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Macbeth - Act 4 Scene 1: Discuss the Dramatic Potential in this scene

Categories: Macbeth

“Macbeth” is a play that revolves initially round a brave warrior, who is loyal to his king. This can be seen, as he fights for his king with so much courage and bravery. He fights his way through a whole army on his own. The king thanks him, and promotes him to Thane of Cawdor. After this battle, he meets three witches. During this meeting he is with Banquo, a good friend. The witches tell Macbeth, that he will become Thane of Cawdor and then king.

They predict that Banquo’s children shall become king.

Quote: ‘All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!….. All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be King hereafter / Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none:’

At the time this play was written. People really believed in witches. They would have run away, however Macbeth and Banquo stayed. The audience watching this play at the time it was written would have found this unusual. After hearing the news, Macbeth changes.

He is filled with ambition. He wants to know more. Soon after he writes a letter to his wife telling her about the witches. She thinks of a plan, to make Macbeth king. When Duncan (the king), comes to stay at Macbeth’s castle, Lady Macbeth drugs the guards and Macbeth kills Duncan while he is sleeping.

The next morning after hearing about their father’s death, Duncan’s two sons run away to England. They fear for their lives, however people start to point the finger at them, for Duncan’s murder.

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As there are no heirs to the throne, Macbeth crowns himself king. Macbeth then tries to find the witches, and meets up with them. This is the start Act 4 Scene 1. The fact that Macbeth has actually gone to find the witches makes this scene different from any other. At the time of Shakespeare, people would have been afraid of witches and they would have run away.

The play, Macbeth, is dramatic. To build up the drama and make Macbeth appear dramatic, Shakespeare has had to twist the story and use things that would have been shocking to the audience, such as witches. Act 4 Scene 1 is based on the witches and the apparitions. Shakespeare has built up the tension by using thunder, witches, chanting and the potion making. The thunder has been used only when the witches appear. The audience realizes that something evil is going to take place and the witches will enter the stage. It is all to do with the fact that thunder is associated with evil. Shakespeare has also hinted that something wicked was going to take place through the chanting. Read compare and contrast Macbeth and Banquo analysis

Quote: ‘In the poisoned entrails throw…… Sweltered venom sleeping got,’

The words poisoned entrails, and venom indicate evil content and this helps to build up the tension of the play. After chanting and making the potion, a fourth witch, Hecate refers to music and song. This helps to build impact, as music and song are rhythmic, and people believed that rhythm was also associated with evil. More drama has been added to the scene, when Macbeth enters. The entrance of Macbeth would have been a shock to the audience. Straight away, the audience would think differently of Macbeth. As witches were thought of as supernatural, people would have been scared of them. However, Macbeth has gone looking for them. As soon as he enters, he doesn’t ask the witches anything, he demands.

This can be seen as he says, ‘How now you secret, black, and midnight hags! What is’t you do?’ However he does not seem fearful. A reaction such as this one would make Macbeth’s behaviour very dramatic. This dramatic behaviour is shown through his actions and words. He commands them to tell him about his future. He doesn’t seem to care what happens, but he wants to know. Macbeth goes to such an extreme, that he says, ‘Even till destruction sicken: answer me.’ After hearing this, the audience would be put to the edge of their seats. They would begin to think that these words will come back to haunt Macbeth and that this will lead to disaster. There would be a sense of fear in what is to come as the play progresses.

The tension that has been building throughout the scene still builds as the scene carries on. The witches begin to entice Macbeth to come to them.

Quote: First Witch ‘Speak’

Second Witch ‘Demand’

Third Witch ‘We’ll answer’

First Witch ‘Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths, Or from our


The above quote shows that they want him to come to them and go deeper in to evil by hearing it from their master. This increases the drama of the play as the audience becomes increasingly curious and scared that there is a bigger evil than the witches. Macbeth then replies to the witches, by saying, ‘ Call’em, let me see ’em.’ If an audience watching the play in the olden days when Shakespeare was still alive, heard this, they would be very frightened about the events that will take place afterwards, and how the story will twist. This is because Macbeth is now showing absolutely no fear and he is not even shaken by the fact that he is about to witness the ultimate evil.

During the time Macbeth is with the witches, he is also shown three apparitions. These apparitions are hinting Macbeth about what is going to happen in the future. However the apparitions can be interpreted in many different ways. The three apparitions reinforce the evil doings of the witches, and add to the tension of the play. The audience would start to try to interpret the apparitions themselves. As this would be the case, they could start to build a picture of they think might happen in the remainder of the play.

