In a dark cave deep below the mud and slime of a lonely heath, the weird sisters have gathered around a boiling cauldron. A table is covered with foul-smelling, disgusting items, some half recognisable and others unfamiliar: they slither or flap, give little leaps, or seem to breathe. Thunder rumbles and cracks in the distance.

‘Thrice the brindled cat hath mewed.’
‘Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whined.’
‘Harpier cries, ‘t is time, ‘t is time.’

Each hag fills her apron with items from the table. They approach the cauldron.

‘Round and round the cauldron go:
In the poisoned entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Sweltered venom, sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ th’ charmed pot.’

They join hands and lean over with their faces in the vapour from the cauldron.

‘Double, double, toil and trouble:
Fire, burn: and cauldron, bubble.’

They take the items one by and drop them into the cauldron.

‘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,
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:
Fire, burn: and cauldron, bubble.’
‘Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf:
Witches’ mummy: maw, and gulf,
Of the ravined salt-sea shark:
Root of hemlock, digged i’ th’ dark:
Liver of blaspheming Jew:
Gall of goat, and slips of yew
Slivered in the moon’s eclipse:
Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips:
Finger of birth-strangled babe,
Ditch-delivered by a drab,
Make the gruel thick and slab:
Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
For th’ ingredients of our cauldron.’

‘Double, double, toil and trouble:
Fire, burn: and cauldron, bubble.’

‘Cool it with a baboon’s blood:
Then the charm is firm and good.’

A resounding thundercrack, right in the cave, brings Hecate, riding on its back.

‘0, well done! I commend your pains,
And every one shall share i’ the gains.
And now about the cauldron sing,
Like elves and fairies in a ring,
Enchanting all that you put in.’

The cave fills with stange creatures. They form an eerie choir which sings until one of the sisters shreiks, and they all scatter.

‘By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes!’

Macbeth stood at the entrance to the cave, bewildered as to how he had come to be there. He could make out the dark shapes of the sisters against he dull light of the coals beneath the cauldron.

‘What are you up to, you secret black and midnight hags?’ he said.

‘A deed without a name,’ they said in unison.

‘I call on you in the name of the evil magic you profess,’ he said. ‘I don’t care how you come by this dark knowledge you have, I just want some answers. Even if the Devil himself gives you your powers, answer my questions.’



‘We’ll answer.’

‘Say, if thou’dst rather hear it from our mouths, Or from our masters.’

‘Call them, let me see them.’

Two of them swooped on him and held him down while the other plunged her hand into the foaming cauldron and pulled out a ladle. As she stirred she poured some liquid from a flask.

‘Pour in sow’s blood, that bath eaten
Her nine farrow, grease, that’s sweaten
From the murderer’s gibbet, throw
Into the flame.’

She filled the ladle and advanced on Macbeth. She placed the ladle against his lips. The other two squeezed his nose and held his mouth open. He kicked and squirmed as the foul liquid trickled down his throat, but they were strong and he was unable to stop them.

He felt sick. His head ached. The weird sisters had disappeared and he seemed to be in a featureless place lit with a bland grey light.

A head wearing a helmet hung in the air before him. ‘Tell me, stange creature Macbeth began.

‘He knows thy thought,’ a witch’s voice said. ‘Hear his speech, but say thou naught.’

‘Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!’ the head cried. ‘Beware Macduff: beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.’ It faded and disappeared.

‘Whatever you are, thanks for the warning. You’ve guessed my fear accurately. But just another word.’

‘He will not be commanded. Here’s another, More potent than the first.’

A blood-smeared child began to take shape. ‘Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!’

‘I’m listening.’

‘Be bloody, bold and resolute: laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.’

He disappeared.

‘Then live, Macduff: why do I need to fear you? And yet I’ll make doubly sure. You won’t live.’

A child sat before him. It had a crown on its head and a branch of a tree in its hand.

‘What’s this, looking like a prince? And wearing a crown?

‘Listen, but speak not to’t.’

The apparition looked up into Macbeth’s eyes.

‘Be lion-mettled, and take no care
Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:
Macbeth shall never vanquished be,
Until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him.’

He was gone on the last word.

