Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Three Witches, the Weird Sisters

[This is an annotated list of all appearances and all mentions of the three Witches.]

Woodcut from the title page of a pamphlet about three witches executed in 1618.

"When shall we three meet again? / In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" (1.1.1-2), says the First Witch, at the very opening of the play. They make plans to find Macbeth upon the heath, and exit chanting "Fair is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air" (1.1.11-12).      [Detailed Scene Summary]

"Killing swine" (1.3.2.), answers the Second Witch, when the First Witch asks her what she has been doing. A little later in the scene, the witches meet Macbeth and Banquo, and give their prophetic greetings to Macbeth: "All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!" (1.3.50), and to Banquo:"Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none" (1.3.67).      [Detailed Scene Summary]

"They met me in the day of success: and I have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in them than mortal knowledge" (1.5.1-3). Thus Macbeth, in his letter to his wife, writes of the witches. Macbeth has jumped to a conclusion; he doesn't know for sure that the witches have supernatural knowledge. It's true that moments after they hail Macbeth as Thane of Cawdor, Angus and Ross deliver the news that he has been named Thane of Cawdor, but that news wasn't a secret. The witches could have picked it up before Angus and Ross showed up.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

Banquo says to Macbeth, "I dreamt last night of the three weird sisters: / To you they have show'd some truth." Macbeth replies, "I think not of them" (2.1.21), which is a lie. He has been thinking of nothing but the witches' prophecy, and as soon as Banquo goes to bed, Macbeth goes to murder King Duncan.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

After Macbeth has become king, Banquo has a soliloquy in which he reflects on what Macbeth has done: "Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all, / As the weird women promised, and, I fear, / Thou play'dst most foully for't" (3.1.1-3). Banquo then wonders if the witches' prophecy about him will also come true.

Later in the same scene, Macbeth has a soliloquy in which he gives his reasons for having Banquo murdered. One of those reasons is that Macbeth feels that Banquo is naturally superior to him. In particular he remembers how Banquo stood up to the witches: He chid the sisters / When first they put the name of king upon me, / And bade them speak to him" (3.1.56-58). He goes on to complain that then the witches prophesied that Banquo -- not Macbeth -- would be the father of a line of kings.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

After the Ghost of Banquo has appeared as an uninvited guest at Macbeth's banquet, Macbeth tells his wife that "I will to-morrow, / And betimes I will, to the weird sisters: / More shall they speak; for now I am bent to know, / By the worst means, the worst" (3.4.131-134). "Betimes" means "very early," which seems a bit strange, because the witches are presented as creatures of the night, not the morning. Also, it's clear that Macbeth wants to know what is the worst that can happen to him, but what does he mean by referring to the witches as "the worst means"? He must know that they are evil, but does he also know that they are not to be trusted? (How could he not know? How can those who make a bargain with the devil forget that the devil is the devil and won't keep his end of a bargain?)      [Detailed Scene Summary]

After the Ghost of Banquo appears at Macbeth's banquet, Macbeth tells his wife that he will visit the witches again, to learn the worst that can happen. In the next scene Hecate enters to the crackle of "Thunder (3.5.1, s.d.)." She lets the three witches know that she is angry with them because they haven't let her take the lead in their dealings with Macbeth. She then tells them that they will mislead Macbeth to his destruction. Of the three witches, only First Witch speaks. At the beginning of the scene she says that Hecate looks angry. At the end of the scene, she says that they better hurry to follow Hecate's orders, because she will be back soon.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

In their best-known scene, the three Witches prepare for the arrival of Macbeth, who comes to learn his fate. As the scene opens, the Witches hear their familiars calling to them, telling them it's time to work their black magic. The First Witch says, "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd" (4.1.1). Then they gather around a cauldron, chanting, "Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn, and cauldron bubble" (4.1.10-11), and make a sickening stew. When Macbeth enters, they call forth apparitions from the cauldron, and the apparitions deliver prophecies to Macbeth.      [Detailed Scene Summary]

As he awaits his last battle, Macbeth tries to convince himself that all will be well, and says, "The spirits that know / All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus: / 'Fear not, Macbeth; no man that's born of woman / Shall e'er have power upon thee'" (5.3.4-77). The witches are not "spirits," but they showed Macbeth the apparitions that Macbeth quotes.      [Detailed Scene Summary]