The scene is a deserted heath in Scotland. Three witches meet and discuss what they plan to do next. There is a battle going on in the distance, and thunder and lightning set the mood. The witches plan to appear to Macbeth, a general in King Duncan’s army. Then they leave the scene, telling us that Fair is foul, and foul is fair. This saying, which means, roughly, “Things are not always what they appear to be,” will take on more meaning as the play progresses.

a desert place

A deserted spot. No one is around.


To come on stage.


Commotion. In this case, the battle.

lost and won

Lost by one side, and (therefore) won by the other.


Desolate plain in Scotland.


Graymalkin is the name of the witch’s familiar, or pet; in this case, a gray cat. A familiar was thought to be a lesser spirit attending its master — in this case, the witch.


We can assume eerie sound effects were added from offstage during this scene (including the thunder specified in the stage directions); a cat’s meow, just before this line was spoken, would have been easy to produce.


Paddock is this witch’s familiar, a toad. See notes on Graymalkin about familiars.

Pronounced PADD-uck.

Someone backstage likely imitated a croaking sound to give the effect of a toad calling to its master.


The third witch also calls to her familiar. Anon means “soon” — in this case, “I’ll be there soon.”

Some other eerie animal sound effect was likely added here.


All three witches, speaking together.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Things are not always what they appear to be. Things that seem fair (virtuous, beautiful) on the surface will often turn out to be foul (vicious, evil, ugly), and vice versa.

Macbeth will learn, in the end, not to trust the appearances of the people and things around him. By then, however, it will be too late.


Latin, literally “they leave.” Everyone leaves the stage.

Pronounced EX-ee-uhnt.