‘That’s impossible. Trees can’t walk. Birnam wood will never come to the castle at Dunsinane! What wonderful prophesies. Excellent.’ He threw his head back and laughed. ‘Dead enemies, don’t rise out of your graves until Birnam wood walks. That means King Macbeth will live the natural length of his life, only giving it up to old age. Excellent! And yet -’ Macbeth looked about for the invisible witches. ‘My heart aches to know one thing: tell me – if your magic extends that far – will Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom?’

The voices came all at once: ‘Seek to know no more.’

‘I must know! If you deny me this then let an eternal curse fall on you! I want to know! I have to know!




‘Show his eyes and grieve his heart: Come like shadows, so depart.’

The grey light brightened until it was a white blaze. Music was playing and what looked like a parade was taking place. There were several main figures, wearing crowns and waving as though to adoring crowds. They came closer and the leader waved specifically at Macbeth. Terror gripped him as he recognized him.

‘You’re the image of Banquo!’ he cried. ‘Away!’ The golden crown caught the light and Macbeth covered his eyes. ‘Ah! your crown’s searing my eye-balls!’

The second figure was passing him now. He also looked like Banquo. The same hair exactly. ‘And the third is like the others. Filthy bags! Why are you showing me this?’

The fourth figure was just like the others. ‘Start! Eyes!’ cried Macbeth. ‘Does this go on forever?’

There were a fifth and sixth and then a seventh. ‘I don’t want to see any more! And still, an eighth.’ The eighth carried a mirror which reflected even more, stretching back as far as his eyes could see.

‘And some of them are carrying triple scepters. Horrible sight! Now I can see it’s true,’ he said as the bloody Banquo came into view and leered at him. ‘He points at the kings, claiming them as his issue. Can it be?’

‘Aye, Sir, all this is so: – but why
Stands Macbeth thus amazedly?
Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,
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.’

Macbeth was treated to a pageant of music and dance, with nothing dark or unpleasant about it. Round and round the dancers went, making him feel sleepy. He dozed and immediately found himself waking beside his horse in the open air of the heath.

‘Where are they?’ he said, looking round to see only the white sky and the flat heath. ‘Gone?’ He sat up. ‘Let this day be forever cursed in the calendar.’

Lennox had come with him and he was still waiting where Macbeth had told him to.

‘Did you see the weird sisters?’ said Macbeth. Lennox frowned. ‘No, my Lord.’

‘They must have come past you.

‘No, I saw no-one.’

Macbeth remembered how they had vanished into the air the first time he had seen them. He wasn’t going to take any notice of them. ‘I thought I heard the galloping of horses. Who was it?’

‘Messengers, my Lord, bringing you word that Macduff has fled to England.’

‘Fled to England?’

‘Yes, my Lord.’

Macbeth was furious. He should have done it before it was too late! If you want to do something you should do it at once. From that moment there would be no hesitating: he would act as soon as he had the idea. And he had an idea right now: he would surprise Macduff’s castle and put his wife and children and anyone else he could find there to the sword. He wouldn’t brag about it like a fool, he would give the order right away, before his anger could cool. And no more spirits!

‘Where are these messengers?’ he asked Lennox. ‘Come on, take me to them.’


Read more scenes from Macbeth:

Macbeth in modern English|Orignal Macbeth text
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 1|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 1
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 2|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 2
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 3|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 3
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 4|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 4
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 5|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 5
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 6|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 6
Modern Macbeth Act 1, Scene 7|Macbeth text Act 1, Scene 7
Modern Macbeth Act 2, Scene 1|Macbeth text Act 2, Scene 1
Modern Macbeth Act 2, Scene 2|Macbeth text Act 2, Scene 2
Modern Macbeth Act 2, Scene 3|Macbeth text Act 2, Scene 3
Modern Macbeth Act 2, Scene 4|Macbeth text Act 2, Scene 4
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 1|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 1
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 2|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 2
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 3|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 3
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 4|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 4
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 5|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 5
Modern Macbeth Act 3, Scene 6|Macbeth text Act 3, Scene 6
Modern Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1|Macbeth text Act 4, Scene 1
Modern Macbeth Act 4, Scene 2|Macbeth text Act 4, Scene 2
Modern Macbeth Act 4, Scene 3|Macbeth text Act 4, Scene 3
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 1
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 2|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 2
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 3
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 4|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 4
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 5|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 5
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 6|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 6
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 7|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 7
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 8|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 8
Modern Macbeth Act 5, Scene 9|Macbeth text Act 5, Scene 9

Read all of Shakespeare’s plays translated to modern English >>

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