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Discuss the roles of the witches in Macbeth

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Discuss the Role of the witches in Macbeth Macbeth was written in 1606 by William Shakespeare, and was probably set around the 11th Century, as this is when 'the Real Macbeth' was supposed to have lived. The main themes of Macbeth are treachery, murder, and witchcraft; Macbeth betrays Duncan by murdering him, the idea of which was planted in his mind by the witches. The witches are an integral part of the play, because they spur Macbeth on - although perhaps not intentionally - and prejudice the audience against Macbeth; if he purposely associates himself with witches (as in Act 4, scene 1), he cannot be a good man. I have attempted to find out the roles of the witches in Macbeth, and explore the effect they have on the story and characters of the play. Possibly the most obvious role of the witches is as the catalyst for Macbeth's ambition; they show him that being king is a possibility in Act 1, scene 3. We know this because of the contrast between his thoughts before Ross and Angus arrive with the news that he is Thane of Cawdor, and his thoughts after: He goes from saying "By Sinell's death I know I am Thane of Glamis, / but how, of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives / A prosperous gentleman; and to be King / Stands not within the prospect of belief, / No more than to be Cawdor" (Act 1, sc. ...read more.


which means that Macbeth won't be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to attack him at Dunsinane. Macbeth wrongly interprets this as meaning that he'll never be defeated, because he thinks woods can't move. This is true, but the witches' have also phrased this statement eccentrically, possibly deliberately to mislead him, because while a wood can't move by itself, the boughs can be chopped down and used as camouflage by advancing troops, as happens at the end of the play (Act 5, scene 4: "Let every soldier hew him down a bough / and bear't before him, thereby shall we shadow / the numbers of our host, and make discovery / err in report of us."). These visions appear to Macbeth and convince him that he's invincible, and we can be almost certain it's done on purpose to ruin him, as indicated in Act 3, scene 5, by Hecate; she says there is a "vap'rous drop on the end of the moon that she will catch, which will create illusions (the apparitions) so that "he shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear / His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace and fear: / and you all know, security / is mortals' chiefest enemy.", by which she means that after seeing the illusions she creates, he will be too proud to accept that he might die, and too ambitious to think clearly, which is exactly what happens. The two final apparitions are designed to make him think he's invincible and indestructible, while the first apparition, the armoured man, warns him to fear Macduff. ...read more.


In spite of this, the first scene exaggerates the fact that they may be witches, as they are in an isolated location, in bad weather (and they later refer to the fact that they can choose the weather, so they must prefer bad weather). The isolated location can be connected to another name for witches: 'hedge-riders', meaning they are on the border between the human world and the supernatural world, hence the fact that they meet in nearly human form in a place that is on this Earth, rather than somewhere else. In the first scene, the witches very effectively set up the main themes of the play; magic is shown by the witches, evil is hinted at by both the witches' presence and the phrase "fair is foul and foul is fair", and they also say "there to meet with Macbeth", although they say nothing about murder. A Jacobean audience would have been biased against the witches and anyone they influenced or associated with because of King James' persecution of witches. In conclusion, the witches are the ones who cause Macbeth to think he may be king one day, which is then encouraged by Lady Macbeth. They then, having set up his rise to power, prepare his fall by showing him selective and ambiguous visions of their 'masters'. They also serve as a way to frighten the audience, introduce the themes of trickery, witchcraft, and evil, and something to endear Shakespeare and his players to King James. ?? ?? ?? ?? - 1 - ...read more.

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