Opening Scene of “Macbeth”


A Short Comment on the opening scene of Macbeth.

‘Macbeth’, one of the greatest tragedies of William Shakespeare immediately preceded ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. In this tragedy Macbeth, the opening scene is extremely vital because the opening scene perfectly sets up the mood and the atmosphere symbolically. And on the basis of this opening scene, the readers/viewers will find that the main actions of the play are going to happen. The opening scene of Macbeth consists of only twelve lines. But this unusual short scene undoubtedly strikes the keynote of the play. In the opening scene, we have found three ‘Witches’ are gathered in an open place in a thunderstorm. They agreed to reassemble on the moorland before sunset to meet Macbeth. And here we find that the Witches awaiting the issue of the battle.

The opening scene of Macbeth reveals an ‘open place’ far away from the world of ordinary men. The atmosphere is eerie and mystic. Our known world is a stranger here. The weather is agile and unfriendly. The expression “fog and filthy air” embalms an unhealthy atmosphere which is ominous to mankind. The world of “three weird sisters” or the witches bears a stark contrast to the human world. The rhythmical note of this scene is an important feature of the languages of the witches. This adds a flavour of magic and mystery to this play. In line 4, ‘When the battle’s lost and won’, and line 11, ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ a curious paradox is offered. The world of the witches reversely matches the human world. The world to which the audience is introduced in the opening scene is one of confused value; it is a world turned upside down – a veritable hell where values have been reversed. Every inch of this short opening scene creates a dilemma, confusion, suspicion and eerie curiosity to the readers or the audiences. An ominous and abysmal darkness and unhealthiness are trying to get a triumph over the goodness of mankind. The witches are the representatives of this odd and evil. They are the agents of the darkness that is trying constantly to remove the last trace of goodness from mankind.

The Scene keeps the audience in great suspense. In the middle of the opening scene comes the startling lines ‘There to meet with Macbeth’. This line gives rise to many questions: what can Macbeth, whose name gives its title, have to do with these abnormal, distasteful creatures? How does he fit into their plans? But one can easily feel that the reason behind their intention to meet Macbeth is far from good. Later we see that the Witches are greatly responsible for the damnation of Macbeth. In this context, Coleridge has pointed out: Macbeth the poet’s object was to raise the mind at once to the high tragic tone, that the audience might be ready for the precipitate consummation of guilt in the early part the play.’

The introduction of the Witches in the opening scene suggests that there are invisible forces of darkness and evil at work in the Universe. It is the Witches who to quote Verity “diffuse around them that atmosphere of guilt and evil which hang as a pall over the whole play”. Shakespeare at the very outset of the play creates a scene of doom. The opening scene has a tremendous atmospheric effect. The murky, gloomy and mysterious atmosphere leaves an impression of horror, doom and agitation on the audience.






Work Cited Page

  • Shakespeare, W., Mowat, B. A., & Werstine, P. (2013). The tragedy of Macbeth. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
  • Shakespeare, W. (1998). Macbeth. Penguin.


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