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

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Introduction

Discuss the role of the witches and the supernatural in 'Macbeth' In Shakespeare's time the public were increasingly fascinated by witchcraft. It is estimated that in Scotland, where the play is set, eight thousand witches were burnt to death between 1564 and 1603. James the first himself was also personally involved with witchcraft when he and his wife, Anne, were almost shipwrecked on their return to Scotland from Denmark. Dr Fian and the 'witches of Berwick' were found guilty of trying to kill them by raising storms at seas. 'Macbeth' was probably first performed at James' Court in August 1606 to mark the visit of James' brother-in-law, King Christian of Denmark. In the opening scenes of 'Macbeth' we are introduced to the witches, and immediately see the influence of the supernatural. The weather makes an impact in creating an atmosphere of unease, especially thunder and lightning, which heightens the tension and creates a sense of evil: "When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurly-burly's done When the battle's lost and won." The witches' questions and answers are spoken in rhyming couplets creating the sense of a spell. They use antithesis and speak in paradoxes: "when the battle's lost and won" and "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." This creates confusion, which they clearly delight in. ...read more.

Middle

When Lady Macbeth gives Macbeth advice on how he should act when Duncan comes for dinner as she urges him to hide his feelings and "Look like th' innocent flower But be the serpent under't" We are reminded of the witches in this echo of "fair is foul, and foul is fair," where looking like the innocent flower is fair, good and beautiful but the serpent underneath is foul and bad. Macbeth's soliloquy while Duncan's feasting, seems to confirm his wife's understanding of him being 'too full of the milk in human kindness' and when he tells Lady Macbeth that they will go no further with the plot to kill Duncan, her language to him is deliberately shocking, in its repulsive, violent and unnatural images. It shows her power, aggression and the lengths she will go to make Macbeth continue with the plan. She claims that, whilst breast feeding she "Would while it was smiling in (her) face Have pinched (her) nipple from his boneless gums, And dashed the bones out, had (she) sworn as (he) Have done to this" Lady Macbeth uses concrete nouns giving a graphic image of the hideous distortion of nature. She realises that Macbeth's doubt needs to be overcome quickly and this needs extreme measures. If they delay one night, the chance is gone. ...read more.

Conclusion

And finally the third prophecy 'Be as cruel as you like.' Later Macbeth decides to kill Macduff's wife and babies, "His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls," as he is furious that Macduff has left to England, he can't get to Macduff so he'll kill his family to get to him. At this point Macbeth doesn't care who he murders, they soon become pointless. Towards the end of the play we see Lady Macbeth for the last time suffering from the nightmarish visions of the earlier murders, her 'unnatural deeds' have affected her deeply. The 'disease' is in her mind and soul and nothing can be done to cure it. At the beginning of the play she wanted to become unsexed, male but know she's become all female, "all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand." Macbeth gradually discovers the truth behind the witches' prevarications and is finally destroyed. In conclusion the witches do not actually push Macbeth to do anything evil - they only put ideas into his head and use his ambition so he will carry out evil deeds. We are still aware of the witches influence even when they're not on stage by the supernatural events and echoes of the witches' words repeated by other characters. Words: 2108 Manika Malhotra year 10 Created on 08/02/2005 14:21 ...read more.

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