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Shakespeare portrays the witches in what seems to a 21st century audience a stereotypical way. There are many things that come to mind when we hear the word witches: Halloween

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Audiences today enjoy both horror movies and books, content that such experiences belong to the realm of entertainment. Macbeth's contemporary audience, however, watched the play against a context of Renaissance beliefs about the paranormal and the divine. No wonder then that these audiences' reactions to the witches are so contrasting. Shakespeare portrays the witches in what seems to a 21st century audience a stereotypical way. There are many things that come to mind when we hear the word witches: Halloween, the Devil, magic, potions, death, broomsticks and the clothes they wear which includes cloaks and pointed hats. However, witches originate from long before Renaissance times. At that time there were very few old people as life expectancy was low. Country women tended to live longer and know more about herbal medicines than townsfolk. This information was passed through to their daughters. The women were old and therefore had wrinkled skin and warts on their faces. Their men died before them through accidents or fights. As a result of this, most of these women were widows wearing black and having cats for company. It was a highly superstitious time and the women used this to their advantage, making a living by using white magic to cure and black magic to curse. People even believed these women could see into the future. In the 14th century a campaign began to destroy witches and by the time of Elizabeth I, thousands of woman had been executed. ...read more.


Act 1 scene 3 starts with the witches' arrival. Once again, thunder heralds their entrance. Initially, the witches discuss their misdeeds 'Where hast thou been, sister? Killing swine.' We discover the witches' powers are limited as they can make a storm but they cannot kill a sailor. This means they are dependant on human will to work their black arts and so, faced with a virtuous man, they have no power, but faced with a morally flawed character they have the ability to cause chaos. Once again, Shakespeare has four stressed beats in a line with rhyming couplets instead of the iambic pentameter used elsewhere in the play. 'A drum! a drum! Macbeth doth come.' On his entry Macbeth echoes the line the witches spoke: 'So foul and fair a day I have not seen.' He seems to recognise them as supernatural beings. Banquo's question 'are you ought that man may question?' refers to the Scottish Act of 1563 which forbade humans from questioning witches as they too would be considered guilty of witchcraft. When Macbeth questions them he too is guilty of this crime. The witches hail him as 'Thane of Glamis', 'Thane of Cawder' and 'King hereafter'. Banquo questions Macbeth 'Good sir, why do you start and seem to fear Things that sound so fair?' This alerts the audience to the fact that Macbeth may have entertained the possibility of becoming king. ...read more.


The third apparition, a child with a crown on its head and a branch in its hand says: 'Be lion-mettled, proud and take no care Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are: Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him. Macbeth believes that this will never happen because a forest cannot move to Dunsinane Hill. This apparently assures him of his invincibility. Macbeth demands to know whether Banquo's children will be kings but the witches do not answer instead they conjure a procession of eight kings the, last holding a mirror. They are accompanied by Banquo's ghost. Through them, the witches show the future of the Scottish and English thrones and confirm Banquo's prophecy. 'Thou shalt get kings though Thou be none.' James 1 would have been able to trace his ancestory back to Banquo which must mean that his children were kings. The witches appearance in the play finishes when they perform a dance and disappear with Hecate. Our own attitude to Macbeth lies in the degree to which we feel that it was the witches who caused Macbeth's downfall. We can see their spiteful intentions but we conclude that they are not active agents of evil: they have no power to induce belief. They basically encourage Macbeth's boundless ambition and lead him to the way of evil. They are important poetic symbols, manifestations of the ethical ambience of the world of man. Because of this, they are an fundamental element of the play. ?? ?? ?? ?? Damian Magill 5 Lyndon ...read more.

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