Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 1




          Thunder. Enter the three WITCHES.

       First Witch
1. brinded: brindled, streaked.
  1    Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

       Second Witch
2. hedge-pig: hedgehog.
  2    Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.

       Third Witch
3. Harpier: Apparently the name of the familiar spirit of Third Witch. The name suggests "Harpy," which in Greek mythology is a loathsome monster with the head and chest of a woman, and the remainder of its body in the shape of a predatory bird.
  3    Harpier cries "'Tis time, 'tis time."

       First Witch
  4    Round about the cauldron go;
5. In the poison'd entrails throw: throw the poisoned entrails in.
  5    In the poison'd entrails throw.
  6    Toad, that under cold stone
7-8. Days ... got: has for thirty-one days and nights sweated out venom while sleeping.
  7    Days and nights has thirty-one
  8    Swelter'd venom sleeping got,
  9    Boil thou first i' the charmed pot.

       ALL
10. double: In Shakespeare's time, "double" also meant "deceptive."
 10    Double, double toil and trouble;
 11    Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

       Second Witch
12. fenny: inhabiting fens or swamps.
 12    Fillet of a fenny snake,
 13    In the cauldron boil and bake;
 14    Eye of newt and toe of frog,
 15    Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
16. fork: forked tongue. blind-worm's sting The blindworm is a legless lizard with a black forked tongue, which was thought to contain venom, and was called its "sting." 17. howlet's: owl's.
 16    Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
 17    Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
 18    For a charm of powerful trouble,
 19    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

       ALL
 20    Double, double toil and trouble;
 21    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

       Third Witch
 22    Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
23. mummy: medicine made from mummified flesh. maw and gulf: stomach and gullet. 24. ravin'd: ravenous. 25. hemlock: a poisonous plant.
 23    Witches' mummy, maw and gulf
 24    Of the ravin'd salt-sea shark,
 25    Root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark,
 26    Liver of blaspheming Jew,
27. Gall: gallbladder; bile. yew a tree considered a symbol of sadness. 28. Sliver'd: cut off.
 27    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
 28    Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse,
29. Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips: Both Turks and Tartars were considered to be cruelly violent.
 29    Nose of Turk and Tartar's lips,
 30    Finger of birth-strangled babe
31. drab: whore. To get rid of her baby on the sly, the whore would deliver it in a ditch and then strangle it. 32. slab: sticky. 33. chaudron: entrails.
 31    Ditch-deliver'd by a drab,
 32    Make the gruel thick and slab.
 33    Add thereto a tiger's chaudron,
 34    For the ingredients of our cauldron.

       ALL
 35    Double, double toil and trouble;
 36    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

       Second Witch
 37    Cool it with a baboon's blood,
 38    Then the charm is firm and good.

 **       Enter HECAT and the other three
          WITCHES.

       HECATE
39-44. Enter HECAT ... [Exit HECATE.]: The general opinion of Shakespeare scholars is that everything between Hecate's entrance and her exit was inserted after Shakespeare wrote the play. A song by the name of "Black spirits" appears in a later play, Thomas Middleton's The Witch, which was performed about 1615. Open the text of the song.
 39    O well done! I commend your pains;
 40    And every one shall share i' the gains;
 41    And now about the cauldron sing,
 42    Live elves and fairies in a ring
 43    Enchanting all that you put in.

           Music and a song: "Black spirits, etc."

          [Exit HECATE.]

       Second Witch
44. pricking: tingling.
 44    By the pricking of my thumbs,
 45    Something wicked this way comes.

          [Knocking.]

 46    Open, locks,
 47    Whoever knocks!

          Enter MACBETH.

       MACBETH
 48    How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
 49    What is't you do?

       ALL
                                    A deed without a name.

       MACBETH
50. that which you profess: i.e., the demonic arts in which you are expert.
 50    I conjure you, by that which you profess,
 51    Howe'er you come to know it, answer me:
 52    Though you untie the winds and let them fight
53. yesty: yeasty, foamy.
 53    Against the churches; though the yesty waves
54. Confound and swallow navigation up: i.e., destroy and drown all ships at sea. 55. bladed corn be lodged: ripe grain be beaten down [by storms]. 56. warders: keepers, guardians. 57. slope: bend.
 54    Confound and swallow navigation up;
 55    Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
 56    Though castles topple on their warders' heads;
 57    Though palaces and pyramids do slope
58-60. though the treasure / Of nature's germains tumble all together, / Even till destruction sicken: though the most precious seeds of nature fall into utter chaos, even to the point that death and destruction get sick of their own work.
 58    Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
 59    Of nature's germains tumble all together,
 60    Even till destruction sicken, answer me
 61    To what I ask you.

