MACBETH ANALYSIS OF ACT 4 SCENE 1 ANALYSIS OF ACT 4 SCENE 1 Act 4 begins in the most dramatic way and immediately arrests the audience's attention. An atmosphere of deadly evil is built up as the scene progresses. How is this atmosphere created? (i) By stagecraft techniques: Shakespeare directed that the scene be heralded by thunder (as are the two other witches' scenes in the play), but every director will add his or her own individual touches to the presentation to increase its impact. (ii) The stereotypical presentation: the witches are gathered around a "boiling cauldron" in a "cave on the moor". They are in the process of creating an evil spell. Here Shakespeare is presenting a stereotypical vision of witches: they are exactly what the audience would have expected in both behaviour and appearance. Witchcraft was regarded as a powerful and widespread phenomenon in Shakespeare’s time and many learned books were available on the supposed appearance of witches, their practices and powers. Most people believed in witches and feared their powers. (iii) The ritualistic element of the witches' spell: Three is a very powerful number in witchcraft and Shakespeare plays on this well known fact: there are three witches and the first two witches start the scene with a repetition of "thrice". Each witch chants her element of the charm and after each individual’s contribution, they join to chant the chorus "Double, double, etc." It is reminiscent of the chant in Act 1, Scene 3 in which the witches wind up the less powerful charm against the Master of the Aleppo: "Thrice to thine and thrice to mine And thrice again to make up nine." (iv) The content of the witches' chant: the ingredients that are thrown into cauldron are unpleasant, unnatural or exotic. The vegetable matter was typical - just what the audience would have expected: hemlock and yew (both plants very closely linked with witchcraft), gathered, of course, in darkness, both natural (night) and unnatural ("moon's eclipse"). But what gives this chant its power to fascinate and yet repel are its animal and human ingredients. Many of the animals referred to were feared and disliked by Shakespeare's audience because of their connection to evil and witchcraft: "snakes", "toads", "newts", "frogs", "bats", "lizards", "owls". As the spell moves towards its climax, the ingredients change from the body parts of animals with which the audience would have been familiar to more exotic animals: "dragons", "wolf", "shark". Finally, the ingredients include human remains: "liver of blaspheming Jew", "nose of Turk", "Tartars' lips", "witch's mummy", "finger of birth-strangled babe". This development into human mutilation makes the charm a genuinely repulsive and fearful concoction. Even today, such images are deeply offensive to the human imagination. What made it more powerful for the Shakespearean audience was that the bodily parts came from classes of humans that were regarded as inherently evil or vicious: Jews, Turks, Tartars, a whore's bastard. The spell would have frightened or disturbed the Shakespearean audiences. Shakespeare deliberately chose ingredients that were mentioned in publications as being typical of a witch's spell. Even worse, all the ingredients could only have been obtained as a result of the death of a living creature. Here the witches are moving from their earlier type of witchcraft that was unpleasant but not deadly, "though his bark cannot be lost" (Act 1, Sc. 3, line 34) into necromancy - magic that involves death. (v) The structure and rhythm of the witches' chant: The overall structure of the chant has already been noted, but the structure of the lines is also worth close study. Shakespeare breaks from his normal iambic pentameter and adopts a shorter, more punchy rhythm. Most of the lines have 3 ½ trochees per line, so that there are four heavy stresses in a very short line with a heavy stressed syllable at the beginning and end of every line. The regular rhyme scheme of rhyming couplets is already a heavy, thumping rhythm. This simple, yet strong, repetitive rhythm creates an hypnotic effect that is suitable for a powerful, spell- binding chant. The first line of the chorus is lengthened by an unstressed syllable and the second line is strengthened by beginning with two stressed syllables: "Fire burn". These changes are slight enough to give the thrice repeated chorus extra weight. The overall rhythm is frequently given extra definition by alliteration: "Lizard's leg", "mummy maw", "salt-sea shark", "gall of goat", "ditch - deliver'd by a drab", "toil and trouble". (vi) This scene also has much thematic power. It is the final of the three witches' scenes (notice the number) and it is the longest and most powerful. It reaches the climax of evil and finally springs the trap on Macbeth that has gradually been closing throughout the play. As well as carrying the main burden of the theme of supernatural evil that has such a powerful role in the play, this scene also links into the "feasting" theme that runs through it. The philosophy of Shakespeare's time revered eating and sleeping as being sacredly inviolable activities. They were life-giving essentials that every human needed. In this play, Macbeth violates the sanctity of both. Duncan is murdered while sleeping after a great feast; the grooms are offered "wine and wassail" and shortly afterwards murdered; Banquo is killed while a great banquet is being held in his honour. With fitting irony, the witches prepare an "evil feast" during which Macbeth will be lured to his eventual doom. As the climax of the chant is reached; the audience is appalled by the build up of evil; but the witches' next words make us suddenly aware that the pinnacle of evil has not yet been reached, for "By the pricking of my thumbs", the second witch knows something really evil is approaching - it is, of course, Macbeth. Lines 48-61: After such a powerful start to Act 4, Shakespeare could not risk Macbeth's entrance being less powerful, so he has him slamming into the witches' cavern full of reckless bravado and unflinching determination. There is no question of his fearing the witches now as he did at their first meeting when their "horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock against my ribs". (Act 1 Scene 3, lines 135-.) He insults them as he enters, "secret, black and midnight hags", demands to know what they are up to, but pays scant attention to their answer, which is in fact an ominous warning" "A deed without a name". He is interested only in securing his future and he demands the right to have his questions answered. His verse then picks up the dramatic