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How does Shakespeare’s presentation of the witches in Macbeth fit in with the expectations of the time?

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Introduction

Theme: The Witches in Macbeth. Matthew Pitt 11w Text: Macbeth. 2/2/02 Task: Analysis of the three Witches. How does Shakespeare's presentation of the witches in Macbeth fit in with the expectations of the time? The play begins with thunder and lightning, on the moor (or heath). This immediately sets up an atmosphere of darkness and evil. In Shakespeare's day people thought the moor was a wild, lonely and frightening place - especially in foul weather. This is the first time the witches are seen in the play, and because they meet on the moor it makes them seem more evil than they really are. Witches are linked to darkness and evil and with the atmosphere already set like that; it makes it a lot more frightening to see the witches on the moor. They discuss when they will meet again, where they will meet again which is normal, but then they say whom they will meet with - which is Macbeth in this case. This shows a sort of psychic power because they know when he will be on the moor. People of that time believed witches to possess supernatural powers, so by saying that they will meet Macbeth on the moor, shows that they know what will happen in the future. ...read more.

Middle

The fact that there are three witches is emphasised, because in a time where Paganism was feared (three was a magical number in Paganism.), the number three was seen as evil. It was also a magical number because of the holy trinity The ingredients that the witches add to the cauldron are associated with the themes of death: 'finger of birth-strangled babe.'; crime: 'grease that's sweaten from the murderer's gibbet.'; evil: 'Tartar's lips.'; poison 'adder's fork'; and damnation: 'Liver of blaspheming Jew'. These powerful images would have shocked Shakespearean audiences and thus would have thought the witches as overwhelmingly evil. The witches add to this impression of evil by throwing 'into the flame' a murderer's gibbet. This shows that Macbeth will have the same fate as a murderer, being thrown into the flames of hell. There are other images of hell in the play. An example is in Act two, Scene three when the porter imagines himself to be the 'porter of hell-gate' when Macduff and Lenox knock on Macbeth's castle door. Shakespearean audiences would have recognised this as Jesus knocking on the gates of hell. There is also the supernatural element as the witches call up the evil spirits they serve at line 62. ...read more.

Conclusion

I think that Macbeth has already planned the murder of Macduff when he arrives at the cave 'He knows thy thought', but he seeks a kind of reassurance from the witches because he is so insecure. The witches do reassure him with the information that 'none of woman birth shall harm Macbeth' but this is not as straightforward as Macbeth thinks because of Macduff's Caesarean Section. They witches have tricked Macbeth. I don't think that Macbeth realises this danger: 'Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of thee?' The witches trick and tempt Macbeth by advising him to 'seek no more' on whether Banquo's descendants will be kings. This only serves to command the witches to show him. The witches do with relish, to 'grieve his [Macbeth's] heart' This makes Macbeth determined to alter fate. When the witches went, Lenox tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. As the witches have tricked him, Macbeth does not fear from Macduff and so he damns himself further by plots the murder of Macduff's family. These tricks by the witches move the plot on and show how important the witches are in the play. As the witches said before Macbeth entered, 'The charm is firm and good.' and Macbeth's fate is sealed. However, we can only say how important the witches are after we assess how responsible they are for the events in the play by merely predicting what will happen. ...read more.

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