       First Witch
                                     Speak.

       Second Witch
                                               Demand.

       Third Witch
                                                             We'll answer.

       First Witch
 62    Say, if thou'dst rather hear it from our mouths,
 63    Or from our masters?

       MACBETH
                                          Call 'em; let me see 'em.

       First Witch
 64    Pour in sow's blood, that hath eaten
65. nine farrow: litter of nine. 65-66. grease that's sweaten / From the murderer's gibbet The "murderer's gibbet" is the gallows where a murderer is hung, and where the corpse was often left to hang as a warning to others. After about ten days in warm weather the liquefied fat of the corpse sweats through the skin, drips down, and forms puddles of grease.
 65    Her nine farrow; grease that's sweaten
 66    From the murderer's gibbet throw
 67    Into the flame.

       ALL
                                Come, high or low;
68. Thyself and office: yourself and your function.
 68    Thyself and office deftly show!

an armed Head: a head wearing a helmet. This apparition may foreshadow Macbeth's beheading by Macduff.
Image Source:
Wikimedia Commons
          Thunder. FIRST APPARITION, an armed Head.

       MACBETH
 69    Tell me, thou unknown power—

       First Witch
                                                 He knows thy thought:
 70    Hear his speech, but say thou nought.

       First Apparition
 71    Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff;
 72    Beware the thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.

He descends: The apparition is probably lowered through a trap door, as though sinking to hell.
          He descends.

       MACBETH
73. caution: warning.
 73    Whate'er thou art, for thy good caution, thanks;
74. Thou hast harp'd my fear aright: you have touched the exact note of what I fear.
 74    Thou hast harp'd my fear aright. But one word more—

       First Witch
 75    He will not be commanded. Here's another,
 76    More potent than the first.

 a bloody Child.: This apparition foreshadows the hidden meaning of the prophecy that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." <More.>
          Thunder. SECOND APPARITION, a bloody
          Child.

       Second Apparition
 77    Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!

       MACBETH
 78    Had I three ears, I'ld hear thee.

       Second Apparition
 79    Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
 80    The power of man, for none of woman born
 81    Shall harm Macbeth.

          Descends.

       MACBETH
 82    Then live, Macduff; what need I fear of thee?
 83    But yet I'll make assurance double sure,
84. take a bond of fate: get a guarantee from fate. thou shalt not live: i.e., you, Macduff, must die. 85. That: so that. The "pale-hearted fear" is Macbeth's own; despite being told that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth," he fears Macduff.
 84    And take a bond of fate: thou shalt not live;
 85    That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies,
 86    And sleep in spite of thunder.

          Thunder. THIRD APPARITION,
          a Child crowned, with a tree in his hand.

                                                  What is this
 87. like: in the likeneness of. the issue of a king: the descendant of a king. 88. round / And top of sovereignty: i.e., royal crown.
 87    That rises like the issue of a king,
 88    And wears upon his baby-brow the round
 89    And top of sovereignty?

       ALL
                                            Listen, but speak not to't.

       Third Apparition
 90    Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no care
91. Who chafes, who frets: i.e., who gets hot and bothered. conspirers: conspirators [against Macbeth].
 91    Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
 92    Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
 93    Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
 94    Shall come against him.

          Descend.

       MACBETH
                                             That will never be.
95. impress: draft as soldiers.
 95    Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
96. bodements: prophecies.
 96    Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! good!
97. Rebellious dead: i.e., Banquo? Duncan? Editors often change this phrase to "Rebellious head," meaning "an armed force of rebellion on the march." 99-100. live ... custom: i.e., live out a full life, and die only of old age, as is customary. 101. art: magic.
 97    Rebellious dead, rise never till the wood
 98    Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth
 99    Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath
100    To time and mortal custom. Yet my heart
101    Throbs to know one thing: tell me, if your art
102. issue: descendants.
102    Can tell so much, shall Banquo's issue ever
103    Reign in this kingdom?

       ALL
                                           Seek to know no more.

