Macbeth Readalong – Act 1


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?



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4 Responses to Macbeth Readalong – Act 1

  1. One thing I love to keep in mind when reading this is that the origin of the contemporary word “fate” is “wyrd;” hence, Shakespear’s “Weird Sisters” are actually Sisters of Fate. This is also why they are often compared to the Moirai of Greek Mythology (The Three Fates), whose powers were similar.

  2. gsjonuk says:

    I still have the Macmillan Shakespeare edition I was issued in Mr. Smelski’s class. I’m not sure why it didn’t get returned. I opened it up just now to skim thought the first Act.

    I loved how Duncan opened Scene 6 with, “This castle hath a pleasant seat.” Emotional Intelligence, specifically social awareness does not seem to be one of his Kingly strengths. Lady Macbeth’s overpowering ambition really should have tipped his spider senses.

    I also enjoyed reading the Macbeth soliloquy that started Scene 7. This is right before the couple’s face-off moment where Lady D screws her man’s courage to the sticking-place. It is a beautiful metaphor infested passage which ends richly with: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself and falls on the other -”
    I’ve always been confused by this line. First he says he has no ambition then he says he has some but it’s jumpy and flawed. He was a mess and all over the place; making him easy putty. I wonder what his fate would be without his fiery wife. Choosing good people to surround us is key, and at the same time, that’s easier said than done.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Sue. It was a wonderful re-visit.

  3. I also felt like the action was rather hurried in Act I, but, like you mentioned, I’m sure this plays out better on the stage. And maybe I’m just comparing Macbeth to other Shakespearean tragedies where the action takes longer to speed up.

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