Even whilst seeing the apparitions, Macbeth seems to be demanding and fearless, as he quotes: ‘Tell me, thou unknown power.’ This reinforces the fact that he is no longer the loyal and brave person he was before. The audience would find this frightening, because they know that Macbeth has changed forever. The audience will start to feel that Macbeth is not scared of evil, because he has been transformed from a good person to an evil one by the witches. This would grip the audience, as they might start to think that if the witches can turn Macbeth in to a bad person, they will try to do the same to everyone. The whole world would be doomed.

The first apparition is of an armed head. This would seem dramatic to the audience and would make them curious, as to what is meant by the armed head. The second apparition is of a bloody child. This would not seem very dramatic to an audience watching Macbeth now, but it would have seemed dramatic to an audience of Shakespeare’s time. This is because, now they would show such things in films, however in those days it would have been rare to see such things. The second apparition tells Macbeth that a man who is not born of a woman can only harm him. Again we see a glimpse of Macbeth’s changing attitude and character. He quotes:

‘Then live Macduff, what need I fear of thee?’

This shows that Macbeth has also become very arrogant. This adds to the drama of the play, because it reinforces the fact that Macbeth is changing and that the power of being king has been too much for him to handle. He has now been weakened. The apparitions, help in making the audience guess the rest of the play. This is what grips the audience and makes the play successful. The third apparition is a child crowned, with a tree in his hand. This apparition tells Macbeth that he cannot be vanquished until, Great Birnam Wood, will come to High Dunsinane Hill. The apparition will again grip the audience, as it has many interpretations.

The audience would start to think about how this apparition will affect Macbeth’s reign as king, and how Shakespeare will use it to twist the storyline. However Macbeth is again arrogant, and refuses to think that this could happen. He therefore ignores it. Instead he asks the witches to tell him more about Banquo’s sons. When he is shown that eight generations of Banquo will become king, he starts to show his anger and fears for his throne. The apparition, and what it has indicated to Macbeth would excite an audience watching the play. This is because the audience knows that Macbeth the weaknesses in Macbeth are beginning to show, and that these weaknesses could lose him his throne.

Nearing the end of the scene, Macbeth theatens to kill Macdufff’s family.

Quote: ‘Seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword

His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls

That trace him in his line.

As this is the most dramatic part of the scene, it comes nearer to the end. This is because, the tension being built up throughout the scene, was made to lead up to this threat to Macduff’s family. This also shows, the change in Macbeth’s character. It is showing the audience that he has become ruthless, and he feels that killing is the only way out. The tension is being built up through the apparitions and the witches, and also Macbeth’s behaviour. The apparitions can be interpreted in many different ways and Macbeth is changing constantly with a very fearless approach to the witches.

Firstly, looking at the language of the witches it can be seen, that, at the beginning of the scene, they are chanting in rhyme. However, this is the way that the witches speak throughout the scene, and this makes them different to any other person, because of the way they speak. They also mention ‘poisoned entrails’ and ‘venom’ at the start of the scene. This indicates that there is evil content going in to the potion. A lot of the ingredients for the witches’ potion are of animals, humans, plants, and what we call myths today. The second witch concentrates on the animal contents. The animals parts mentioned are, ‘Eye of newt’ ‘toe of frog’ ‘wool of bat’ ‘tongue of dog’ ‘adder’s fork’ ‘blind-worm’s sting’ ‘lizards leg’ and ‘howlet’s wing.’

For an audience watching the play, this would have seemed very gruesome. The third witch gives reference to animals, plants, humans, and mythical animals, or animals that are hard to capture. The animals mentioned are ‘wolf’ ‘shark’ and ‘goat.’ The plants used are ‘hemlock’ and ‘Yew.’ There is human content too, such as, ‘Jew’ ‘Turk’ ‘Tartar’ ‘babe’ ‘drab’. It would have been shocking for an audience to hear about some of the things that the witches were putting in the potion. However, some of the things mentioned, would not seem very horrible to the audience watching the play at the time of Shakespeare. These include the use of, Jews, Turks and Tartars, because they are all non Christians.

At the time Shakespeare wrote the play, people were very racist. However the witches didn’t believe in any religion because they were evil. This meant that they could have been made to use parts of a Christian. However if Shakespeare had done this, the play wouldn’t have been successful. The other ingredients, however, would have seemed very horrible to the audience. As the audience already believed in witches, they would have begun to grow scared about, what the witches were going to do.

