the witches could talking about themselves, because what they see as fair looks foul to everyone else, and the other way around.This line is also an early example of paradox, which is a common trope in Macbeth.
“as two spent swimmers, that do cling together And choke their art.” Shakespeare describes the battle between the rebel Macdonwald and King Duncan’s men using imagery of two drowning swimmers, clawing at each other as they struggle to stay alive, death equally likely for either. Note that when Macbeth arrives, the battle quickly turns in Duncan’s favor, and Macbeth ultimately kills Macdonwald himself, ripping him “from the nave to th’ chops.
“Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel, Which smoked with bloody execution, Like valour’s minion” laughing at Luck, chopped his way through to Macdonwald, who didn’t even have time to say good-bye or shake hands before Macbeth split him open from his navel to his jawbone and stuck his head on our castle walls.
“Fan our people cold” mock the Scottish sky and cause fear in the hearts of the people.Given the rest of the speech, it is likely that this line should be in past tense, i.e., did flout the sky.
Dismay’s not this our captains…?” Sergeant, “Yes; As sparrows eagles, or the hare the lion.” Didn’t this frighten our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?
“The charm’s wound up” The three sisters dance in a circle until they have turned around 9 times (3 times for each sister) while holding hands in order to make their charm or spell work.Nine; might also refer the human length of gestation.The number nine has other interesting links such as, angels and the levels of heaven.
“If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not…” Banquo is confused as to why the witches are predicting Macbeth’s future, which seems to be full of greatness (“present grace and great prediction”— Banquo perceives the witches’ greeting and acknowledgement of Macbeth to be bound up with their vision of his greatness), but they have yet to say a word about Banquo.Banquo then tries to get the witches to predict his future (because he is obviously interested), which they do in the following lines.
“What, can the devil speak true?” Banquo shows his disbelief at what has just happened. He’s amazed that what the witches predicted has so far come true (Macbeth has become Thane of Cawdor), and afraid that this is the devil’s work.
“why do you dress me in borrow’d robes?” Macbeth is asking Angus why he is being promoted to Thane of Cawdor when the Thane of Cawdor is still living.
“swelling act/Of the imperial theme” The witches have been proved right on two counts: they correctly discerned that Macbeth was the Thane of Glamis, and now he has inherited the title of the Thane of Cawdor.He is hoping that the third and largest truth will come true as well and he would become king of Scotland.
“That suggestion…” He recognizes that this is great news and should be making him very happy, but instead he’s terrified. Good news seems terrible to him, or, as the witches said earlier in this play :Fair is foul and foul is fair.He closes that thought by essentially chiding himself for freaking out over nothing.
“Without my stir.” Macbeth is saying here that if the witches are right and he really is fated to be king, he won’t need to do anything to make that happen. It’s fate, after all.
“New honors come upon him,/Like our strange garments, cleave not their mould but with the aid of use.” Banquo compares Macbeth’s new title to new clothes that don’t fit well, but says they’ll grow in over time. Keep this line in mind; it’s a comparison we’ll hear again.
“There’s no art/To find the mind’s construction in the face.” This is saying that one’s face cannot truly give away what the brain is thinking. This phrase is very ironic, for Duncan will be murdered by an act of deception.
“I have begun to plant thee, and will labour/To make thee full of growing” The imagery at this point in the scene largely refers to growth and fertility. The king clearly sees Macbeth as a potential successor: “I have begun to plant thee, and will labour / To make thee full of growing” (28-29). The metaphor is continued by Banquo, who promises the king that, if he too is allowed to grow in the king’s favor, he will dedicate “the harvest” to Duncan.
“The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, For in my way it Lies.” In order to become king, Macbeth has to get around Malcolm. This means that he might have to murder him. If Macbeth does not get around Malcolm, he will fall to his demise.There is also probably some light punning on “cumber” — the Prince of Cumberland is an encumbrance that Macbeth must o’erleap to become king.
“Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires:” displays how quickly Macbeth jumps to murdering the king and is not influenced as much by Lady Macbeth as we are made to believe. Many claim that Lady Macbeth is the one to push Macbeth over the edge to killing the king but this simple line is proof enough that his intentions were clear from the very beginning. This demonstrates the speed at which Macbeth is corrupted by the promise of power and leaves his honorable ascent into power to instead take it by treason and murder.
“The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.” Macbeth has just discovered that King Duncan named his son Malcolm as his successor, which creates another obstacle for Macbeth to overcome. He has decided to do what he needs to in order to become King, but knows that he may regret such actions. This statement illustrates those conflicted feelings: Let my eye not see what my hand does, yet let me be successful.
“Hie thee hither, That I may pour my spirits in thine ear; And chastise with the valour of my tongue All that impedes thee from the golden round…” Lady Macbeth is administering verbal evil and poison into the ear of Macbeth. This is a contribution to Macbeth’s decision to murder King Duncan. She urges him home—she’s made up her mind and helps make up his.
“That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose…” reference to Lady Macbeth getting her period, rendering her more emotional and thus more likely to let her remorse and guilt stop her. She needs her blood to be thick and unflowing, giving no access nor passage to the womb, the centre of womanly compassion and goodness.Lady Macbeth considers her murderous intent as the exact opposite of female nature — if she gives in for an instant, she may give in to her weak womanly feelings and spare Duncan.Therefore she wants her period and her breast-milk — the symbols of female nature as the life-giver and nurturer — stripped away.
“And when goes hence?” Ramping up the sense of irony here.’And when is he leaving?’, uttered from her lips means when shall he be dispatched from this mortal coil as opposed to his initial idea of his leaving to continue his reign.These battlements truly do belong to Lady Macbeth
“This guest of summer, The temple-haunting martlet, does approve, By his loved mansionary, that the heaven’s breath Smells wooingly here:” It’s saying that it’s usually nice and lovely where the birds breed and haunt. Banquo is saying that Macbeth’s home only looks nice or “fair” on the outside, but it could only be a deception of the real “foulness” that’s hiding under it.
“…this even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice To our own lips.” What goes around comes around. He who commits an act will experience the same.The Killing Duncan will result in Macbeth being killed.
“I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on the other.” This shows how Macbeth recognises he is dangerously ambitious and alludes to a man jumping onto a horse and missing all together. Because of this, the commitment of the deed is all the more ironic.
“Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’ Like the poor cat i’ the adage?” Macbeth was a real person, and he did indeed overthrow Duncan to gain the throne of Scotland. However, it should be noted that Duncan was not the nice person Shakespeare made him out to be – he was a tyrant – and Macbeth was not the vacillating catspaw of an ambitious wife. In fact, after the overthrow of Duncan, Macbeth was elected king by the Scottish nobles and reigned for 17 years.
“I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.” Despite the love she might have for the infant, she would abruptly stop the baby in the middle of breast feeding, and murder it by smashing its head in, if she had promised Macbeth that she would do so.Lady Macbeth says this because Macbeth is getting cold feet about going through with the murder of King Duncan. By demonstrating how cold and ruthless she is, Lady Macbeth comes out looking more like a man in comparison to Macbeth, who is weak willed in comparison to his wife’s determination
“Bring forth men-children only;” Macbeth says that Lady Macbeth is so fearless, so ruthless that she should never give birth to anything that isn’t masculine — ONLY MEN. Another association of masculinity and cruelty.
“Away, and mock the time with fairest show: False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” Macbeth is back in agreement with the assassination attempt. He tells Lady Macbeth to go and put on the face of a good hostess to hide the evil lurking in her heart.

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