Act I - Scene I

[A desert place.]

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.

FIRST WITCH:
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
SECOND WITCH:
When the hurlyburly's done;
When the battle's lost and won.
THIRD WITCH:
That will be ere the set of sun.(5)
FIRST WITCH:
Where the place?
SECOND WITCH:
Upon the heath.
THIRD WITCH:
There to meet with Macbeth.
FIRST WITCH:
I come, Graymalkin.
ALL:
Paddock calls. Anon!(10)
Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

Exeunt.

Footnotes

  1. Shakespeare establishes a mysterious, chilling tone and conveys one of the main themes of the play: Things are not what they seem, and the witches suggest that perhaps what is good will be bad, and what is bad will be good.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. We later learn that this is the first witch's familiar, an evil-spirit servant in the form of a cat. The word itself is likely an affectionate name for a gray cat. It was common for witches and other beings with magical power to have small animals that also had powers as companions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The Second Witch suggests that they have no allegiance to either side of the war, do not care who wins, and know nothing important will be changed. The Second Witch trivializes the war by calling it a hurlyburly, or a very active or confused situation, and shows no sympathy for those who will be killed.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Shakespeare uses this short scene to introduce these three characters and to inform the audience that they will reappear for an important meeting with the central character, Macbeth. Additionally, Shakespeare uses them in the opening to create a startling effect and a feeling of foreboding around the coming play.

    — William Delaney
  5. Some scholars argue that the witches have nothing important to communicate in this scene and that Shakespeare was instead using them as an attention-grabber. Theater audiences in his time were notoriously rowdy, especially among those who stood in the pit. This short scene is intended to attract attention, interest, and curiosity and evoke silence so that the dialogue can be heard.

    — William Delaney
  6. It should be remembered that "witches" were not just a feature of artistic works. In Shakespeare's time, witchcraft and witches were a part of the real world, with people being accused of (and punished for) activity in the occult. Women in particular were thought to be more likely to be in touch with the metaphysical world and therefore more likely to come under suspicion.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  7. This is an example of a paradox (something which seems impossible, yet is realistically plausible). The meaning behind this quote lies in the idea that things which seem good (fair) are bad (foul), and things which seem bad (foul) are actually good (fair). 

    — Lorna Stowers