When Macbeth enters the scene, and asks the witches to tell him about what will happen in the future, they tempt him to go further in to evil.


First Witch Speak

Second Witch Demand

Third Witch We’ll answer

First Witch Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths,

Or from our masters’?

The above quote shows that the witches are trying to turn Macbeth from a good person to an evil one. The witches tell Macbeth about his future through the apparitions. These apparitions are equivocations, and are shown to Macbeth. The second and third apparitions are presented to Macbeth in the form of riddles. The three apparitions are ‘invitations to exercise you imagination. No one knows for sure quite what they look like.’ This shows that the apparitions are open to more than one interpretation, and have more than one meaning. They are combined with equivocal statements that twist the apparition and are in the form of a riddle to create confusion. In Macbeth’s case, it can be seen that the witches have misled him, as the witches know that Macbeth will interpret the apparitions in the easy way. If he thinks that what is being shown to him is not possible, then he won’t consider it a threat.

An example of this would be, when the second apparition, tells him, ‘The power of man, for none of woman born, Shall harm Macbeth.’ It is trying to say that any man that has been born through caesarian can harm Macbeth. However, in the olden days, caesarean was very rare, and Macbeth thought that it was impossible. By the end of the play, Macbeth and the audience, come to realize that the witches have been evil and misled Macbeth. They didn’t tell him what was going to happen, but they hinted it. However this shows that they had misled him.

Through the language, it can be seen that Macbeth has changed throughout the scene. At first Macbeth seems to be very demanding, and fearless. He starts off by saying, ‘I conjure you.’ This shows that Macbeth is trying to conjure evil, and shows no fear. He does not seem scared of the fact that he is meeting up with the witches. This also indicates to the audience that he could be evil himself. Macbeth also gives a whole lot of destructive and horrible things that could happen, and if these did he would not care but he wanted to know about his future. He quotes, ‘Even till destruction sicken: answer me.’ This reinforces that he is fearless of the witches, demanding and he has been taken over by ambition. However it also shows that he is desperate and fearful of his throne.

He does not want to lose it. Macbeth demands even more when the first apparition appears. He says, ‘Tell me, thou unknown power -‘ It can be seen that there are no question marks, indicating that it is not a question. This means that it is an imperative (command). The second apparition calls Macbeth three times. He replies, ‘Had I three ears, I’d hear thee.’ This shows change in his character. He seems to be arrogant. When he is told that only a man not born of a woman can harm him, Macbeth replies, ‘Then live Macduff, what need I fear of thee?’ This is a rhetorical question, however it reinforces the fact that he has changed and has now become very arrogant. Straight after he shows a sign of ruthlessness. He quotes:

But yet I’ll make assurance double sure

And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live,

That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies.

And sleep in spite of thunder.’

He is saying that he will make sure that Macduff will not live and be a threat to him and his throne.

The third apparition is also given in the form of a riddle. It has many interpretations. However he still thinks that all the apparitions are good. He thinks that they are impossible, as he quotes:

That will never be:

Who can impress the forest, bid the tree

Unfix his earthbound root? Sweet bodements, good.’

The quote above shows that Macbeth feels that the forest can never move to the hill. It can also be seen that Macbeth is sure that it will not happen. The first line of the quote is declarative. Further on, he asks to be told about Banquo’s issue. Quote:

‘Can tell so much, shall Banquo’s issue ever

Reign in this kingdom?’

It can be seen that a question mark has been used. It shows that Macbeth’s character is changing again. He has become less demanding, as he is now beginning to ask the witches to tell him about the future.

When Macbeth is shown the eight kings he changes completely. He reacts differently to when he saw the other apparitions. On page 101, line 59, he quotes, ‘Even till destruction sicken, answer me.’ When he sees the eight kings, he quotes, ‘I’ll see no more.’ This shows that near to the beginning of the scene, he was eager to know about the future, and now that he is seeing it, he does not like it and wants it to go away. There is a great difference in his personality, and he is contradicting himself.

When Macbeth responds, to the image of the eight kings, his reaction is intended to be different. This can be seen as a lot of exclamation marks, question marks and dashes have been used. It can also be seen, that when Macbeth sees something that he thinks is bad, he cannot take it. This is his downfall and it is also his weakness. Macbeth says that he does not like the sight of the eight kings. He refers to it as a ‘Horrible sight!’ He also says that ‘The crown does sear mine eyeballs.’ This indicates to the audience, that he cannot take the sight of the eight kings, because he knows they are all related to Banquo, and that his reign will not last for long. It shows that Macbeth cannot accept defeat. During the apparition, Macbeth also shows signs of fear for his throne. He is scared that Banquo’s children will reign forever. This can be seen as he quotes:

‘What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?’

