Who Is Graymalkin in Macbeth?

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William Shakespeare wrote the play Macbeth over 400 years ago. It is about a man named Macbeth who wants to become the king of Scotland. There are witches in the play who tell Macbeth prophecies about his future. In the opening scene, the witches mention a character named “Graymalkin”.

What Does the Name “Graymalkin” Mean?

When the witches first appear in Act 1 Scene 1 of Macbeth, one of them says:

I come, Graymalkin!

“Graymalkin” is a nickname or pet name for a gray cat. It comes from the words “gray” meaning the color, and “malkin” which was an old name for a cat.

So Graymalkin is the witch’s pet cat! The witch is calling for her cat as she is about to meet up with the other witches.

Why Would a Witch Have a Cat?

In Shakespeare’s time, witches were believed to get help from evil spirits or demons. These spirits would appear to them in the shape of animals like cats, dogs, mice, or toads.

The animal that helped the witch was called her “familiar”. Familiars were like the witch’s partner or assistant.

Cats were common familiars for witches. So Graymalkin is probably a demon cat that helps the witch perform her magic!

What Does Graymalkin Symbolize?

The name Graymalkin has some symbolic meanings in Macbeth:

  • It shows that the witches have evil powers and magic. Graymalkin is a demon who helps them.
  • Cats are sneaky, quick, and quiet. This represents how the witches can move around without people noticing them.
  • Gray cats are thought of as spooky or mysterious. This fits the creepy mood of the witches.

So just by saying “Graymalkin”, Shakespeare gives us a sense of who the witches are and what they can do.

When Does the Witch Mention Graymalkin?

The witch calls out for Graymalkin right at the beginning of the play.

The first scene of Act 1 is where we meet the witches for the first time. It starts with thunder, lightning, and the three witches appearing out of the storm.

After some creepy chanting, the witches agree to meet again after the battle is over. As they prepare to leave, the First Witch says:

I come, Graymalkin!

This is the first line spoken by any character in Macbeth. So Shakespeare uses “Graymalkin” to introduce the idea of witchcraft right from the opening scene.

Did Shakespeare Make Up the Name “Graymalkin”?

The name Graymalkin was not invented by Shakespeare. Calling cats “malkin” was common in the 1600s.

And accused witches from years before Shakespeare mentioned their cat familiars. In 1566, a woman named Agnes Waterhouse was executed for witchcraft in England. In her confession, she said the devil appeared to her as a cat named Satan.

Another witch in 1597 had a cat named Little Devil. So Shakespeare was using details from real witchcraft trials when he included Graymalkin in Macbeth.

What Other Mystical Things Do the Witches Mention?

Along with Graymalkin, the witches talk about other spooky creatures in the opening scene:

  • Paddock – This is another name for a toad. Toads were also common familiars.
  • Anthropophagi – These were mythical cannibals or “man-eaters”. They had sharp claws and wild hair.
  • Harpier – In Greek myths, harpies were flying creatures with claws and human faces.

So in just a few lines, Shakespeare shows all the creepy creatures that exist in the witches’ world. This builds an atmosphere of dark magic right from the start.

Does Graymalkin Appear Again in Macbeth?

No, Graymalkin is only mentioned once in the entire play. The witch calls for her cat, and then Graymalkin never appears again.

This one word helps establish the witches and their powers. But after the first scene, Shakespeare focuses on Macbeth and his desires.

The cat disappears because the witches were not the main focus of the story. Macbeth and his choices drive the plot forward, not the supernatural forces.

Why Is Graymalkin Important in Macbeth?

Even though it’s only one line, Graymalkin has an important effect in Macbeth:

  • It immediately tells us we are in a world of dark magic and witches.
  • It gives the witches a sense of mystery and power.
  • It sets up a sinister mood from the very first scene.

Without the brief mention of Graymalkin, the play would open very differently. The name gives us insight into the forces that will control Macbeth’s fate throughout the play.

So while minor, the cat Graymalkin has a big influence on the audience’s first impression of Macbeth!


In William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Macbeth, Graymalkin appears as the name of a witch’s pet cat or familiar. Although the cat is only mentioned once, it helps establish the sinister, supernatural world of the witches that sets the stage for the whole drama.

Even in a short line, Shakespeare’s choice of details can have an important impact. Calling the cat “Graymalkin” gives the witches an air of mystery and evil from the opening scene. This early mood foreshadows the darkness that will soon engulf the noble Macbeth.

So Graymalkin’s role is small but essential. By naming the witch’s cat, Shakespeare sets the tone for the bloody rise and fall of a great man under the influence of dark forces he cannot fully control

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