• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Analyse the role and presentation of the witches in Macbeth with reference to Shakespeare's use of language, his historical and contemporary influences and the themes addressed by the play.

Extracts from this document...


ENGLISH Macbeth Jason Peters Analyse the role and presentation of the witches in Macbeth with reference to Shakespeare's use of language, his historical and contemporary influences and the themes addressed by the play. In this essay I will look at the way in which Shakespeare presents the witches to us in Macbeth and the role they play. However, before looking at them I believe a brief look at the background to the play would be beneficial in order to help understand the way in which they were presented in context with Jacobean times. Macbeth was written by Shakespeare sometime between 1603 and 1606; James the First was king at that time having succeeded the throne in 1603. Shortly after becoming king, James the First took Shakespeare and his company under his personal patronage and renamed those "The King's Men". James the First, both before and after his ascension to the throne had encountered acts of treason against him. The most famous of which was the gunpowder plot of 1605. King James and the political climate of the time seem to have been a big influence on Shakespeare. Macbeth may have even been written directly for James the First and the fact that several of the major characters in the play such as Banquo and Duncan are based on relatives of the king lends credence to this. ...read more.


Macbeth never loses his free will due to being possessed by some sort of evil devil or great magic and it is ultimately his own ambition which causes his downfall. The way in which the witches are presented to us in the first act is rather ambiguous and can be interpretated in different ways. It's unclear to us whether these creatures are even human, shown by Banquo's comment that "That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' earth," in act I scene 3. Again it seems that Shakespeare wants us to be sure that the three witches are somehow unnatural. In the many different productions of Shakespeare over the years the interpretation of how to present the witches to the audience has varied. A play watched by myself recently showed the witches to be Mediums, speaking in unison, communicating and receiving instructions from elsewhere which were passed onto Macbeth. This is a more modern view perhaps of the supernatural and while sticking to the original theme, contrasts quite sharply with the image film director Polanski presents us with in his film adaptation. In which we are presented with a more classical view of the three witches yet still different from Shakespeare's original vision. ...read more.


In conclusion, the witches, even though they appear in just a few scenes, are central to setting the tone of the play. Right from the get go the characters help set a dark, foreboding atmosphere which might not exist without them. Even so, in the scenes which include supernatural hallucinations such as Banquos ghost in act III scene 4, it is unclear whether or not the characters affected are really under a spell or have encountered some sort of psychological breakdown. It is possible Shakespeare had knowledge ahead of his time about human psychology yet thought that his audience would still need strong, evil characters that they could easily identify with and thus created the witches to fit that archetype. An audience of today could sit and accept that not everything is black and white, good and evil. I believe that it would not have been the case in the 1600's. Still, I am of the opinion that the role the witches have to play is pivotal even in context with today. Without them and the questions they raise through their prophecies in the play, it would not have had the same dramatical impact which has endured over time and inspired countless works even though the audience has changed over the years and in the main no longer believes in witchcraft. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Macbeth section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Macbeth essays

  1. Macbeth Summary - historical context and the main female roles.

    * Lady Macbeth is first shown to be stronger, more ruthless and more ambitious than her husband as she plots and persuades her way to the murder of Duncan. She dominates the first meeting showing Macbeth's dependence on her and the ease that he submits to the plan shows his true ambition.

  2. How do the Witches in Macbeth Reflect contemporary ideas of witchcraft? Are the Witches ...

    Macbeth replies with a response that is defensive and does not defy Lady Macbeth's opinions; "I dare do all that may become a man" Macbeth is saying that he only does actions that make someone a man. This implies that killing Duncan is something that is dishonourable.

  1. Macbeth - How Does Shakespeare Use Dramatic Effects And Language In The First Two ...

    'Stay you imperfect speakers. Tell me more.' When he says this, it shows that Macbeth is very curious and intrigued by what the witches have said and that he is getting angry when they have left him wanting more. You can already see the feeling of power that he has bubbling inside of him this early in the play.

  2. The influences of the Witches' prophecies on Macbeth's actions.

    The witches offer great enticement, but it is in the end, each individuals decision to fall for the temptation, or to be strong enough to resist their captivation. The three Witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas and for further forming ideas in Macbeth head, but they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play.


    The apparitions suggest that: "Macbeth!.. Beware Macduff!", "Macbeth!... be bloody, bold and resolute!... for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth" and "Be lion-mettled...Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him".

  2. Macbeth was first performed in 1606 in front of King James I at Hampton ...

    say amen, it was a sign that God had forsaken him: "Amen stuck in my throat." You see that Macbeth is feeling guilty when he said: "Voices cry in the house that he shall sleep no more." This quote means that Macbeth won't be able to sleep after what he has done.

  1. How does Shakespeare use Characters and Language to Discuss evil in his Play "Macbeth"?

    Evil is not all it seems and also that evil is ambiguous as saying that sentence sounds calming but remember the true meaning of the sentence is definitely not calming. Shakespeare uses the character Banquo in the play to show the compelling contrast between him and Macbeth. Good and evil.

  2. What did Macbeth's character, words and actions show about changes in his character? Why ...

    Later in the play, Macbeth goes back to the witches and asks for help from them, they again only tell him half-truths and 'betrays him with the big things that really matter'. The information that the witches give him leads towards his death in the end.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work