Near to the end of the scene, Macbeth shows a change in character. He quotes:

‘From this moment,

The very firstlings of my hand.

By this, he means that the first things he thinks of he will do. He will not give anything a second thought. It shows that he has become more focused on keeping his throne. He then goes on to show another sign of ruthlessness. He quotes:

‘Seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword

His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls

That trace him in his line.’

It can be seen that he is threatening to kill anyone who is in Macduff’s castle, even his wife and children. This is dramatic and shocking to the audience and shows that Macduff has changed forever and will remain with evil. The witches have succeeded in making him evil. It also shows that he has become ruthless, and feels that the only way out is to kill everyone who comes in his path.

During the course of the play, it can be seen that Macbeth has changed. His mood and personality change. It seems as though he is a totally different person. At the start of the play, Macbeth can be seen as a loyal, calm, controlled and truthful soldier, who fights for the right reasons and for his king during battle. It looks as if he is unbeatable and has no weaknesses. However, after meeting the witches for the first time he changes. He is overcome with ambition. The words of the witches fill his mind with thoughts, and how he will become king. The ambition, he is filled with, is like a power. He cannot control it and this, leads to Macbeth killing the king. This again, is another turning point in Macbeth’s behaviour. His weaknesses can start to be seen. He becomes depressed and distressed. This makes his mental state of mind unstable. Once Macbeth became king, there was another change in his behaviour.

Macbeth was overwhelmed by his new power as king. He was focused on keeping his throne. As a result of this, he became violent and ruthless. He knew that Banquo, was with him, the first time they met the witches. Banquo was a threat, to Macbeth and his throne. Macbeth’s ruthlessness was shown when he arranged for Banquo’s and his son’s death. However, he now began to feel scared. He was conscious about what he had done to Banquo. His ghost haunted him. Again Macbeth showed signs of mental instability. However after killing Banquo, Fleance, his son, fled and got away. This leads to Macbeth trying to seek out the witches again, to find out what the future holds. His actions show the audience that he now has no fear of the witches. This is dramatic for the audience because witches were thought to be evil, and as a result of this, the audience would start to think that Macbeth has turned evil.

The scene where Macbeth goes to meet the witches for a second time is actually scene 4. During this scene a lot of changes in Macbeth’s behaviour begin to show. When he first enters, he is demanding and angry, as he demands to know about the future. Also no fear is shown. As the scene progresses, he shows signs of confidence. This is when he is shown the apparitions. This is because the apparitions are in form of verbal riddles. They can be interpreted in any which way, and Macbeth chooses to interpret them in the way that will suit his throne. As the apparitions seem impossible, Macbeth feels confident that nothing will harm his throne. However, Macbeth’s anger is once more unleashed, at the site of future kings, all related to Banquo. Macbeth’s, weakness is exposed. The thought of losing his throne frightens him. Macbeth feels that he must do something to keep his title as king.

By the end of the scene, it can be seen that he resorts to violence again. He shows another glimpse of ruthlessness. This is shown through a death-threat that is made to Macduff and his family. Throughout scene 4, the witches have developed the feeling of darkness, emptiness and the cold. This contributes to the feeling of wrongdoing, as witches are associated with evil. This feeling has developed from the start of the scene, from the potion to the disappearance at the end. After hearing what the witches have put in the potion, the audience would realise that something bad is going to happen, and something evil is already taking place. The witches’ disappearance also adds to the feeling of wrongdoing. This is because, disappearing in to thin air is said to be physically impossible. It expresses the fact that witches are associated with evil.

Macbeth on the Estate and the Polanski version of Macbeth, are both video versions of the play, ‘Macbeth.’ This part of the essay will be comparing the two video versions and looking at which one was most successful and why.

Looking at the Polanski version of the play of Macbeth, it can be seen that as it is a video version, the drama can be expressed in many ways. Cinematography can be used to put across a certain aspect of the play, and add extra drama. For example, music can be used to build tension within the audience. In this version of Macbeth at the start of the video, dark, scary music, with humming has been used. This music would have warned an audience that something bad is going to happen. It is also has been set in a hillside that is the desolate place. It has portrayed the witches as old naked women. This is a stereotype of witches, and during the time this play was written, this is how witches would have been thought of. Also, there is a witch with no eyes and one with no teeth.