       MACBETH
104. I will be satisfied: i.e., I demand that you answer my question.
104    I will be satisfied. Deny me this,
105    And an eternal curse fall on you! Let me know.
106. Why sinks that cauldron?: Though there is no stage direction, this line indicates that the cauldron descends through a trap door. noise i.e., music. The word "noise" was also used to mean a "band of musicians." Hoboys: Ancestors of oboes.
106    Why sinks that cauldron? and what noise is this?

          [Ominous music from] Hoboys.

       First Witch
107    Show!

       Second Witch
108    Show!

       Third Witch
109    Show!

       ALL
110    Show his eyes, and grieve his heart;
111. Come like shadows, so depart: Come like shadows (spirits, ghosts), and leave the same way.
111    Come like shadows, so depart!

          A show of eight KINGS, [the eighth] with
glass: mirror.
          a glass in his hand, and
BANQUO last.

       MACBETH
112. Thou ... Banquo: you look too much like the ghost of Banquo. Down!: Macbeth is demanding that the spirit sink out of sight. 114. other: second. is like: matches.
112    Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo. Down!
113    Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair,
114    Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
115    A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
116. Start, eyes!: jump [out their sockets], [my] eyes! Macbeth doesn't want to see any more.
116    Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
117    What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?
118    Another yet! A seventh! I'll see no more:
119. bears a glass: holds a mirror.
119    And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass
120    Which shows me many more; and some I see
121. two-fold balls and treble scepters: This indicates kingship of both England and Scotland. <More.>
121    That two-fold balls and treble scepters carry:
122    Horrible sight! Now, I see, 'tis true;
123. blood-bolter'd: with hair matted with blood.
123    For the blood-bolter'd Banquo smiles upon me,
124    And points at them for his.

          [Apparitions vanish.]

                                                     What, is this so?

       First Witch
125-132. Ay, sir . . pay: It is the opinion of many Shakespearean scholars that lines 125-132 were inserted after Shakespeare wrote the play, in order to introduce the dance of the witches. Those scholars also believe that Shakespeare didn't intend the witches to dance. 126. amazedly: as in a trance. 127. sprites: spirits. 130. antic round: wild dance. 131. That: in order that.
125    Ay, sir, all this is so. But why
126    Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?
127    Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,
128    And show the best of our delights:
129    I'll charm the air to give a sound,
130    While you perform your antic round,
131    That this great king may kindly say,
132. Our duties did his welcome pay: our ceremonies repaid the welcome he gave us. This is snide; Macbeth, rather than welcoming the witches, called them "hags" and demanded information from them.
132    Our duties did his welcome pay.

          Music. The Witches dance and vanish.

       MACBETH
133    Where are they? Gone? Let this pernicious hour
134    Stand aye accursed in the calendar!
135. Come in, without there: come in, whoever is there, outside.
135    Come in, without there!

          Enter LENNOX.

       LENNOX
                                           What's your grace's will?

       MACBETH
136    Saw you the weird sisters?

       LENNOX
                                                 No, my lord.

       MACBETH
137. Came they not by you?: didn't they come past you?.
137    Came they not by you?

       LENNOX
                                         No, indeed, my lord.

       MACBETH
138    Infected be the air whereon they ride;
139    And damn'd all those that trust them! I did hear
140. horse: horses.
140    The galloping of horse. Who was't came by?

       LENNOX
141    'Tis two or three, my lord, that bring you word
142    Macduff is fled to England.

       MACBETH
                                              Fled to England!

       LENNOX
143    Ay, my good lord.

       MACBETH [Aside.]
144-146. Time ... with it : time, you forestall my dreadful exploits; the always-fleeing purpose is never overtaken unless the deed goes with it. In all probability, Macbeth's "purpose" had been to kill Macduff. Now he is angry with himself that he let slip his chance to do so. He reflects that we never catch up with what we intend to do unless we do it right away. 147. firstlings: first born.
144    Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits:
145    The flighty purpose never is o'ertook
146    Unless the deed go with it; from this moment
147    The very firstlings of my heart shall be
148    The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
149    To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought
            and done:
150    The castle of Macduff I will surprise;
151. Seize upon Fife: take possession of Fife [Macduff's castle and all his land].
151    Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o' the sword
152    His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
153. That trace him in his line: follow him in his family line; i.e., are related to him in any way. Macbeth plans to wipe out anyone who might have any possible claim to Fife.
153    That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool;
154    This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.
155    But no more sights!—Where are these gentlemen?
156    Come, bring me where they are.

          Exeunt.