Act IV - Scene I

[A cavern. In the middle, a cauldron.]

Thunder. Enter three Witches.

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.
Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
Harpier cries, “’Tis time, ’tis time.”
Round about the cauldron go:
In the poison'd entrails throw.(5)
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Double, double, toil and trouble;(10)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,(15)
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double, toil and trouble;(20)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
Witch's mummy, maw and gulf
Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
Root of hemlock digg'd i’ the dark,(25)
Liver of blaspheming Jew,
Gall of goat and slips of yew
Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
Finger of birth-strangled babe(30)
Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab.
Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
For the ingredients of our cauldron.
Double, double, toil and trouble;(35)
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

Enter Hecate, and the other three Witches.

O, well done! I commend your pains,
And everyone shall share i’ the gains.(40)
And now about the cauldron sing,
Like elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.

Music and a song: Black spirits.

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes:(45)
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

Enter Macbeth.

How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags?
What is't you do?
A deed without a name.(50)
I conjure you, by that which you profess,
Howe'er you come to know it, answer me:
Though you untie the winds and let them fight
Against the churches, though the yeasty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up,(55)
Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down,
Though castles topple on their warders’ heads,
Though palaces and pyramids do slope
Their heads to their foundations, though the treasure
Of nature's germens tumble all together(60)
Even till destruction sicken, answer me
To what I ask you.
We'll answer.(65)
Say, if thou'dst rather hear it from our mouths,
or from our masters?
Call ’em, let me see ’em.
Pour in sow's blood that hath eaten
Her nine farrow; grease that's sweaten(70)
From the murderer's gibbet throw
Into the flame.
Come, high or low;
Thyself and office deftly show!

Thunder. First Apparition, an Armed Head.

Tell me, thou unknown power,—(75)
He knows thy thought:
Hear his speech, but say thou nought.
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware
Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.(80)

He descends.

Whate'er thou art, for thy good caution, thanks;
Thou hast harp'd my fear aright. But one word more–
He will not be commanded. Here's another,
More potent than the first.

Thunder. Second Apparition, a Bloody Child.

Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!(85)
Had I three ears, I'd hear thee.
Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.

Then live, Macduff. What need I fear of thee?
But yet I'll make assurance double sure,
And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live,
That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
And sleep in spite of thunder.

Thunder. Third Apparition; a Child Crowned, with a tree in his hand.

What is this, That rises like the issue of a king,
And wears upon his baby brow the round
And top of sovereignty?
Listen, but speak not to't.(100)
Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.

That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements, good!
Rebellion's head, rise never, till the Wood
Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth(110)
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
To time and mortal custom. Yet my heart
Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art
Can tell so much, shall Banquo's issue ever
Reign in this kingdom?(115)
Seek to know no more.
I will be satisfied! Deny me this,
And an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know:
Why sinks that cauldron? and what noise is this?

Show his eyes, and grieve his heart;
Come like shadows, so depart!

A show of eight Kings, and Banquo last with a glass in his hand.

Thou are too like the spirit of Banquo. Down!(125)
Thy crown does sear mine eyeballs. And thy hair,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?(130)
Another yet! A seventh! I'll see no more:
And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass
Which shows me many more; and some I see
That twofold balls and treble sceptres carry:
Horrible sight! Now I see ’tis true;(135)
For the blood-bolter'd Banquo smiles upon me,
And points at them for his. What, is this so?
Ay, sir, all this is so. But why
Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?
Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,(140)
And show the best of our delights.
I'll charm the air to give a sound,
While you perform your antic round,
That this great King may kindly say
Our duties did his welcome pay.(145)

Music. The Witches dance, and vanish.

Where are they? Gone? Let this pernicious hour
Stand aye accursed in the calendar!
Come in, without there!

Enter Lennox.

What's your Grace's will?
Saw you the weird sisters?(150)
No, my lord.
Came they not by you?
No indeed, my lord.
Infected be the air whereon they ride,
And damn'd all those that trust them! I did hear(155)
The galloping of horse. Who was't came by?
’Tis two or three, my lord, that bring you word
Macduff is fled to England.
Fled to England?
Ay, my good lord.(160)
[Aside.] Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits.
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
Unless the deed go with it. From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. And even now,(165)
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:
The castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o’ the sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool;(170)
This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.
But no more sights!–Where are these gentlemen?
Come, bring me where they are.