This is again, a traditional view of witches. The Polanski version is very effective, when it comes to the witches making the potion. The audience can see little things being put in to the cauldron, and once again; people thought that this is how witches spent their time, making potions and chanting. Another special effect used in the Polanski version, is the reflection of the apparitions in the water. The drinking of the potion has triggered these apparitions. This is vital when looking at the dramatic potential of a video version. This is because on a stage, it would not have been possible to create such an effect. When Macbeth is shown the 8 kings through the mirror, a number of different effects have been used. Firstly the sound has an echo and a harsh discord. There is a wobbly camera effect as it closes in to each mirror, which is projecting the future rather than the past. This is significant, as it helps to create an everlasting vision of the future. This adds to the drama, as does the speeding up of the music. However once the apparitions are finished, the music stops and Macbeth wakes up. When he does so, the witches are gone. Right throughout this scene, the setting is dark, and dark is also traditionally associated with evil.

In comparison to the Polanski version of Macbeth, there is a modern version, called Macbeth on The Estate. In this version of the play, it can be seen that Act 4 Scene 1, has been shown in a different way. Macbeth On the Estate is set in a modern run down city. This particular scene is set in a run down flat. Unlike the Polanski version, Macbeth on the Estate has used three children as the witches. This seems very unusual, as children would normally be the good and innocent human beings in a film. There are two boys and a girl. It can also be seen that instead of Macbeth seeing the apparitions in the reflection of the water, he sees them through a net curtain. In this modern video version of Macbeth, nothing has been used to trigger the apparitions, unlike in the Polanski version, where he drinks the potion.

In fact, this video version does not show the witches making a potion. During these apparitions, there is music playing in the background. This music sounds like a clock ticking. It is intended to build tension within an audience. Each apparition fades in and fades out. There are close ups of the children’s faces, who are telling him the apparitions. The camera zooms in and out of Macbeth’s face. Candles have been used as lighting, and children’s toys have been used between the apparitions.

Witches are and were normally associated with cauldrons and the making of potions, however in the Macbeth on the Estate version of the play, the making of potions in a cauldron, has not been used. This is different in comparison to the Polanski version of the play. Also, by the end of the scene, Macbeth pulls back the curtain, and sees that the witches are gone and so are all the candles and toys. Looking back at the Polanski version, it can be seen that he wakes up to find everything gone. This adds to the tension of the play by making the audience want to more about the apparitions, and makes them worried about what the witches will do next.

After analysing the two versions of the play, I think that the Polanski version of the play is more successful. This is because it is more traditional and gets the audiences attention by portraying the witches in a way that they would be seen, for example, one eye and no teeth. I feel that it was more effective than the modern version, because of the effects used. The contrast has been kept low and in the Polanski version, the scene is set in a big cave with a lot of space outside of it. These factors affect the mood and tone of the scene. The music in the background is loud and has a sharp discord. This gives an increasing haunted feel to the play.

Another factor affecting the successfulness of the scene is the witches. They play a big role in the play and must have affect on the audience. I think that in the Polanski version, the use of old women, with no teeth or an eye, was more effective than the Macbeth on the Estate version, which used children as witches. Children are normally considered as the innocent people; however, using them to create horror and drama does not work too well as an audience would find it hard to believe.

The above reasons are the main reasons why I feel the Polanski version was more successful than Macbeth on the Estate.

After looking back at Act 4 Scene 1, have learned a lot about the way Shakespeare has added drama to the play through this scene. During the course of scene 1, Macbeth’s character has changed a lot, and by the end of it, it continues to change. This shows the audience, that Macbeth is not psychologically stable, and this will have great affect on what is about to happen. The scene is also aimed at adding drama, by using witches and their evil doings. The person who is affected most is Macbeth, and his involvement in evil, gives a hint to the audience that something tragic will happen as the play progresses.

The purpose of Act 4 Scene 1 is to add drama to the play, and it is the turning point. It is like a link between the beginning and end, because it shows how much Macbeth has changed, and it also is the scene that revolves round the witches and witchcraft. It includes the apparitions and shows how these visions affect Macbeth’s character. As a result of this, it can be shown in a number of different ways; either on stage or for a film, using several techniques to build the drama.

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Macbeth - Act 4 Scene 1: Discuss the Dramatic Potential in this scene. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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