tension already engendered in the scene and rushes powerfully towards a climax by the structural device of piling clause upon clause, each being introduced by "though". The subject matter of the verse picks up the decision he made in earlier scenes: that his own good must come before every other consideration. (See Act 3, Scene 2, line 16 and Act 3, Scene 4, lines 135-6.) Here in these lines, this idea is developed. He has made the decision to pursue his own security whatever the cost to the rest of the world. This is not a decision he had made lightly with only a hazy idea of what the outcome might be. His words show that he is fully conscious of the destruction he could bring about by this dabbling in the supernatural for his own ends. Nevertheless, he is willing to take the risk and allow the world to suffer the consequences, if the worst happens. Each of the eight clauses of this speech shows that he understands the enormity of the havoc he could wreak. Notice the power of the last clause - he is willing to contemplate a world-destroying holocaust as long as he can get answers to the questions that consume him. This vision of final and total destruction acts as a natural climax to the speech. Here we see a new aspect of Macbeth's character. He is commanding, powerful, reckless, ruthless and cold blooded; he is totally committed to the preservation of his own safety and well-being. This selfish egoism is a trait of character that emerged after the early experiences of Kingship and will develop strongly as the play progresses. The witches are eager to accommodate Macbeth, (lines 61-68). They offer him the chance to gain the information he seeks from the spirits that are the source of their power. Macbeth roughly and quickly demands their presence: "Call "em! Let me see 'em!" Macbeth is delighted with the information given to him by the apparitions. He is desperate to receive comfort and a sense of security. The first message confirms him in his earlier suspicions of Macduff and reinforces his confidence in his own judgement. It gives him a false sense of assurance which prevents him from analysing critically the favourable information fed to him by the second and third apparitions. Both seem to smooth away his greatest fears: no man can harm him and he need never fear being toppled from the throne of Scotland. His eagerness to grasp these straws of comfort blinds him to the warnings conveyed by the very appearance of the messenger spirits. (i) the armed head: an image of violent death in battle; Macbeth killed Macdonwald and then beheaded him and fixed his head upon the battlements; Macbeth will suffer the same fate in battle. (ii) a bloody child: Macduff was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped" (Act 5 Scene 7, lines 44-5) and would therefore have been a baby covered in blood. (iii) a child, crowned, with a tree in his hand. The child of Duncan, the rightful king of Scotland, will command his troops to cut down branches from the trees at Birnam Wood to camouflage their numbers as they advance on Dunsinane. Lines 83-86: Notice that even though he has been told to fear no man, Macbeth still decides to kill Macduff - to be absolutely sure he need not fear a threat from that quarter. Notice also that the benefits he looks forward to as a result of the assurances he has just received are: freedom from fear "I may tell pale heart'd fear it lies" and the ability to sleep again: "And sleep in spite of thunder". Lines 95-100: Macbeth happily and uncritically accepts the surface comfort of the apparitions' messages and shows no doubt of their veracity. He rejoices that he will never be plagued by ghostly appearances, such as Banquo’s, again: "Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood of Birnam rise" and delightedly anticipates living to a ripe old age as king and dying only when his natural span of life is finished: "our high plac'd Macbeth Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath To time and mortal custom." Lines 100-132: However, when Macbeth arrived at the witches' cavern, he was beset by fears not only for his own future, but also by fears for the future of his descendants. So far, he has received comfort only for himself. Now he wishes to have an answer to his second question: "Shall Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom?" This is the question the witches did not want Macbeth to ask because they knew the answer would "grieve his heart". Shakespeare decided to present the answer as a "dumb show" with Macbeth giving an ever more frenzied and despairing commentary as the lengthening line of Banquo's descendants, each with crowns and kingly ornaments, appears. Shakespeare pays a gracious compliment to the newly crowned King James (who was one of Banquo's descendants) by showing the eighth king bearing a mirror to represent the line of kings carrying on to eternity. The procession is more awe-inspiring and impressive than the earlier apparitions and Macbeth's despairing howls create an excellent dramatic foil to the stately silence of the line of kings. Scarcely believing his own judgement as it tells him his hopes for the future are dashed, Macbeth asks the witches if his interpretation of the dumb show is correct: "What, is this so?" They confirm it is and perform a comic dance, "antick round" around Macbeth. Their disrespectful antics are explained with heavy irony as being their way of paying him, "this great king", the homage he deserves; the implication being that as he is a violent and bloody usurper, he can expect little respect. Lines 135-141: The witches disappear and Macbeth calls on Lennox, who has been waiting outside the cavern, to find out if he has seen them leave. Lennox then informs Macbeth that a messenger has just arrived with the news that Macduff has fled to England. Lines 144-155: Macbeth, thwarted in his plans to murder Macduff, makes a vow to act immediately upon decisions made, in the future: “From this moment. The very firstlings of my heart shall be The firstlings of my hand.” Infuriated by dashed hopes for the future and vexed at having let Macduff slip from his grasp, he decides, there and then, to seize Fife castle and murder all Macduff's family. He icily enumerates the family members he will "give to the edge of the sword": "Macduff's wife, his babes and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line." It is as if, having been denied the prospect of descendants, Macbeth now wants to snatch away that blessing from others. This is the first decision of his new regime and it will be carried out immediately: "To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done."