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Examine the role of the witches in Macbeth.

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Introduction

Show, through close reference to the text, the role of the witches in 'Macbeth' King James I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I on the throne of England in 1603. He was a member of the Stuart dynasty and was already the King of Scotland. This meant he united the two kingdoms, ending incessant warring between the two nations. James hoped to end the period of religious turmoil that had engulfed England for the previous century. The people in 17th Century England were very superstitious and witchcraft was the object of fevered fascination. In 1604 a law was passed that said anyone convicted of witchcraft should be executed. King James I was as fascinated by witches as his subjects, and in 1590 he personally interrogated a group of witches who had plotted to kill him. Misogyny and a strong belief that morality was being upheld fuelled society's hatred of witches. World Order was an important factor of seventeenth century life. World Order was a system in which God was at the top of the chain, followed by the King or Queen, then humans, birds, animals and fish. They believed that the King had been directly chosen by God and therefore did not have to answer to parliament. The human section of the Order was split into subdivisions of classes. It was believed that each person was born into their social status and ambition to rise above their position was considered unacceptable and was punishable by political means or by fate. The audience would immediately realise that once Macbeth had murdered the King, he would have to die, as he had disturbed God's natural order. The first scene of Macbeth prepares the audience for the entrance of the witches with the use of pathetic fallacy. This is used to dramatic effect, with thunder, lightning and rain applied to create a feeling of chaos. The scene being set in a desolate place reinforces this idea, with the setting making it seem like the events that will unfold will be of an ominous nature. ...read more.

Middle

Through the soliloquy Macbeth shows that he understands there will be consequences for murder. 'Might be the be-all and the end-all - here' is a line spoken that shows the murder will not be the end of his troubled time; it will be the beginning of an even more distressing state. He recognises that consequences will occur to whoever carries out the action and shows it through the phrase 'bloody instructions which being taught, return to plague th'inventor'. Macbeth also says to himself that Duncan has been a good king and that 'his virtues will plead like angels'. At the end of the soliloquy an extended metaphor of horsemanship develops. This includes words such as 'spur'; 'prick'; 'vaulting'; 'o'erleaps' and 'falls'. This is prefigures Macbeth's life, as his 'vaulting ambition' is all he has to 'spur him on', and it will eventually reach too high (the position of king) and 'o'erleap'. He will then 'fall' and will receive the consequences of his actions. The image of horsemanship was used to remind the audience of Macbeth's strict militaristic background. Macbeth's soliloquy shows a huge difference in character between himself and his wife. While his wife immediately resolves that they must kill the king, Macbeth thinks about the consequences. This shows Macbeth does have a conscience and I think this causes the audience to feel sympathetic to his plight. Macbeth has a second soliloquy in Act II Scene 1. Here his intensified fragile state of mind is shown to the audience. Macbeth sees an apparition of a floating dagger, shown through the phrase 'is this a dagger which I see before me'. This shows that his mind is so focused upon the murder of Duncan, it is seeing weapons everywhere he turns. Phrases such as 'a dagger of the mind... proceeding from the heat-oppress´┐Żd brain', show the mental strain Macbeth is under. A semantic field of the 'supernatural' underpins this soliloquy, with words including: 'witchcraft'; 'Hecate'; 'murder'; 'sentinel'; 'wolf'; 'stealthy'; 'ghost' and 'fear'. ...read more.

Conclusion

This shows his precarious mental state. Act V Scene 8 details the battle between Macbeth and Macduff outside Dunsinane Castle. The scene begins with Macbeth saying he wants to become the great soldier that he once was, and will not commit suicide. The line 'why should I play the Roman fool and fie on mine own sword?' shows this. Macbeth tells Macduff that he has avoided him for the entirety of the battle, but his 'soul is too much charged with blood'. This means he has seen so much death he no longer cares about who he faces. As he is facing Macduff, Macbeth boasts that no naturally born man can kill him. This makes Macduff reveal his own Caesarean birth. Hearing this, Macbeth almost physically collapses. The mental stress and the fake promise of glory from the witches suddenly leave Macbeth, and he is free to sadly muse about his shortcomings. 'And be these juggling fiends no more believed That palter with us in a double sense, That keep the word of promise to our ear And break it to our hope.' This section shows how Macbeth now views the witches and their prophecies. The first line shows how he no longer believes the witches. The use of the phrase 'juggling fiends' represents his view that the witches have been 'juggling' with fate, emotion and people's lives. 'That palter with us in a double sense' means Macbeth now accepts that the witches' prophecies could have been interpreted in different ways and he made the wrong choices. 'That keep the word of promise to our ear' shows how they misled him by speaking of future greatness, but then 'break it to our hope'. Despite realising that Macduff will kill him, Macbeth decides to die fighting, in an attempt to reclaim some of his lost honour. Another reason for his decision to die fighting is the fact that he cannot bear the thought of being subservient to Malcolm after being in a position of power all his life. ...read more.

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