Ok, remember that I was only 16 when I first read Macbeth and even though I claim it is my favorite Shakespeare play I honestly don’t think I got much out of it.
This realization came to me as I read Act 1 this week. Holy moly, Mr. Shakespeare does pack a lot into those seven scenes and really sets the stage (pun intended!) for what is to come.
The summary: Three witches prophesize that Macbeth – already Thane of Glamis – will also become Thane of Cawdor and will also become King. Macbeth thinks that they are just a bunch of crazy old women, but when he receives word that he will be named Thane of Cawdor by King Duncan, he begins to think that becoming King one day is within the realm of possibility. However, when Duncan names his son Malcolm his heir (apparently the title of King was not automatically inherited by blood at that time) Macbeth begins to feel jealous, but knows he must not display these sentiments in public:
… Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires (Scene 4, lines 50-51)
The action then moves to Macbeth’s home (castle) and we are introduced to his wife, Lady Macbeth. We can immediately tell that her ambitions for her husband equal or surpass his own, and when she learns Duncan and his entourage will be visiting the Macbeths, she sets a plot in motion. Macbeth, however, begins to have second thoughts, appreciating the favor Duncan has bestowed upon him; but his wife will have none of his. The act closes with Macbeth realizing what must be done, but he is still obviously unsettled:
I am settled, and bend up Each corporal agent to this terrible feat. Away, and mock the time with fairest show. False face must hide what the false heart doth know (Scene 7, lines 80-84)
In this reading I was surprised to see how quickly the action begins; there is no explanation of backstory – why Lady Macbeth is so ambitious, for example. But then I remember that Shakespeare wrote the plays to be performed, not read, and from that perspective this act makes a lot of sense.
Are you reading along with us? What are your thoughts on Act 1?