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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.

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Introduction

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.

Middle

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.

Conclusion

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.

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