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Discuss Shakespeares presentation of the witches in Macbeth.

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Introduction

'Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of the witches in 'Macbeth'. "Withered women with beards, secret, black, and midnight hags, filthy hags and juggling fiends..." But why did Shakespeare present the witches in such an unflattering way? Shakespeare was born in Stratford upon Avon, he married Anne Hathaway and had children, went to London and found work acting and writing plays and at the end of his life he returned to Stratford. His mother was Mary Arden, born of Robert Arden; a wealthy yeoman farmer. Shakespeare wrote the play, "Macbeth" based loosely on eleventh-century Scotland. He wrote this play to please and entertain the King and he made it relevant to their lives by bringing 'realism' with the characters of the witches. He selected, altered and added to the story to achieve the greatest dramatic outcome. He invented Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking and suicide, Banquo's ghost (and therefore the banquet scene), and most of the cauldron scenes. He also changed the perception of Duncan from an ineffectual king into an old and revered ruler, and omitted Macbeths ten years of good rule. The play was first performed in the sixteenth century, during this time, witches were terrifying characters. People believed witches could speak with the devil, kill or maim people, fly, become invisible and could control the weather. Thousands of women were tortured and executed because they were accused of witchcraft. ...read more.

Middle

The next scene in which the witches appear is Act Three Scene Five, which is set in "a desolate place", which echoes the vagueness of previous scenes but also conjures up images of an inhospitable environment, which is rather befitting of the witches. Pathetic fallacy continues to create tension with the use of thunder. The scene consists mainly of a speech by Hectate; the queen of the witches, a character who we are not really introduced to, so she is mysterious. Hectate refers to the witches as "Beldams" which draws attention to their ugliness, as noted by Banquo who describes them as withered women with beards, and Macbeth who refers to them as "secret, black, and midnight hags," "filthy hags" and "juggling fiends." Hectate talks further of "affairs of death" and tells of the witches being "spiteful and wrathful"; she also refers to "the pit of Acheron", Acheron being a river in hell, so this links the witches to evil. This leaves us feeling fearful of Hectate, and the power she has, being queen of the witches. She tells the witches to 'draw him on to his confusion'; confusion to make Macbeth over-confident, because 'security is mortals' chiefest enemy." This brings us to wonder upon, how responsible Macbeth is for his own fate, or whether he was merely part of the witches, or Hectate's, evil plan. Language plays a large part in our interpretation of the characters, with prose relating greatly to evil. ...read more.

Conclusion

Go, pronounce his present / death, / and with his former title greet Macbeth." At this time, Macbeth is entirely content with his position and his circumstances. He has not stopped to contemplate how much he can achieve and explore his limitations. Instead he fights for what he believes in, his morals; to defend his country from foe. He is fighting for his King, not questioning his authority or plotting against him. It is only upon meeting the witches that he opens his mind to the possibilities laid before him. It is this ambition, ignited by the witches, that turns Macbeth into a treacherous murderer, whose ambition lead to his downfall. The audience is left to question whether this downfall was ultimately because of the "weird sisters", or whether they merely prophesied the inevitable. All in all, I believe Shakespeare's presentation of the witches to be outstanding, and it is because of these, complex and intriguing characters, that the play remains a very much appreciated piece of literature. The witches bring a new dimension to the story, one of evil and the supernatural, and also the question of who was responsible for Duncan's untimely death. I imagine that in Shakespearean times the audience would accept without a second thought, that it was the witches who infected Macbeth's mind, and possessed him to do such an awful thing. But in more modern times, while some people still believe in witches, we are left to question the evil in ambition, and the trust we put in others. ...read more.

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