  1. This incantation is the most famous depiction of witchcraft in the Western canon. The three witches's spell emphasizes the play's theme of inversion. They fragment parts of the natural world in order to create an unnatural outcome; in other words, they use pieces of animals instead of whole parts in order to turn reality upside down. The rhyming couplets and lilting seven syllable lines also highlight the enchanting power of language, which can be used to create beauty, or in this case, to engender horrific deception and evil.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Even though the last vision upset him, Macbeth still trusts the rest of the information the three witches gave him. Therefore, by making this statement, Macbeth doesn't realize that he is actually damning himself, foreshadowing what happens to him as a result of his belief in the witches' prophesies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Since he enters this scene, Lennox must have accompanied Macbeth to the cave. His presence is significant because the audience knows that Lennox thinks Macbeth is a tyrant, and yet Macbeth has Lennox accompany him as a confidential companion. This shows that Macbeth, despite all of his spies, does not know truly how much his nobles despise him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. The lines after Macbeth says "Now I see 'tis true" until the witches vanish were also likely added by a different poet. Notice that the meter of the witch's speech is like the one given by Hecate in act III scene V, and the notion that the witches would want to cheer up Macbeth with song and dance is absurd.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. These eight kings represent the eight rulers of the Scottish house of Stuart (Stewart). starting with Robert II to James VI. According to the English chronicler Raphael Holinshed, the Royal Stuarts traced their line of ancestry back to Banquo.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. While saying his own name here might be a little awkward, the presence of "our" indicates that this phrase is another use of the "royal we," and Macbeth freely resorts to this egotistical language having heard what he considers to be good news from the apparitions.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. We know that Macbeth has been having extreme difficulty sleeping because of his fears that someone will kill or overthrow him. He thinks that he can rid himself of this fear once Macduff is killed because then he can rule in safety and security.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Even though Macbeth learned that no naturally born man may harm him, he decides to "take a bond of fate" by killing Macduff. "Fate" in this context likely means "death" and the "bond" refers to a pledge or promise. This is what Macbeth means by being "double sure": No man may harm him and he'll kill Macduff just to be certain.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. For reasons that are significant later on, it is important to note that by "woman born" the Second Apparition means someone born naturally. Macbeth understands this apparition's prophesy to mean that no naturally born man has the power to harm him.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. While the ingredients that have been added to the cauldron thus far have been grotesque, these additions prior to the spirits rising to answer Macbeth's questions are even more vile: the blood of a sow (pig) that has eaten nine of her young (farrow) and the body fluids from a murderer that have soaked into the wood of the hang-man's gallows (gibbet). Such ingredients help to fully portray the unholy, magical atmosphere of the scene.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The glass that the eighth holds is not a container for liquid; it is a magical looking glass that one could see the future within. The eighth king is likely James VI of Scotland who was ruling England King James I when Macbeth was written. Shakespeare's inclusion here likely represents a compliment and praise for the king and the future of his heirs.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. According to Christian belief at the time of the play, a child who was born but died or was killed before it was baptized was considered damned and unable to go to heaven like the Turk, Tartar, and the Jew that the witches mention here. Shakespeare has the witches use these ingredients is to show the audience that the witches are brewing an evil and unholy potion.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. This speech characterizes how desperate and reckless Macbeth has become. He wants answers from the witches and cares not for the consequences that their enchantments might have on other lives and property. We learn much in this scene about how different Macbeth is now compared to when he first met the witches.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. The witches refer to Macbeth as "something wicked" rather than "someone." Considering how much he has given himself to evil, even stating that he has given his own soul to the devil, even the witches now regard him as simply a thing of evil.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Macbeth's exclamation alludes to a belief during the reign of James I of England (the Jacobean era) that a thunderclap ("crack") announced the coming of Doomsday ("doom). Essentially, Macbeth thinks that Banquo's children and heirs will reign for a very long time.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. As the witches brew a potion in the cauldron, they repeat this chant as a kind of evil spell. Interestingly, Shakespeare uses tetrameter (four beats per line) instead of iambic pentameter for the witches' spell. This incantation, the cauldron, and the evil atmosphere all credit Shakespeare with the creation of the Western conception of a typical witch.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. A cauldron is simply a large kettle or boiler that can be used for cooking or heating liquids. However, in Western culture cauldrons have become strongly associated with witchcraft, with this scene being one of the first and most memorable instances of witches brewing a potion in a cauldron.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. This word represents a non-standard spelling of "harpy." In Greek and Roman mythology, harpies are horrifying monsters that have women's faces and the bodies of birds. They are regarded as filthy and covetous, always preying on others and wanting more. While they sometimes supposedly administer divine vengeance, commonly their mention or presence contributes to a dangerous or evil atmosphere or theme, as in this case with the witches.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. Note that similar to act III scene VI, this moment with Hecate and the other witches is quite possibly a later addition by a poet other than Shakespeare. The incongruous nature of Hecate's speech compared to the speech and meter of the other witches is one of the main reasons to suspect this character as the work of another poet.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Lennox has been characterized as a young man. He has always been afraid of Macbeth and is even more so now that Macbeth has become a mad tyrant who consorts with evil spirits. Macbeth has reached the point where he suspects everybody of plotting against him. He frightens poor Lennox by questioning him about whether he had seen the weird sisters. Lennox at first says, "No, my lord." Macbeth would turn away and look everywhere for the three witches who have vanished into thin air. Then he would turn back and glare at Lennox with suspicion when he asks, "Came they not by you?" Lennox is terrified. He is dealing with a dangerous madman. Lennox has remained loyal to Macbeth, but we can understand why so many others are deserting him.

    — William Delaney