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Macbeth - The Role of the Witches.

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English Assignment Macbeth - The Role of the Witches William Shakespeare probably wrote his play, The Tragedy of Macbeth, for King James I around 1606. To fully appreciate why the witches had such and important presence and impact upon the characters in the play, one has to take into account the beliefs and fears that people living in the early part of the 17th century held. Today of course, with our scientific knowledge, and so called 'spiritual enlightenment', witches are perceived by the general population as objects of fun - daft women who practice silly spells(naked of course!) on hillsides- as we 'know' magic doesn't exist. But back in the 1600's however, witches were feared and hated. People really believed that they had supernatural powers that enabled them to see into the future, and indeed, change it. Beliefs were black and white in the middle ages. There was a heaven and a hell - God and Satan existed to people as real entities, and witches were perceived as evil, subhuman creatures, servants of the devil himself-as evidenced in Act 1 scene 111, when Macbeth and Banquo first met the witches. "What are these, so wither'd, and so wild in their attire, That look not like th' inhabitants o'th' earth, And yet are on't? Live you, or are you aught That man may question?" ...read more.


Macbeth is not amoral - both sides of his nature are weighed, and of his fear and loathing of the murders that must occur, he says, "And make my seated heart knock at my ribs Against the use of nature? Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings." But not even this self- acknowledgement of his 'dark side' is enough to deter Macbeth, as he goes on to say. "If chance will have me king why chance may crown me Without my stir." This acceptance that he will do what is necessary, regardless of the consequences is shown in lines 146-149 "Come what may Time and the hour runs through the roughest day." Although the witches appear only in a few scenes, the role they play in corrupting Macbeth is the pivotal axis on which the whole tragedy succeeds or fails. So how then do modern directors interpret the role of the witches? Macbeth - BBC version by Jack Gold The set is minimal and dark, with little detail to fire your imagination. The special effects- lighting, fog machines etc. only enhanced the cheap seediness of the set, and did nothing to create the ambience the play deserved. The musical score I found redolent of 1970's Dr Who - tired, dated, and just erring on the side of OTT. For me, the musical score should go virtually unnoticed, adding suspense, excitement and heightening fear at appropriate moments, seamlessly - and not as Mr. ...read more.


The portrayal of the third witch comes as a surprise - as she's young and pretty, with long blond hair and no visible disfigurements. Although Polanski uses Shakespeare's script through-out, he also uses considerable artistic licence in his interpretation. Symbolism plays an important part in enhancing key moments of the scenes I watched - from the witches burying an arm, a dagger and a noose; completing the spell with sprinkled blood - through to the young witch lifting her skirts to expose what appears to be male genitalia. The latter being presumably Pulaski's way of silently articulating Banquo's words in scene III "You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so." The actors playing the roles of Macbeth and Banquo delivered their difficult lines believably, and with passion - enabling the viewer to 'digest' Shakespeare without being distracted. Whilst the musical score, from the crying gulls, to the discordant bagpipes, added the necessary tension and drama to the film. Comparing these two versions of Macbeth is quite difficult. Jack Gold's production is a play, and the effects of the limited space, scenery and budget, must be taken into consideration when it's placed alongside Polanski's film version - to which none of these restrictions really apply. That said, I personally prefer Polanski's work. I found the story-line easier to follow and more interesting, since it was presented in the style my modern, jaded imagination has come to expect. Jacqueline Ewing March 2003 ...read more.

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