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Discuss the role and importance of the witches and the supernatural in Macbeth

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Discuss the role and importance of the witches and the supernatural in Macbeth Macbeth opens with the distinct feeling of evil, as the witches dramatically enter with thunder and lightening. They converse in rhyme, and chant about thunder, lightning, fog and filthy air. This introduces Macbeth as a dark, dangerous play, in which the theme of evil is central. Shakespeare's Macbeth is a tragedy, based around a character full of powerful contradictions. Macbeth is a man who, for the sake of his own ambition, is willing to murder the king and his own best friend. At the same time Macbeth has a conscience so strong that the mere thought and realization of his crimes torments him constantly. The line 'Fair is foul and foul is fair' echoes this contradiction and shows that in the play Macbeth, nothing is as it seems, and everything stems from the idea of illusion superseding reality. Shakespeare's audience would have perceived Macbeth to be a very real and daunting play, because of Jacobeans' strong beliefs in witchcraft and the supernatural. Witches were believed capable of killing humans and animals, becoming invisible, bringing madness or possession by evil spirits, raising storms, bringing on day or holding back night, and predicting the future. The historical portrayal of witches as 'ugly old hags' originates from folklore, where women who were not interested in child bearing and having sexual relationships with men were called witches. Child bearing has special ties with the play Macbeth, because of Lady Macbeth and the hints at her inability to have children. ...read more.


This line is chanted to call upon evil to come and overturn the ideas of good and bad, and to twist and distort nature. I think it also hints that the human soul, which is both fair and foul due to human conscience and immoral ambition is about to be assaulted, because we soon learn that a brave war hero; Macbeth, is going to be the witches unsuspecting victim. The next scene that the witches appear in is Act 1 scene 3, where Macbeth and Banquo are told that Macbeth is to become the Thane of Cawdor, and then the king, and that Banquo's descendants are to become kings. As soon as Macbeth enters, his first line is "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." This example of dramatic irony suggests that supernatural influences are already beginning to take over Macbeth, and later in the scene Banquo describes him as being 'rapt,' meaning that he seems to be in a trance, implying that the witches have put a spell on Macbeth. Already he seems obsessed with the witches and their prophecies, and it appears they have struck a chord, or touched on some hidden thought deep in Macbeth's mind. I think it's likely that Macbeth had been imagining ways of becoming king or gaining power before, and this new prophecy of the witches managed to tip the balance between what he knew to be fantasy, and what was possible in reality. Macbeth's actions in this scene are quite contradictory, before the witches vanish he commands them to: "stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more." ...read more.


Is the voice he was supposed to have heard the witches? With his overwhelming sense of guilt, and his growing paranoia he feels he'll 'sleep no more.' Later on in the play Lady Macbeth suffers insomnia, and sleepwalks in a mysterious dream world, which eventually leads to her suicide, reflecting her secret inability to cope with the guilt; "who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him!" I think that the supernatural sleeplessness in Macbeth is connected to the witches and their reversal of good and evil. As Macbeth and lady Macbeth's duplicity grows they pay the price by not being able to sleep without having nightmares, a penance which eventually results in death. The first clue of pure evil in Macbeth comes when the witches announce it, with "Fair is foul and foul is fair" Macbeth's first echoing words, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" instantly link his destiny with their evil. Macbeth is a timeless play, because of its universality through the ages. Although themes such as the supernatural will be interpreted differently over time, because of people's change in culture and belief, we can still relate back to Shakespeare's day, because of what the witches and the supernatural symbolize. In the 21st century there is much more corruption and evil then the witches of King James I could ever have created, so in a way Macbeth is as relevant as contemporary plays. It stands for the age-old disaster of ambition and power, which is basic human nature, and could be the fatal flaw of any person, living in any century. Rosie Carr First Draft 1 ...read more.

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