Macbeth, right off the bat, is very forward about what it’s going to be about. The first scene is devoted to the mysterious and foreboding dark-plottings of three witches who are obviously evil and deal in all things black and wrong. Their chant of “fair is foul and foul is fair” (1.1. 10) suggests an inversion of all things natural and understood by the inhabitants of this world. A few scenes later, in 1.3, the witches meet Macbeth upon the Heath just as they had planned and inform him and Banquo of a few prophecies. The two that pertain to Macbeth call him Thane of Cawdor and then King. The prophecy of kingship excites Macbeth in a way which makes him very uncomfortable and deliveres dark thoughts to his mind about how to make this prophecy true, “Present fears/ Are less than horrible imaginings./ My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,/ Shakes so my single state of man that function/ Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not” (1.3.136-41). Macbeth is concerned about the dark thoughts that enter his mind when this prophecy is given to him. In that same scene, these thoughts and worries are only intensified when the first prophecy is fulfilled and Macbeth is given the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth now believes the prophecies and his thoughts are taken to darker places.
Now, from the beginning of this play, we are told about Macbeth’s valiance and bravery in battle and his loyalty to king and country. He is clearly a good man and so these dark prophecies throw a monkey wrench in his moral gears. Once he sees that these prophecies are true, his mind speculates more and more on how to gain his foretold kingship. He is now tortured, trying hard to fight these thoughts and figure out a way to make this prophecy happen, comforting himself with the thought, “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me/ Without my stir” (1.3. 143-4).
Macbeth sends all of this news to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who sees a golden opportunity. Immediately when she hears of this prophecy she is planning on how to make it come true. She comments to herself about Macbeth’s virtue and how it will get in the way of him attaining Kingship and when they are united, she requests that he leave all of the dirty work to her because she can handle it.
In a quick summary, I find Shakespeare’s portrayal of women at this point in the play to be a decidedly negative one. The men in this play are all virtuous and good (Duncan, Macbeth) and those who are not are killed (Thane of Cawdor). When Macbeth learns about the prophecy, he is deeply disturbed by the thoughts that run through his head and tries his hardest to push them down and forget them. Lady Macbeth on the other hand, takes them and runs with them. Immediately, she is chastising Macbeth’s virtue and honor and is single-mindedly thinking of how to wi that crown. She plans to kill the king right away when she learns that he will be staying at her castle, there isn’t even a second of doubt in her thoughts. She will do whatever it takes to fulfill that prophecy. Further, the deliverers of the prophecy are the other three women in the beginning of this play, the three terrible witches.
The power of corruption and temptation comes solely from women in this play. Maybe Shakespeare was having some lady trouble at the time of the writing of this play, but it is clear that here women are labeled as the corruptors of men.