Shakespeare: Foreshadowing in Macbeth

William Shakespeare has been, and continues to be, one of the most famous writers of all time. His writings, specifically playwrights, include varieties of different writing techniques that never fail to capture the attention of audiences of all ages.

One of his most famous tragedies – Macbeth – is certainly no disappointment. Though Macbeth is one of his shortest tragedies, Shakespeare takes the elements of madness, evilness, and jealousness and wraps them up into a timeless tale chock full of literary elements.

One of the most studied and most profound literary elements found in Macbeth is foreshadowing. Foreshadow; verb; be a warning or indication of (a future event). ” Foreshadowing gives the audience a hint of what is to come without completely giving away the event, though it will make sense after the event happens.

The first example of foreshadowing we see in Macbeth is found in Act 1, Scene 1 in the three witches’ prophecies. We see the three witches show up multiple times throughout Macbeth to hint at the future.

The reader immediately sees an example of the prophecies in Act 1, Scene 1 when the witches are talking about meeting Macbeth. They say that they will meet him “when the battle’s lost and won” (Act 1, Scene 1).

Logistically, this phrase makes sense because every battle will have a loser and a winner, however when we look at the deeper meaning of this phrase, it shows the witches’ recurring “double meaning” way of speaking that will eventually give false hope to Macbeth in the ending battle scenes.

We see another example of foreshadowing in the Act 1, Scene 1 witches’ prophecies of Macbeth as well. All of the witches come together and yell “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Act 1, Scene 1). The element of this phrase recurs throughout Macbeth to show the differences between reality and appearance.

Macbeth quotes a similar version of this phrase in his first entrance when he says “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” (Act 1, Scene 3). The day itself, the weather, is “foul”, but the day’s events have proven “fair” because they have won the battle.

This witch prophecy contradicts reality and appearance and foreshadows that there will be many events in the future that may look “fair” to the eye, but are, in reality, “foul”. One final example of foreshadowing that we see in the introduction of Macbeth is when the witches come to meet Macbeth and Banquo.

Each witch greets Macbeth with a separate title: “Thane of Glamis”, “Thane of Cawdor”, and “King hereafter” (Act 1, Scene 3). This foreshadowing is a little more obvious than the others in the fact that it is clear Macbeth will be given these three titles at some point in his life.

The witches fail to mention, however, the manner in which these titles will be achieved, which we know to be a maddening venture for Macbeth and his wife. Foreshadowing, no matter how bold or subtle, is a key literary element in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The three witches prophesize the upcoming events in Macbeth, adding to the suspense and adventure of the writing. The foreshadowing and other literary elements in Macbeth help maintain such a classic piece of tragedy literature that will stand the test of time.

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