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William Shakespeare


Act 4, Scene 1:
Some questions to tease you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 23 January 2014
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The absence of Macduff at the feast leads Macbeth to revisit the witches. They show him three apparitions which demand that he both FEAR Macduff and yet NOT fear him.

Finally he is shown a series of apparitions of Banquo's heirs, each wearing the crown of Scotland.


The witches' earlier predictions were ambiguous, yet this was nothing to their warnings about Macduff.

Macbeth, of course, already feared the Thane of Fife or he would not again have been visiting the witches.

Macduff was easily his strongest rival in Scotland. It was also quite clear from Macduff's boycotting the banquet that he meant to snub the new king.

It was out of this fear, therefore, that Macbeth visited the witches once more -- and their predictions toyed with his foreboding: "Beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife."

A second vision appeared, however, which gave Macbeth an ambiguous message: "None of woman born shall harm Macbeth."

Then a third message, even more ambiguous: "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him."

Macbeth, of course, was totally duped by these last two prophecies. After all, are not all men born of woman? And how can a forest uproot itself and walk?

Nevertheless, Macbeth decided to be extra careful. He had already killed Duncan and Banquo. Now he must order the murder of Macduff and his family.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

"By the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes."
  • What do these words tell you of the witches' attitude to Macbeth? (4)

[Need help?]

"A deed without a name."
  • Why can the witches not tell Macbeth the name of their deed? (4)

[Need help?]

"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 yesty waves
Confound and swallow navigation up;
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,
Even till destruction sicken; answer me
To what I ask you."
  • What are the implications of Macbeth's command to the witches: "I conjure you"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on Macbeth's acceptance of what might follow from his request to the witches: "Though you untie . . . " (5)

[Need help?]

"The witches first predictions always seem to say the obvious."
  • Comment on this with particular reference to the prophecy, "Beware Macduff." (4)

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"Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth."
  • In what way is the second prophecy ambiguous? (4)

[Need help?]

"Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until
Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him."
  • In what way is the third prophecy ambiguous? (4)

[Need help?]

The so-called prophecies were designed to be ambiguous -- to equivocate.
  • Why is Macbeth filled with false confidence from these predictions? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why do the apparitions about Banquo trouble Macbeth? (4)

[Need help?]

What is Macbeth's reaction to the news that Macduff has fled to England? (4)

[Need help?]

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