William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” also utilizes many forms of foreshadowing to move the plot along. Shakespeare especially uses the characters of the witches and their prophecies to foreshadow events. Sometimes they are outright prophecies, but most times they are subtle. For example, the witches foretell the prophecy that “fair is foul and foul is fair”. This foreshadows that something evil will take place. Another subtle example would be when the witches say that “Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him,” meaning that the King will be harmed by the trees walking and coming to attack him. Macbeth takes this prophecy literally but it is reveal in the end that the marching army use branches of the Birman wood as a shield when they attack the King. Thus, the trees are walking. Finally, another example would be that during the murder of Duncan, Macbeth thinks he hears a voice. This foreshadows his paranoia throughout the rest of the play.
Macbeth Topic Tracking: Foreshadowing
Act 1, Scene 1
Foreshadowing 1: Foreshadowing plays an important role in Macbeth because most of the action of the play is hinted at before it happens. The three witches have a heavy hand in the foreshadowing because their prophecies are the motivation for Macbeth's actions. Appearing in the first act of the play shows the significance of the witches and their prophetic powers.
Act 1, Scene 2
Foreshadowing 2: When Duncan awards Macbeth the title that has been taken from a traitor, Shakespeare hints that Macbeth will follow in Cawdor's footsteps and betray the king.
Act 1, Scene 3
Foreshadowing 3: Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches and hear their predictions. This is Shakespeare's way of preparing the audience for what is going to happen.
Act 2, Scene 3
Foreshadowing 4: Lennox tells of the mourning cries of birds that were believed to foreshadow death. These cries kept them awake all night, and signaled Duncan's death.
Act 2, Scene 4
Foreshadowing 5: The horses destroying one another foreshadowed Duncan's death for the characters in the play. It is only after the fact that the characters can see the events as foreshadowing, however. As the audience, the foreshadowing is much more obvious.
Act 3, Scene 1
Foreshadowing 6: Banquo remembers the witches' prophecy, and so he suspects that Macbeth has killed the king to get the throne. Banquo also knows that the witches said that his descendants would be king. This serves to remind that audience that Macbeth is not finished securing the throne, and we know that Banquo is now in danger.
Act 3, Scene 5
Foreshadowing 7: The words of the witches are a sneak-preview for the upcoming action of the play.
Act 4, Scene 1
Foreshadowing 8: This encounter with the witches sets Macbeth up to feel invincible. He thinks that he is seeing the glory of his future, but what they have really shown him is his downfall. They've just camouflaged it in a way that made him feel confident that he was safe and the throne secure.
Act 5, Scene 5
Foreshadowing 9: Macbeth has felt unworried by Malcolm's approaching army until he hears that it looks as if the Birnam wood is moving toward the castle. Macbeth realizes that part of the prophecy is coming true, but not in the way that he expected it to.
Act 5, Scene 8
Foreshadowing 10: When Macbeth learns that Macduff was removed from his mother's womb and not born, he realizes that the witches' foretold of his doom and not his success. His arrogance after hearing their prophecy has enabled his own defeat.